Advisors in Higher Education: Are Connecticut Students Missing Out On an Important Service?

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Mark Ojakian, President of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, is in charge of the oversight of over a dozen higher education students in the state of Connecticut (CSCU).  On Friday March 3rd, 2017, Mark oversaw a committee meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, CT that discussed appropriations for the higher education institutes and services in the state.  As he began the meeting, he outlined the leading issues that were to be addressed during throughout the meeting.  Mark explained that the committee would be addressing problems ranging from the failure to reach the capacity of higher education enrollment in the state run Connecticut universities and colleges, to the overtime pay of custodial and janitorial workers at these institutes.

After a short discussion about how higher education students are too often working in fields that do not correspond with their majors and concentrations of study, Ojakian raised an issue that he found to be the most pressing of the day.  “We have some real challenges,” remarked Ojakian as he introduced a topic of discussion that he claimed “bothered” him and made him “very concerned.”  Ojakian was referring to the ratio of faculty advisors to students at Connecticuts higher education institutions.  In his own opinion, Ojakian labelled these ratios as “unacceptable,” claiming that, especially in community colleges, advisors have the ability to      understand the best path for them to graduation and beyond.  Ojakian appeared personally invested in this issue in a manner that did not appear visible while he discussed the other matters of the meeting.  This investment comes from his claim that academic advisors have the ability to “touch” their students, and create meaningful connections that will have significant impact on their academic careers.

In addition to guidance based on class choices and major requirements, members of the committee argued that advisors have the capability of helping low-income students achieve a four year degree in a more affordable manner by helping them move from 2 year programs to 4 year programs at a lower cost.  Jane Gates, Provost & Senior VP Academic & Student Affairs, made a claim critical of the college preparation efforts of Connecticut high schools by claiming that “Many students coming to institutions are unprepared for collegiate work (CSCU).”  The lack of academic advisors in the higher education system prevents individualized attention to students and makes efforts to help students plan for their degrees and careers much more challenging due to a lack of guidance.  President Ojakian alluded to this lack of individual attention by highlighting how advisors are unable to serve in a strong mentor role for their students.  He informed the committee that sometimes there are “people doubling as academic counselors and financial aid counselors.”  Based on the opinions of the committee members at this appropriation work session, the lack of academic advisors in the higher education system is a serious problem that affects the guidance that students are receiving in achieving a quality education.  Members of the committee pointed to advisors as a means of getting guidance on course choices, decisions about majors and concentrations, guidance on navigating the rigors of a college environment, and advice on how to make the most of their education at the lowest cost to themselves.  While President Ojakian claims that these institutions are doing the best they can with the resources they have, there was wide support for an effort to bring appropriate funds to bringing in more academic advisors to create a better ratio of students to advisors.



Picture from inside Conference Room 1A in the Legislative Office Building as committee members began filing in for the Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee Work Session with State Agencies



Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. “Connecticut State Colleges and Universities.” Jane McBride Gates. CSCU, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. “Connecticut State Colleges and Universities.” Mark E. Ojakian. CSCU, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.


Education Committee: Giving the Public a Voice

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IMG_3680HARTFORD CT MARCH 1st 2017– It was a gloomy Wednesday morning as everyone proceeded into room 1E of the Legislative Office Building. It was completely packed with men and women public officials dressed in suits. The hearing began fifteen minutes late due to the over capacity of people and they took this time to notify every one of the other exits in case there was an emergency. A member of the board stood tall to signify that the members were ready to begin and for everyone to quiet down and take their seats. She explained that the first hour will be set aside for public officials to speak and that the second hour they would open it up to the public. Due to the capacity of the individuals in the room, the board decided to set a three-minute timer for each individual representing their testimony. This way it allowed an equal opportunity for everyone to have their voice be heard without having to wait hours.

The first proposed act was S.B.No. 2 which is an act concerning the development of a more equitable education cost-sharing grand formula (ed). Representative Chris Soto with the Connecticut coast guard shared his testimony on how he wanted to use funds to make Connecticut an all magnet district. The committee only had one brief question which was quickly answered and then the second name on the list was called up. They were not present so they called the next person in line; Mike Bocchino from Greenwich, CT along with the Greenwich Superintendent.

They came in support of the H.B. No 7158 which is an act concerning authorization of state grant commitments for school building projects (ed). Mike Bocchino spoke first and gave history to the matter at hand. He explained how the State of education notified Greenwich public schooling that they had an issue with racial diversity throughout their public schools. Bocchino then went on to describe how they then submitted and have had many people sign their plan to create a magnet school in New Lebanon. They need this particular bill to keep passing through so that they can begin to help work with this magnet school they created. He stated that the teachers were working out of closets, students do not have enough space to eat in the cafeteria and or play in the small gymnasium. The kindergarten spends half of their education day at a different facility and then buses them back to the main campus to finish their classes due to the lack of rooms provided at this magnet school.  It is not a proper place where we can educate our children.

