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Appropriations on ARP Funds

March 19, 2021

Senator Catherine Osten
Representative Toni Walker
Senator Craig Miner
Representative Mike France
Senator Douglas McCrory
Representative Antonio Felipe
Senator Heather Somers
Representative Kathleen McCarty
Committee on Appropriations
Connecticut General Assembly
Hartford, Connecticut 06106-1562
Dear Senators and Representatives

The undersigned are organizations dedicated to equity in the education of underserved populations, including students of color, students with disabilities, rural students, and students living in poverty. We write because under the American Rescue Plan (ARP), signed by President Biden last week, Connecticut's schools are about to receive more than a billion dollars. That money needs to be spent wisely. To do so requires strong legislative action.

This funding under ARP expires on September 30, 2023. Although the Tydings amendment may permit the carry-over of some money for an additional year, the fact remains this is a one-time, time-limited infusion of more than $2,000 per Connecticut student. Given the experience with the 2009 stimulus package, school administrators will be loath to spend the money on staff or recurring programs, fearful that a fiscal cliff will result in large layoffs or substantial cuts to programs.

The stimulus money needs to be targeted. The American Rescue Plan allocates some portion of the money to learning recovery grants, summer enrichment, after-school programs, homeless students, and compensatory services for students with disabilities. All that said, there remains a tremendous sum of money that local school districts can spend with relative freedom.

In Connecticut “[L]ocal boards of education act as agencies of the state when they are fulfilling the statutory duties imposed upon them pursuant to the constitutional mandate of article eighth, § 1.” Cheshire v. Mckenney, 182 Conn. 253, 258, (1980). So, the state has the power to mandate spending priorities to school districts. The State Department of Education did, on January 28, 2021, issue guidance on the spending of money under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSE) Act, passed in December. This guidance provided appropriate priorities for spending, but was not binding on school districts.

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We, therefore, ask you to legislate to:

  1. Require that school districts first maximize the use of other available funding sources, where appropriate, before tapping into federal relief dollars for education. Other available funding sources include:

    • FCC $7.2 billion for devices and broadband.

    • FEMA $50 billion for PPE (face masks, face shields), vaccines, sanitation of schools

    • Public health: $48 billion for COVID testing/tracing

    • Public health: $7.5 billion for vaccine distribution; and $5.2 billion for vaccine and procurement of related supplies through the CDC.

    • Public health staffing: $7.7 billion, plus Community Health Centers: $7.6 billion, including to administer vaccines.

    • School meal program with waivers for flexible delivery.

    • Mental health treatment $3.9 billion, in addition to health care money.

    • Cash payments, unemployment assistance, housing assistance, utilities assistance, refundable tax credits (CTC/EITC) for families in need.

    • Child Care $39 billion; Head Start $1 billion.

    • Corporation for National and Community Service: $1 billion, including staffing to help schools reopen safely.

    • $350 billion in assistance to state/local/tribal governments.

  2. Ensure money for elementary and secondary education be used to supplement, not supplant, existing funds — both on the state and local level. ECS funding should not be frozen in reliance on ARP funds,

  3. Require federal stimulus money for K-12 education to be used to address student and school staff needs through:

(a) Compensatory services for students with disabilities, as required by federal law. The ARP provides that no less than 2% of the total money for school districts be spent for special education. This is a floor, not a ceiling. The Connecticut General Assembly can substantially increase this amount.

(b) Recovery services for all students. Recovery services only make sense after serious testing to determine specific areas of deficits caused by the COVID-19 shutdowns and remote learning.

(c) School reform to make school attendance desirable for the 105,000 students who are reported as chronically absent, many of whom have exited the education system. This needs to be done by making school attractive, not through the use of punitive measures,

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such as truancy or sending uniformed police officers to a student's home. In fact, much chronic absenteeism is caused by social and economic factors such as loss of housing, the need of one sibling to provide childcare to another sibling, lack of food, COVID in the household and the like. There is ample funding in the non-education sections of the ARP to address these issues. They need to be dealt with immediately.

(d) Intense training of existing school staff, including training paraprofessionals to be certified behavior therapists, training in the science of reading, training entire school staffs in restorative justice and other aspects of social emotional learning.

(e) Contracting with community-based providers to help support engagement/case management/support services for higher need children, together with a joint effort of the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Social Services, and the State Department of Education to develop blueprints for sustaining, through available federal and state healthcare and prevention dollars, those partnerships after the stimulus dollars expire.

(f) Creating and implementing a specific plan to address the unique developmental and academic needs of the preschool age population, particularly those children transitioning in from Birth to Three who have gone without in-person services (most of them) for the last year.

(g) Contracting with community-based providers to provide prosocial/enrichment opportunities with or without embedded learning supports that focus on peer relations and building bonds to school. The money for summer and after school programs in the ARP is specifically designed to be used to support such programming.

We, the undersigned organizations, commit ourselves to working with the Legislature, with the State Department of Education, and with local school boards to ensure Connecticut leads the nation in the effective use of the funds provided under the American Rescue Plan.

Sincerely yours,

AFCAMP Advocacy for Children
Center for Children's Advocacy
ConnCAN
Connecticut Justice Alliance
Educators for Excellence (E4E)
FAVOR
Green ECO Warriors
Office of the Child Advocate, State of Connecticut

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Parent Leader, Bridgeport Parent Leadership Training Institute
Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership (RYASAP)
School and State Finance Project
Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK)
SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton
Village for Families and Children
WeCAHR

Contact: Andrew Feinstein 860-969-0700 afeinstein@edlawct.com