CHAIRMEN: Senator Harp
SENATORS: Bye, Maynard, Suzio
REPRESENTATIVES: Betts, Fleischmann, Genga,
Haddad, Hurlburt, Hwang, Kiner,
Lavielle, McCrory, Miller, Miner,
Nafis, O'Neill, Sampson, Simanski,
Thompson, Wadsworth, Willis, Wood
SENATOR HARP: Good evening, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good evening.
SENATOR HARP: A couple of things. Every room on this floor, every hearing room is an overflow room. In order to be in this room, you must find a seat. If you don't have a seat, if there aren't enough seats for you, you can go to another room. There is an audio feed in every room, so you'll be able to hear everything that is going on, so if you could please find a seat and sit down. And we do that for fire code. So -- and if everyone could turn off your cell phones or put it on vibrate. And that means everyone including the people up here.
So with that I just want to welcome you to the Appropriations Committee hearing on the education portion of the budget, both the elementary and secondary education, as well as the higher education budget.
Our first speaker is Dacia Toll. Good evening. Just so that -- that everyone will know -- everyone will be given three minutes. When you hear the bell ring, is it a bell, okay, then please summarize. And so please make sure that you give us your name so that when we're taking the minutes we will have your comments assigned to the right person. So, good evening, and you may begin when you're ready.
DACIA TOLL: Good evening, Representative Walker, Senator Harp, and members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Dacia Toll and I'm the President of Achievement First, which supports four public charter schools in the state of Connecticut - Amistad and Elm City in New Haven, Achievement First Hartford, and Achievement First Bridgeport, collectively serving more than 2,800 Connecticut students.
I'm here today to speak enthusiastically in favor of Senate Bill 24. I've spent the last 14 years as a teacher, principal and advocate working to close Connecticut's vexing achievement gap, and it is inspiring to finally have a comprehensive plan on the table to address this gap and reverse the debilitating moral and economic impact it has had on our urban communities and on our state as a whole.
I am here specifically to encourage you to support the Governor's proposal to increase funding for the state's public charter schools. I want to offer four points for you to consider.
First, while I know you are entertaining requests from many schools for increased resources, Connecticut's public charter schools have been uniquely underfunded since their inception. The stage average net current expenditure per pupil in 2010-2011 was approximately $14,000 per child. In the big cities it is often several thousand dollars more. And yet Connecticut has funded its public charter schools, which are overwhelmingly located in urban areas and serving high-needs kids at only $9,400 per child. And this amount has increased only one percent in the last four years. We simply cannot survive much less expand with such constrained and inequitable resources.
An increase in our funding to $12,000 as is proposed by the Governor will still leave us shy of the state average and the average of many of our host districts, but it will nevertheless be a tremendous step in the right direction for addressing this historical inequity.
Second and more importantly, Connecticut's charter schools are getting results. More than any other type of school, Connecticut's public charter schools have the strongest track record of closing the achievement gap. Only 17 of Connecticut's 1,100 schools are charter schools and yet, when looking at African American student achievement across the state, 3 of the top 10 elementary schools, 4 of the top 10 middle schools, and the number 1 high school in the state are all public charter schools.
These schools are amongst only a handful in the entire state where low-income, minority students selected by blind lottery are outperforming state averages on achievement tests. We're especially pleased at AF Amistad High is the second highest-performing out of 195 districts in the state on the CAPT Writing Test. Not referring here to African American student performance, but to absolute overall performance. Showing the students from New Haven that great teachers can best students from Westport, Madison, and Darien on a test that assesses the vital, college and career prep skill of effective writing.
Third, the positive impact of Connecticut's public charter schools goes beyond the students we serve directly. Charter schools were created by this General Assembly 15 years ago as a way of fostering innovation within the public school system and we hope you have been happy with the return on your investment.
Finally, I was going to speak about the students we serve, but I will wrap it up there to say unambiguously are we committed to serving all students in the state of Connecticut. Thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you very much.
Our next speaker is Preston Haxo. Good evening. You can begin when ready.
PRESTON HAXO: Thank you. Good evening and thank you for having me. My name is Preston Haxo, I am currently a sophomore at Trinity College. I grew up in a small rural town in the northwest corner or Connecticut and have lived there my entire life. Both my parents are hard-working, blue collar individuals that have stressed the importance of higher education since I was little.