The board then asked, “If members of the community do not support this bill, why don’t you redistrict?”


Peter Sherr board of member chairman of Greenwich schools spoke to this issue. He explained how the board has come together as a community and considered six different options for fifteen to eighteen months. They have spent extensive amounts of money on this issue and on an advisor to look into redistricting. They did not decide to redistrict because of two major reasons. First, it would not be beneficial to our issue at hand because in a few years we would still be in compliance. Second this community has a high minority population specifically Hispanic. This specific Hispanic community has spoken out and make it very clear that they do not want to redistrict. One major reason they voiced is how it would cause a divide in their community and force their children to be separated traveling to school.

A follow up question was then asked by Representative Belsito, “Could you tell us the cost of the new school?”

Sherr responded, “Between 35 and 37.”


After this no more questions were asked and the committee dismissed them and called the next official. The mayor of Waterbury was next at the microphone, and spoke with a testimony addressing the first proposed bill (S.B. No 2). He described that Waterbury has had a major increase in students in the public school system since 2010. In his testimony he only referenced the amount of money that Waterbury is was given from the state in comparison to similar towns like; Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven. It was mentioned that 80% of Waterbury’s public school population is eligible for a supportive lunch and that the town pays needs more per pupil and gets less per pupil from the state compared to other towns. It was made clear that Waterbury is not getting enough money from the state and they have had to raise their mil rate.

A follow up question was presented by a board member, “With this money what are your plans?”


The major explained how they need more support for their special education program and that some of the money would be to help out that program. Another board member spoke up and mentioned how Waterbury has the option to tax their hospital and asked if this would could help the issue.The major mentioned how they were blessed to have two hospitals in Waterbury and how taxing them will help tremendously in the next fiscal year. He also noted that it would be an interesting concept and gives us an opportunity, yet how the hospital is their strong safety net and they must keep that in mind going forward.

At this point in time no one had anymore objections. These bills are now in the hands of the Board of Education and hopefully will get passed.


















Improving Child Care in Hartford: The Importance of Child Advocacy Centers and Addressing The Growing Opiate Epidemic in Connecticut

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HARTFORD CT.- FEB. 28- Many suits gathered into the relatively small space of room 2A in the Legislative Office Building- pens and notebooks in hand- ready to discuss the various legislation on the table for that day. Though some opted to spend their remaining minutes before the meeting to scribble last minute notes and references, Micheal Williams, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, looked rather composed compared to his counterparts.

Once Senator Suzio completed his outline of the committee hearing’s structure for the day, Stephen Sedensky, well-known for his role in the prosecution during the Sandy Hook Elementary School investigation, opened the speaking with a testimony addressing children’s advocacy centers and bills proposing them. The repeated phrase was a “joint-favorable substitute report,” referring to the proposition of a revised report for the centers which lay at the heart of Sedensky’s testimony. His vision for improvement on behalf of these centers included the appointment of a multidisciplinary expert team to oversee the centers’ operations and ensure that everything runs smoothly within them. Immediately following Sedensky’s testimony was that of Michael Williams.

As Williams was called to speak in front of the likes of Senator Suzio and Representative Kokoruda, the Deputy Commissioner presented a variety of concerns regarding the disciplinary actions of teachers towards their students (H.B. 7112) and the establishment of The State Oversight Council on Children in place of the State Advisory Council on Children and Families (S.B. 894). After then offering his opinion on Senate bills addressing revisions to certain statutes regarding children and families (S.B. 893) and the standards and reporting requirements of the Department of Children and Families (S.B. 895), Williams offered his most notable point on behalf of S.B. 7113, which focused on the growing opiate epidemic within the state of Connecticut.

Andrew Ba Tran writes in his article Why Connecticut’s Overdose Crisis Isn’t Slowing Down that the state of Connecticut has suffered from 723 deaths in the last calendar year, which is greater than double the death tally of almost three years ago. With an increasing number of people becoming affected by opiates each year, Williams decided to take the issue head-on and propose an act that would increase the responsibilities of the Department of Children and Families when dealing with a newborn that is at risk of opiate exposure. This act would also push those who are directly involved with the delivery and well-being of newborns in hospitals, to produce reports detailing if an important distinction and one which was relevant to his entire time at the microphone, where he identified mandated notification as the proper imposition upon hospitals by the DCF, rather than mandated reporting.

