HARTFORD– On February 27th, CT Association for Human Services held a public forum and panel at the State Capital about the new report released on “Opportunity in Connecticut: The Impact of Race, Poverty and Education on Family Economic Success.” Jude Carroll, CT Kids Count Director, introduced by Jim Horan, CAHS Executive Director, began the discussion by emphasizing the importance of expanding the discussion of education reform and the achievement gap throughout the state. The report focuses on the purpose of opportunity in Connecticut, underlying causes of CT’s achievement gap, and what we should do to fix the opportunity structure based on race, poverty and education. Following Jude Carroll’s presentation, four panelists from four different organizations went over the concepts within the report and their own ideals that they work towards. While the presentation of the report set the stage for the day’s discussion and was very crucial, what was most interesting was the views of the panelists.
Job Opportunity in Connecticut
Whereas Jude Carroll emphasized the importance of opening the discussion of education and opportunities within the state, Orlando Rodriguez, Senior Policy Fellow of CT Voices for Children, stressed the future of our state in regards to job opportunities. Rodriguez highlighted that Connecticut has become a retirement state and as 2020 approaches, those working between 20-64 will begin to decrease. Connecticut will, and already has, seen a shift in higher income workers to low income workers. There has been a social isolation throughout the state where suburbs are becoming increasingly whiter. Rodriguez suggests that we need to decrease high school dropouts and reduce costs of post-secondary education. In addition, Rodriguez emphasizes the importance of Connecticut re-establishing a middle class through manufacturing jobs. Through post-secondary education, if costs are reduced and money was invested in skill training, manufacturing jobs would be more accessible and help raise the middle class. Valerie Shultz- Wilson, President and CEO of Urban League of Southern CT focused on many of the same ideas that Rodriguez did, but proposed the idea of the state partnering with corporations to give people jobs and to give training credentials to those who need jobs. In a conversation between Shultz- Wilson and Rodriguez, both discussed the fact that there are not enough jobs in Connecticut to keep the talented in the state, which leaves us with low skill workers. Connecticut needs to increase jobs and the cost of living needs to decrease to keep those talented citizens.
Importance of Housing on Opportunity
Rodriguez and Shultz- Wilson emphasized job opportunities within our state and the gap between low and high-income job opportunities, but another concept discussed was the importance of housing on opportunity. Erin Boggs, Deputy Director of CT Fair Housing Center, highlighted the opportunity map on page five of the report. Geography within the state is very important for what kind of education students will be receiving and what opportunities they will be given. Boggs states that what resources are available should not depend on where you live; all resources should be available to all people. Boggs proposes putting subsidizing housing in areas with thriving schools to decrease the achievement gap. Today, subsidizing housing is typically put in low-income areas, with low achievement rates and a lack of resources, but just because they are poor should not force them to live in poor environments. If they are put in poor environments, they are unlikely to escape poverty, but by putting poor families in striving environments with an abundance of resources, students can escape poverty and be high achieving too. George Coleman, Former Commissioner of the Connecticut State of Department, addresses the importance of desegregation in our towns too because as long as areas are segregated, the gap will not diminish. Coleman explains that middle-income areas create advantages to help children foster prosperity and gives them what they need to achieve, while low-income areas do not do this. In a later conversation between Boggs and Coleman, Coleman gave a valid point: low-income areas actually spend more per student because the students are farther behind because of poverty and because those areas are low-income, the schools lack resources. But if the state adopts the ideals proposed by Boggs, the achievement gap will lessen and the state will have more talent, and if the state provides more jobs, proposed by Rodriguez, in return, the state will prosper economically and racially.
In conclusion: Wrapping up the discussion
The report that set the stage of this discussion brought about many interesting and different concepts to change opportunity in Connecticut in relation to race, poverty and education. Moderator Elsa Núñez, President of Eastern Connecticut State College, ended the discussion with her own heartbreaking story. About 7 years ago Núñez was looking for an apartment in Connecticut and left a message to the owners with her interest in the apartment. Núñez unfortunately received a phone call back from the owner saying that Ms. Núñez would not be able to afford the apartment because it was very expensive and just redone. Núñez was a victim of racialization and her story shows that racial disparities are not fixed and there is so much more to do. Connecticut has the largest achievement gap of any state, and for anything to change, as Núñez emphasized in her opening speech, we must look at race, poverty and education simultaneously. While this discussion was interesting and brought up many great points and ideas to change opportunity in Connecticut, it was merely a conversation about change and no plan was implemented. However, the discussion is important and is the first step for change in Connecticut.