I was fortunate to attend a private high school because of the generosity of others and the positive impact of financial aid. I was accepted early decision to Trinity, and through a combination of grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study programs, I was able to attend. In addition to what Trinity and the state of Connecticut provided me, I applied for further scholarships and have done everything in my control to afford college. I hold three jobs on campus, I'm a resident assistant, a tour guide, and a house manager for the Austin Arts Center.
I applied to Trinity because I truly believe that small classroom sizes make for a better learning environment. The presence and availability of professors on our campus is unrivaled. These professors are interested in their students and invested in them and make every effort to better their educational experience.
Trinity's liberal arts foundation teaches creative and critical thinking while emphasizing effective communication. This strong base results in well-rounded, intelligent individuals who can excel in any field. I am forever grateful for the opportunity I've been given to attend Trinity. And this cannot be said without thanking the State of Connecticut for their contributions.
The CICS grant has proved to be invaluable. I am certain that I would not be a part of the Trinity community without it. We have seen several budget cuts and one that has directly affected me is the discontinuation of the community service grant, which allowed Connecticut residents to exchange hours of community service for a grant toward their tuition. I am fearful that significant cuts to the CICS grant will have profoundly negative implications. If you limit this funding, you are sending a harsh message to students like myself who rely on this grant that, I and others like me, cannot attend colleges like Trinity. I am very involved on campus and take every advantage available. By decreasing this loan, you are removing extremely motivated individuals that value their education. Lyndon B. Johnson once said, "We believe, that is, you and I, that education is not an expense. We believe it is an investment." So I stand here before you pleading that you continue to invest in higher education by not making cutbacks on the CICS grant.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Any questions? If not, thank you.
We're now going to call our first student panel, and that is Lais Lima and Charlie Dow, if they want to come up together. So when you're ready, you can begin.
CHARLES DOW: Honorable Chairs, members of the Appropriation Committee. I am Charles Dow, a sophomore at Common Ground High School, a charter school in New Haven. Common Ground has allowed me to learn at my own level and not (inaudible) I already taken in previous grades. This school allows us to learn our regular subject, math and English, but tie these subjects into the environment and environmental topics.
Our school gets less funding than a public school can get per student. Because of this, we have to use grants or fundraising in order to get more funds to supply more learning resources that we have. Due to Common Ground receiving less money per student than a public school, we don't always have enough resources for our class.
In a couple classes such as Algebra II and AP Environmental Science, there's not enough books for all the students who attend these classes, and instead we have to use printout packets of the chapter. With the $2,600 increase in funding per student, we could have enough money for books for these classes and other classes that may lack resources.
At Common Ground we have a variety of after-school programs and we want to allow our students to attend these after-school programs. One is the new after-school program and that's the Robotics Club. When Robotics Club first started, we had a teacher who would monitor us and we would just lead discussion and decide how we're going to build the robot and what parts we need. And soon we wouldn't have a teacher, and that led to the club almost being shut down. But luckily we had a new addition to a teacher who stayed after school with us and he was able to provide aid and supervise us at the same time.
A lot of the parts that we have right now are borrowed or they're just from parts that were going to be thrown out. And we only had $100 budget, which right now is zero dollars because it was used for two introduction kits so everybody could get used to building a robot, which was a (inaudible) robot and a small autonomous robot which can be controlled by a TV remote.
We now have to fundraise in order to get more parts like an Arduino so we can build our own robot by ourselves and an instruction (inaudible). And with this $2,600 bonus, we could possibly have more funding for next year and a more permanent staff member who could supervise us or a budget -- supervise us. Thank you and have a good evening.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you. Lima.
LAIS LIMA: Good evening. My name is Lais Lima, I am currently a student at the Bridge Academy, class of 2012. I am pleased to be here representing my school. I have been attending Bridge since I was in eighth grade, so that's almost five years. Bridge Academy is a very small school. It's great because I got to know my teachers, and it's not so great because I got to know my teachers. Yep, there's no hiding in the back of the classroom. There's also no hiding from Mr. Dutton. He just yells your name down the hall and you know you're in trouble.
But that's something that a large public school wouldn't be able to offer its students. The close-knit family atmosphere where the teachers can tailor their lessons to the students and where the friends that you make are the ones that help you get through your day.
It's because of Bridge that I'm spending my senior year rejoicing as I receive college acceptances. I am the first generation -- I am the first generation in my family to attend college. It's all because of my school's special attention to the senior class during the college application process. And my teachers encouraged me all the way through it.