“Children six months old or younger are the most likely to die from [opiate] abuse”, said Williams at his testimony. He cited opiate use in the home as potentially detrimental to the health of a newborn baby and thus an appropriate area of focus for his presentation to Senator Suzio and Representative Kokoruda, among others. It was clear from what Williams was arguing that opiate abuse had taken its toll on those in the Connecticut area, as well as newborn babies, and that this problem is one that is only on the rise and will remain there unless the DCF and politicians alike can combine their efforts to make some real change happen.


Aviation Maintenance School Bill Ready for Takeoff

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Connecticut State Representatives and Education Board members sat comfortably at a round table, microphones perched close to their lips, for a public hearing on Higher Eduction Thursday February 23, 2017. “Next we have Representative Gresko.” Mr. Gresko moved from his seat in the front row of chairs that lined the walls. He adjusted his three piece suit, took a seat at the round table, and set the microphone to the height of his lips. “Mr. Chairman I’m here to support House Bill 6583, to move Connecticut’s Aviation Maintenance Technician Schools into the Community College system.”

There are currently two aviation programs in the state of Connecticut located at Sikorsky Memorial Airport and Brainard Airport. Both of these programs are two year certificate programs that prepare the graduate for a career in aviation as Certified FAA Mechanics. The programs have a 98% completion rate and 95% of those who complete the course find a job immediately after certification. These success rates are stellar and considering the low cost of the program, the return on investment is remarkable.

Note taking in hearing- February 23, 2017

The cost of enrollment is $6600.00 for the two-year program. There are currently 97 students enrolled, an impressive number since the program had to shut down last year due to a spike in tuition and a subsequent drop off in enrollment. With financial aid available these tuition costs would be manageable, however, the aviation schools fall within the class of Connecticut Technical High Schools and therefore make aviation student’s ineligible to receive aid to pay for their education.

Testimonies were given by several representatives in support of the bill’s passage. In addition, an aviation mechanic and teacher spoke, along with a 30 year veteran pilot. Both men firmly believe in the aviation schools mission. “These schools educate students who give back to Connecticut as certified aviation mechanics, a job field that is desperate for qualified workers,” the pilot said.

Indeed, most certificate earners do remain in Connecticut and work not only at nearby airports but also in factories and offices that supply these airports. The representatives, mechanic, and pilot all boasted about the success of the program. What they seek is funding to help further the education of students.

Selfie in Legislative Office Building

The most important aspect of the bill is to have Connecticut’s Aviation Maintenance Technician Schools moved from under the umbrella of high school education and placed justifiably within the sphere of higher education. These schools should be on par with Community Colleges.

Although students would still be ineligible for Pell Grants because the aviation program is a certificate program not a degree program, loans and other types of funding would become available to students to manage the cost of their education.

There was no one who spoke in opposition to the bill. In fact, one representative explained that she is “highly in favor of the bill.” House Bill 6583 is in now in the hands of the Education Board, potentially to be sent to the floor to be voted on by the entire House of Representatives.


revealing report on Hartford Public Schools and physical abuse

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During the Hartford Board of Education Meeting on Tuesday February 21 many members of the public spoke about the scathing report released by the Office of Child Advocacy. This report revealed  that the Hartford public school system seemed to be under reporting sexual abuse within the school system, a failure to properly discipline those guilty of the abuse, failure to comply with legal obligations, I.e. the best programming for prevention and reporting, specific targeting of children especially vulnerable to the abuse (children with disabilities).  There were several other concerns brought up in the report, however the physical abuse of the children was the main focus of this meeting. to read more about the report and the acting Superintendents action plan please look at the documents attached to this post.

In this meeting many member of the communities addressed their shame in what has been going on in the school system and demanded that this issue be addressed. Later on during the meeting the acting Superintendent spoke about her first draft of an action plan in response to the report. In this action plan the superintendent plans to better vet the educators and administrators in our schooling systems. She has also proposed partnerships with various child advocacy groups to better understand what is going on and how to prevent the abuse or intervene properly if it occurs. The Acting Superintendent has also proposed that their be and outside party willing to review all schools within the system. Again to read the action plan in more depth please look to the attached documents.


Once the public comments were finished the board members themselves expressed their reactions to this report and posed questions to the acting superintendent about what to do next. She also received commentary on needing to review and restructure Hartford’s entire  educational system. Another comment to the acting superintendent made by board member Robert Cotto addressed the lack of uniformity in Hartford schooling system and how that has resulted in a lack of monitoring in the schooling system. The acting superintendent and the members of the board made it a point to let the public know that the accepted the report and were going to do everything in their power to fix the problem brought to light by the OCA (office of child advocacy).

What I find very  interesting about this action plan is the emphasis on training, education of teachers and administrators and outside monitoring, especially in regards to the sexual abuse. while I admire the plan and her initiative to increase vigilance and education surrounding in school and out of school abuse. I believe that their main focus of policy should focus on prevention. The safety and security of children if first and for most. I believe that this means looking to place an importance on the education and training of social workers and counselors as well as an in depth vetting for employee of Hartford schools. Finally echoing the opinions of many Hartford residents including the families. Educating the children and their families on the subject, what resources are available to them and what classifies as an inappropriate relationship.

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After Years of Battle, Hartford Board of Education Still Has Work to Do

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Hartford Board of Education February regular meeting took place  at 5:30pm on Tuesday, Feb.21, 2017 at Journalism and Media Magnet Academy in Hartford. In dialogue session, several issues concerning education policies in Hartford public schools were brought out by representatives from community and local organizations. It was not the first time to hear complaints for certain issues from the public.

The first group presented their concern about closure of elementary schools in North End. They stated that the closure of schools would lead to safety concern of crowded classrooms, high student-teacher ratio, as well as low teaching quality. Doctor Foster, representative from State Chapter of NAACP and the Institute for Cross-Cultural Theological Education, continued saying that the closing of schools also imply the upcoming economic challenge to the community and disturbing message to children and parents. Even with the budget deficit, he stated that “the quality and equity should be the keys in education decisions making. ” Schools that students and parents can relate to would make a difference in students’ growth.

The dialogue session also touched on how effectively using budget can make an impact of students’ life. One group suggested spending more money on repairing schools and improving after school programs. Another representatives from the community said, “We don’t want a billion of managers. We want a computer person to make sure when computer breaks, there’s person that can take care of it…We want people who can make impacts on our children’s life. ”

As new board members were assigned at the beginning of the meeting, an African-American representative, in terms of the undemocratic constitute of Hartford Board of Education, stated that “public Board of Education needs to be voted instead of appointed. Public voice needs to be heard.” He also voiced out his dissatisfaction of lack of colored teachers in Hartford public schools, a major issue that hadn’t been solved for years, “The face of teachers in classroom should reflect of who they teach.”

School safety was another concern that has been brought up for a couple of times. Community hoped for not only a cleaner and safer school environment but also a more justice learning condition for students to grow up. The board was expected to work on policies on child abuse, as one mid-aged lady said, “as mother and grandmother of Hartford students, I’ve heard complains of physical assault from other students and adults.” Voices of Women in Color also articulated that “school should be a place where children are nurtured, not negated, where they are educated, not emasculated.” Bully Referral Form itself does not meet the goal of alleviating the pain children would endure. Bully policies should be written more strictly to execute the punishment on child abuse reports.

BoE meeting

Connecticut Students Come Together to Advocate for Charter Schools

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The Legislative Appropriations Committee convened at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 for a public hearing to discuss the Governor’s 2018-2019 budget. The budget called for cuts in funding for the expansion of Charter schools, and increased funding for afterschool programs in the school districts with the highest need. Many individuals and families took advantage of the hearing’s public status to let their voices be heard. The hearing started at four o’clock in the afternoon, but by three thirty there was a line down the street to get into the hearing. Mothers were waiting outside wearing large badges that said “PROUD CHARTER PARENT” on the fronts of their shirts, and whole families, including very small children, were wearing bright orange shirts that had “I heart my Charter School” written on them in big lettering. Most members of the public seemed to be focused on issues of equality.

Inside the hearing room, the majority of those waiting to testify were young students. Daria Coleberg, a sixth grader from Groton, Connecticut, gave an articulate testimony about how Charter schools have benefited her and her two siblings. Coleberg attends the Dual Language and Arts Magnet School, and spoke about the school’s bilingual language programs– Daria is now a proficient Spanish speaker, despite knowing no Spanish before starting at her school. She spoke about opportunities such as trips to Nature’s Classroom that the school can provide with the funding it has now, and urged the committee to continue to fund more Charter schools.

Similarly, Justin Ferrera, a graduate from Trumbull Agriscience School and the Connecticut state President of the Future Farmers of America, testified about his experience at his vocational agricultural school. He credits the school for his success so far in his life, saying that the school “changed me into the leader that I am today”. Ferrera expressed his concern that there would be no increase in funding for schools like his, stating that it is difficult for “ag-programs” to provide the amazing hands-on experiences they can provide students when they typically have only $3,200 per pupil spending.