As I get ready for college in the fall, I know I will miss my compact school with my attentive teachers and the great friends that I've made these years. I hope that Bridge continues to make a difference in the lives of inner-city children. Although Bridge didn't always have the funds needed to provide me with gym class every year or a volleyball team to play on or AP classes, they did a great job in giving me a full education.
In fact, due to budget cuts, we lost our outdoor Ed program and that greatly affected the student body. I would hate to see more of the few special programs that we have such as our film program be taken from future students. But I know that if only Bridge had the right resources, then they would give their students everything that they could for a wonderful education. The success of our school should not be measured by the results of a test score, but by what they can provide their students out of so little. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank my teachers for their time and their dedication towards (inaudible). Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Thank you. We appreciate it very much.
Our next speaker is Judith Greiman.
JUDITH GREIMAN: Good evening. I'm here on behalf of the member institutions of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges and submitting testimony opposing the proposed cuts to the CICS grant program.
The proposal is to cut CICS by $6.7 million and to eliminate the program from all institutions with endowments over $200 million. In your packet you have charts on graduation rates, four-year and six-year, of these institutions and others in the state, institutional aid and Pell Grant aid that has gone to Connecticut students at these colleges, degrees by key economic areas, our financial aid all-star cards this year, and you should read their stories on the back, and many facts about the program. So I'm assuming you'll read all that.
And I'm going to tell you a story about the value of the program. I talked to a professor this weekend who was praising a former student. She's a -- grew up in Hartford, had family and money problems, got to Capital Prep. Through Capital Prep ended up being accepted at Connecticut College where she received financial aid including in a CICS grant, and she has graduated, got a job, works in Connecticut. That's what the program is about. It helps to break the cycle of poverty and keeps Connecticut future workforce in the state.
The proposed cut will be felt by all students with the greatest impact on those attending the six schools with the best four- and six-year graduation rates in the state. At a time of great student need due to the economy, this need-based financial aid program for private college students will have seen its appropriate fall from $23 million last year to $18 million this year to $11 million if the proposed budget is adopted, a 50 percent cut.
The achievement gap at the K-12 level carries through to higher education in Connecticut. Our states minority attainment gap is the fifth largest in the nation, and the financial aid is one of the tools available to help close this gap. Connecticut private colleges graduate minority students at better rates than their public counterparts with equal levels of enrollment.
CICS must be part of the education reform agenda. We cannot have our collective efforts to eradicate the achievement gap in K-12 education become a financial gap in higher education. We must maintain this commitment to financial aid even in difficult budget times or we run the risk of eating away our long-term economic and fiscal strength. We hope you'll find a way to maintain the CICS funding at this year's level. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Thank you very much.
We're going to have our second student panel. Is Kevin Torres, Asia Mateen, I believe, and Nadia Johnson, or Nadia. I apologize if I have mispronounced your names. She's coming with another chair. So I don't know who's going to be first, but maybe the others of you can scoot away from the microphone and that person can get close. Good evening.
KEVIN TORRES: Good evening, Senators and Representatives. My name is Kevin Torres and I'm a senior at Achievement First Amistad High School. I stand here tonight on the shoulders of other alumni, 100 percent of whom have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. I'm proud to stand here with Nadia Johnson and Asia Mateen. I'll be the first in my family to attend college when I graduate in June from Amistad. We're here tonight to ask that charter schools receive equitable and predictable funding.
ASIA MATEEN: Hi, my name is Asia Mateen, and I am a junior at Amistad High School. I grew up in New Haven and attended a traditional New Haven public school for elementary school. I'm thankful for Amistad because I experienced incredible struggle trying to learn before. I was the kid most likely to fall through the cracks, one who found myself grade levels behind in reading and math, and attending a school that passed me every year despite it.
When I arrived at Amistad in the fifth grade, I was so far behind that I had to repeat the fifth grade. As difficult as that was, it taught me that a great teacher and a great school teaches you to fight for your own education, to be your own best advocate. If not for Amistad, I'm not sure I would have made it through high school. For kids like me, a great public charter school may be the difference between success and failure, college, and not completing high school.
I've been in New Haven my entire life. I've been in a -- I have been a public school student my entire life. And I do not understand why my public school does not receive the equitable funding it deserves. Am I worth less? Are students like me worth less? Please, support equitable funding for all public school students.