All the students that spoke believed that their Charter schools helped promote equality. Charter schools were described as a place where all people of all different types of backgrounds could come together and receive an outstanding education. The idea was that to promote Charter schools was to promote equality. Andrea Lineux, a mother of three children that attend or attended Charter schools, spoke about her kids’ transitions into normal public schools after going to charter middle and elementary schools. In the public schools, her kids saw more bullying and racism, and less appreciation for different cultures (her children had attended the Regional Multicultural Charter School and the Dual-Language and Arts Charter school). The beauty of Magnet schools, according to Lineux, is that they value all children of all different cultures, and mix students from different parts of the state into one school. With 6.5% budget cuts, Lineux worried about what would happen to the “gems of public schools”–the Magnet schools. She stated, “The proposed cuts, and especially their magnitude, is causing me to lose faith in our education system”.

There is, however, an argument for equality that does not include increased funding of Magnet schools. Superintendent of the Bridgeport Public Schools, Aresta Johnson, argued in her testimony that the budget should allocate more resources to public school systems in need, such as her own. According to Johnson, the Bridgeport Public Schools are the most underfunded schools in the state. The district has a rate of $14,328 per pupil expenditures, while Hartford, as a comparison, has a rate of just under $20,000 per pupil expenditures. They serve a population of students that is comprised of 15% English-Language Learners and 16% Special Education students. BPS faces reductions in their teaching staff and their counseling staff as a result of their low funding. Johnson argues that in order to promote equality, more budget funds must go to public schools that need help as opposed to more Magnet schools.

It is difficult to say whether or not Charter schools promote or negate equality in the public school system. But, the Committee of Appropriations has decided that the number of Charter schools the state has now is enough, and while they will continue to have state funding, it is time to focus state resources on the neediest school districts.

Me outside the Hearing Room
Me outside the Hearing Room
Inside the Hearing Room!
Inside the Hearing Room!
Packed lobby of the Legislative Office Building
Packed lobby of the Legislative Office Building

 Taking from the Wealthy and Distributing to the Poor: Schooling Edition

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“Budget cuts will undermine the mission of our school which is to provide impassioned teenagers from all races, religions, and incomes with equal and superior opportunities in the arts and our central community,” said 16 year old Margo Lutz as she addressed the board at the Appropriations Committee Public Hearing regarding the Governor’s proposed budget allotments for the 2017-2018 school year.

On February 21st 2017, at the legislative office building in Hartford Connecticut, the question as to where money is distributed after budget cuts and after receiving state education aid was brought into light. The goal of Governor Malloy is to readminister money to the districts most in need; however, criticism about how “need” is measured has become a problem for local administrations due to feelings of neglect. At this point talk about the Husky Health Program and free/reduced lunch prices made their way into the hearing discussion regarding measurements of wealth within schools.

Throughout our time spent at the hearing, we heard testimonials of students, parents, and administration all vying for aid to ensure a better future for themselves and their children. Most notable was interim superintendent Aresta Johnson.

Johnson advocated on behalf of Bridgeport Public Schools emphasizing the need for additional funding through the state education aid.  According to Johnson, Bridgeport Public Schools, “16% of students are in special education classes, 15% of students are in ELA (English Language Arts courses).” While Johnson stressed the need for funding for the children within the Bridgeport Public Schools, she did also mention the inadequacies to meet pension.

It appears that there are clear inequalities throughout the public school system in Connecticut, and the allocation of state funds is a complex and arduous task due to the amount of “need.” However, what one often defines as a necessity can so often be misinterpreted and skewed by another. While some students testified about the quality of their music and arts programs, others testified about their Boys and Girls club and the need to keep similar programs for future endeavors. One student at the hearing stressed the importance of after school tutoring programs because as an ELA student her parents are incapable of helping her with her homework.

The whole point of an education is to provide an equal opportunity for children regardless of race, religion, or income level. In order to best allocate resources appropriately and to those who need them, state aid needs to refocus priorities on providing better futures for the children within the public school system. Rather than limiting funds for something that is already working like for example the Future Farmers of America Organization and the Boys and Girls Club, limit funds on organizations that require less need, like for example charter and private schools. If a family really values the unique experience that charter or private schools provide students, perhaps limiting state funds to private schools won’t affect attendance rates at all. Most families who have children enrolled in private schools, have the means to pay for them. If state funding is provided to public school systems, the quality of education would increase and provide a meaningful education for families who can’t afford a private education.

Lobby of the Legislative Office Building



Inside the Hearing



Connecticut Teachers’ Retirement Board at Risk of Insolvency

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HARTFORD — February 21, 2017 — Darlene Perez, the administrator of the Connecticut Teachers’ Retirement Board, today expressed support for the Governor’s Proposed FY 2018-2019 Budget during a meeting of the Appropriations Committee held at the Connecticut General Assembly State Government Office.  The budget would increase the amount of state funding allocated toward the Teachers’ Retirement Board, which provides teachers with retirement benefits and manages the Health Insurance Program for Retired Teachers.

The meeting convened in order to address the board’s fears regarding it’s low finances and inability to support retired teachers, whose numbers are expected to increase over the next few years, as the generation of baby boomers enters into retirement.  Perez related how the Teachers’ Retirement Board needs funding now more so than ever because “among the professional fields, teachers have the longest life-spans and Connecticut teachers have the longest life-spans out of all teachers”.  None of the Appropriations Committee members asked Perez to give evidence for her claim about the life span of teachers.  The Teachers’ Retirement Board can only provide retired teachers with health insurance benefits if the Board receives the funding needed to keep the Health Insurance Program intact.  The Governor’s Proposed FY 2018-2019 Budget would increase the contribution, which the state government allocates to the Board, to 20 percent so that the Board can continue to provide teachers with health benefits after retirement.  Unlike her fellow Teachers’ Retirement Board members, who do not advocate for the Governor’s Proposal because they feel that the state government should fully fund the board, Perez realizes that a fully funded board is out of reach and rather hopes to convince the Governor to increase the contribution to at least 33 percent.

Dr. Joseph A. Fields, the Health Insurance Consultant for the Connecticut Teachers’ Retirement Board since 1999, spoke alongside Perez in order to help address teacher health insurance budget issues. After the hearing, Dr. Fields noted that beginning in 2010, the Connecticut state government decreased the amount of funding allotted to the Connecticut Teachers’ Retirement Board.  Fields’ fears that the continued lack of funding will lead the Board to insolvency.  According to Fields, “the state stopped putting in their share.  So in 2010 and 2011, they put in nothing, now they put in about 14 percent of the cost of the program and over the next two years, there is danger of insolvency… If nothing is done, there will absolutely be an insolvency within three years”.  Fields also described the growth of the Teachers’ Retirement Board programs and a need for an increase in funding when he said that  “in essence, we’ve been growing at about 8% a year and that means you double the enrollment every eight or nine years”.  According to Fields, the increase in funds granted through the Governor’s Proposal FY 2018-2019 Budget would keep the Teachers’ Retirement Board “from going insolvent for three to four years”.

The Governor’s Proposed FY 2018-2019 Budget will provide the Teachers’ Retirement Board with short term relief but it will not solve the board’s long term issues.  Since Fields estimates that the Governor’s Proposal will only help the Board remain intact for three more years, the board will continue to advocate for its programs in order to ensure that the large number of retired teachers receive health benefits.IMG_1462


School Closings: What’s the Message?

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School Closings: What’s the Message?

Lily Jewell and Sarah Clancy

When schools are closed, students do not just move to another and continue on with their daily lives. They are forced into new cramped classrooms with lower student to teacher ratios. Not only does it impact their physical environment, but it also sends a message to the students and parents within the communities. At this months Hartford Board of Education meeting, Dr. Benjamin Foster took the chance to express his concerns with the upcoming Hartford Public School closing in the north end of Hartford. The Hartford Board of Education holds “regular meetings”, which are intended to set goals, listen to the superintendents speak and budgets, but not specifically manage or solve individual problems. One of the biggest topics of conversation at this meeting had to do with the recent announcement of several schools closing due to their underperformance, and students not acting according to their grade level. Foster was speaking on behalf of the NAACP and the community concerned about the closing of several schools. The north end of Hartford is notoriously known for having low-income households, there is a poverty rate of 49.35%, which is much higher than the city’s high poverty rate of 33.9%.(

For Dr. Benjamin Foster, his concern is not about the logistics or forcing students to  relocate. His concern had to more about the messages it sends to the families of these communities. It sends these families a bad message, a message that they do not meet the expectations of society. And he hopes that the Board of Education can monitor these effects closely. Foster powerfully stated, “We want to again reiterate the devastation that it causes communities when schools are missing. Parity and equity should be the key in whatever decisions that you make. We will monitor this very stringently….”

One way he recommended fixing this is by constantly forcing the images of individuals from Hartford who made it. He even proposed examples of individuals who would be the perfect fit for this role. He referenced Charles Stone, who is now a big time journalist, and also a Hartford High graduate. He wants to see individuals such as Stone across the walls of Hartford public schools, to show the students they can become great too. It will give them a goal to strive for. Although Foster, is concerned about the traumatic effect of these schools closing he was still willing to propose ways to help the students even when moving forward in these devastating conditions.

Foster was not the only person unsettled by the closing of public schools in the north of Hartford. A mother, Shelly Davis, also raised her concerns who was followed up to the microphone by four other women, all wearing matching blue shirts to show solidarity with Shelly. Shelly stated that it was unfair for those schools to be closed because it would force her child and many other students to be bused to schools in the south end of hartford, where the teacher to student ratio would be dismal. It is important to notice that the closing of these north end Hartford public schools has not only caught the attention of parents, but also members of the education committee at the NAACP. The concerns are all across the community, and the Board of Education must listen in order to move forward in a way that will best benefit the students.

Outside Links-

Dr. Benjamin Foster Biography-

NAACP and NAACP Education committee-


Oldest and Boldest

Charles Stone-


Concussions in Connecticut

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On Thursday February 16, 2017, the Committee on Children met to discuss the impact of concussions in youth sports in Connecticut. According to, in 2016 over two million children and teens were diagnosed with concussions in the United States alone. Today, during the public committee Katherine Snedaker LCSW, founder and CEO of Pink Concussions, explained why coaches, parents, and even the athletes need to be more aware of concussions, and how to spot and treat them correctly.IMG_4137

Since 2013 Snedaker has made it her mission to understand and better educate the world about the danger of concussions. She herself has suffered from concussions, but her passion for them started when her son had to take a year off from school due to a serious concussion. Now she travels the world advocating for children’s safety on the sports fields.

Snedaker is currently working in Norwalk, Connecticut on a three-year project to track all reported concussions in the Norwalk school system. She is also trying to change the system of youth sports in Connecticut and make it safer for children. Since 2015, Snedaker has implemented and enforced that every coach in Norwalk, whether it be volunteers or paid coaches, has to take the 20-minute CDC concussion course before they start coaching.

It might come as a surprise that this rule has not always been implemented in Connecticut youth sports, but a lot of the volunteer coaches are not educated on concussions and their risks. Snedaker pointed out that a lot of volunteer coaches don’t think they have the time, or that their players aren’t at risk for concussions. However, this lack of attention only hurts the athletes. In other Connecticut towns, concussion training is not mandatory and advocates like Snedaker and other concerned parents are trying to change this.

Snedaker reminded the committee that concussions do not only happen during sports. They can happen during school recess or even at home. This is why it is important for all adults interacting with children to be educated on the symptoms of a concussion and how to proceed. When a child’s concussion goes untreated and they do not refrain from physical activity, it puts the child at risk for a second concussion and an even longer recovery time. This puts further strain on the child’s brain and can have severe consequences.

We also cannot forget about the children when talking about concussion education. If we educate all children on the symptoms and consequences of concussions they will be more likely to recognize the problem and tell an adult. Video games like FIFA have started to put concussion awareness into their programs. The players in the soccer game will actually sit out if they sustain an injury that may cause a concussion. This is setting a positive example for the young children who play FIFA and other sports video games.

Today, there is a learning curve when it comes to concussions. More research is being done and the education process on concussions is slowly changing. Parents and coaches are becoming more aware of the problem and they recognize that something has to be done. The leaders at the Committee on Children are eager to fix this problem and keep the children of Connecticut safe.


Connecticut Office of Higher Education, On the Move?

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“It’s certainly a problem, it will always be a problem, an unfortunate reality in our times” said Keith Norton, standing executive officer of the Connecticut Office of Higher Education, about financial woes burdening the development and continuation of scholarship programs for Connecticut residents.

On February 14th, 2017 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, CT, Norton argued for the transfer of the Connecticut Office of Higher Education into the State Department, as a solution to financial distress  about scholarship and college preparedness for Connecticut residents.

The Connecticut Office of Higher Education finances the funding and programing for the Roberta G. Willis scholarship, minority advancement program, Alternate Route to Certification program, among many others. The agency has already cut 10% – 4 million dollars- of the scholarship , since the summer of 2016 in order to be more cost-efficient, yet student-centered,  according to Norton.

Reductions in the Willis scholarship have already impacted the first year undergraduate classes of Connecticut – since it was not even offered to them. Norton explained the agency could no longer financially support a student’s college expenses for the full four years. Only sophomores, junior and seniors would be able to apply for the scholarship and receive aid. In his defense of the agency’s cost efficiency, Norton transitioned to speak about the agency’s need to move into the State Department of Education in order to continue on its path of efficiency.

Norton proposed the transfer would only include 24 employees, 21 of which are current employees of the agency and would provide the agency with resources they need for more effective financing and programming, at no cost. Norton highlighted that the agencies current Information Technology department is only composed of two employees with limited access to key online resources. With the agencies transfer to the State Department, the IT department could expand to five members, since there would be access to increasingly important resources like a variety of databases that contain extensive online reports which could aid cost efficiency and ultimately, the Connecticut student.

Despite Norton’s argument for the transfer, the present representatives at the meeting expressed their concerns about the move. Representative Toni Walker (D) addressed Norton stating, “ My concern is you will lose effectiveness and authority in the transfer, that important scholarships you provide could get absorbed”. Representative Walker contrasted that while the  agency’s current decision making was led by the 21 current employees, the transfer to the state Department would signify new leadership the agency would need to report to, the commissioner of Education, Dianna Wentzell.  

Norton explained that while there are many diverse bureaus in the department, many programs the agency runs must abide by different federal ties and statues. He argued the agency already has experience in efficiently following implemented standards and requirements of various leadership, “I don’t see reporting to a higher education chief or commissioner would curtail any of our responsibilities, I don’t think there is too big of a risk in our work moving”.

Norton is hopeful of the transfer and access to key resources, so that the student is the one who suffers less financially, stating “I’m on my 11 months as Executive Director, and it’s been quite an 11 months, what we [the agency] have tried very hard to do is, get away from idea that we can’t do something”.

New York, Philadelphia and Delaware all of which have transferred their Higher Education office into their State Departments.

Will Connecticut’s Office of Higher Education be on the move too, and at what cost?


Outside the room the meeting took place, 2C




Connecticut Children’s Committee Meets Regarding “Baby Dylan”

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After a Connecticut baby suffers severe abuse and moves from home to home, the Connecticut Children’s Committee meets on the subject of Connecticut Department of Children and Families’ practices.

The Committee on Children met on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 1pm in the Legislative Office Building at the Capitol Building in Hartford. The meeting commenced with a greeting and opening remarks by Senator Leonard Suzio. He proposed the bills to be drafted in this meeting. Proposed S.B. No. 396, an act concerning child fatality and S.B. No. 397, an act establishing an independent department of children and families ombudsman were passed without discussion. S.B. No. 6099, an act concerning the operation of group homes maintained by the department of children and families, and S.B. No. 6279, an act concerning voluntary placement in the custody of the department of children and families and parental rights were also passed without discussion. There was a short recess following these bills due to a technical issue.

After the passage of these bills, Senator Suzio gave the floor to Sarah Eagan of the Office of Child Advocates (OCA). Eagan presented on the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) case regarding “Baby Dylan,” who sustained various severe injuries while in foster care. A hospital visit and suspicions of abuse and neglect led to an investigation in January of 2016.

In the year 2015, when Baby Dylan was thirteen months old, he was placed into the foster home of a relative: his mother’s cousin. Five months later Baby Dylan was placed into another relative’s home. They immediately brought him to the hospital due to physically malnourished appearance. Eagan stated that Baby Dylan suffered from, “nutritional neglect and abuse, with numerous injuries including broken bones, burns on wrist, bruises and abrasions, and bleeding into his brain.” The child was described as being severely emaciated, unable to walk, talk, or feed himself, and only weighing seventeen lbs. Eagan discussed how his deteriorating condition should have been obvious to his care givers, but because of alleged substance abuse and a pattern of neglect, his conditions were ignored. The OCA then opened their investigation.

The investigation revealed “severe flaws” in DCF’s practices according to Eagan. Investigators discovered that during social workers’ home visits with Baby Dylan, there was a period of 100 days from the summer through fall where the social workers were unable to make contact with Baby Dylan who was “sleeping.” Eagan said that DCF committed, “numerous failures including forged document work in “Link,” unresponsiveness to red flags, and multiple conflicting statements around the foster parents.” There was serious cause for concern about social workers’ caseloads, citing too much to do and not enough staff to do it. By DCF policy, people who work on a case must enter information within five days of meeting with a family. The OCA noticed that eighteen out of twenty-one entries into the “Link” electronic licensing records for Baby Dylan were dated November 12th — one day after Baby Dylan was hospitalized.

Eagan concluded her presentation by arguing that the state strongly supports placement with families when they are clearly demonstrating capacity to meet the needs of the children. However, after reviewing this case and the DCF’s failures, the OCA recommends amending state law to require DCF to create standards for the role of the agency in assessing where the child is placed, making sure that it is a safe environment. After Eagan finished presenting, Senator Suzio asked a few clarifying questions regarding her presentation. Eagan answered them and emphasized her desire to increase the safety standards for children in Connecticut foster care.