NADIA JOHNSON: My name is Nadia Johnson. And I first attended Elm City College Prep in the fifth grade. Like Kevin and Asia, I started Achievement First way behind. When I started Elm City in fifth grade, I was reading at a third grade level. But just after a year at Elm City Middle School, I was reading at a seventh grade level. I've now been on the Dean's List every year and want to study anthropology at Spelman and soon return to Connecticut in hopes to be a leader in my community.
I attribute my success to two things, hard work and my teachers. As I was preparing to speak tonight, I learned that many great charter schools like mine that are preparing me for college and to succeed in life are treated very differently than other public schools. I don't understand why this is the case, and I respectfully ask you to make sure that all public school students, all public school teachers, and public schools are treated the same and get the same resources.
KEVIN TORRES: I've had such a remarkable education at Amistad. Leaving for college this summer, I feel entirely prepared both academically and socially. Amistad has taught me to be a good student but also an independent person. My teachers say we're climbing the mountain to college every day. AF has helped me along the climb, and I am ready to go off on my own and push myself to new limits as I approach the summit of that mountain and become a leader on one of the college campuses where I have been accepted.
I've already been accepted to UConn and Central Connecticut, and I'm waiting to hear back from seven private schools that I've applied to, including Union, Clark, Holy Cross, and University of Rochester. I am hopeful that you will support the Governor's proposal to increase funding to charter schools so that my younger brother at Amistad and thousands of other charter school students can have access to a great public charter school education like I did.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Thank you. We're going to ask everyone to be seated. We're about to have a parade or a public demonstration from some of the younger people here. And so if you would all be seated while they come in. So now this is a time that you can clap as they come in.
Joseph Cirasuolo. I'm sorry. If I mispronounce your name, Joseph, I do apologize. Just pronounce it for me so that I'll know next time. Good evening. So when you're ready, you can begin.
JOSEPH CIRASUOLO: Senator Harp and Representative Walker, members of the committee. I'm Joe Cirasuolo, I'm used to my name being misspelled -- mispronounced and misspelled. I'm the Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. We represent the 166 superintendents in the state and the members of their cabinets.
I'm here to express strong support for Senate Bill 24, but we have three suggestions for improvements. One is that the bill calls for increase in funding for Agriscience programs in the state. Those programs mirror the kind of vision that we put forward in our education transportation report, they mirror it as well as any program in the state. They haven't had an increase in a long time, they really deserve an increase in state funding for Agriscience, first suggestion for improvement.
The second is that the bill calls for an increase in ECS funding that is conditional. In other words, to get the money, the districts have to submit a plan to the state department, get that plan approved. We have no problem with that, our problem is driving through ECS. Our superintendents are hearing throughout the state from their municipal officials not to expect any increase in their budgets next year. If that's the case, the intention of that increase in ECS will not be realized. If you want to have happen the things that are in those -- that list of conditions, take it out of ECS, make it a categorical grant, give it to the districts, and then hold them accountable for producing.
The third suggestion for improvement is that we have no objection to the $2,600 increase in the charter school funding. Our concern is that 1,000 of it will come from local districts per child. Our concern there is that we do not save $1,000 every time a child leaves a local district. We save approximately $300. And if the -- we're very much in favor of equitable funding for all public school children in the state, for all public school programs, but if you enact that provision of the bill, then we will not have equitable funding. The children who are left back in the district will have less money available to be spent on them.
The state charters the schools and the state should pay for them. And if you think they deserve a $2,600 increase, it should come out of the state budget and not out of local budgets. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Yes, Senator Suzio.
SENATOR SUZIO: Thank you for your testimony, Dr. Cirasuolo. Just a quick question, how did you calculate the $300 saving versus the, you know, the 1,00 or whatever, I'd just be curious?
JOSEPH CIRASUOLO: If you look at the ED001 reports that every district submits every year, and you take a look at the amount that's spent per kid on books and supplies and that kind of thing, that's what it comes down to. Because when the children leave, unless you get really lucky, they all leave at a given grade at a given school and you can save the teacher, you really don't -- you don't save anything on staff and that's your biggest expense.
You don't save anything on transportation. In fact, in some cases the local districts actually provide the transportation for children to charter schools. You don't save anything on the building costs and that kind of thing. So it comes down to about $300.
Really the thing should be scaled to what you actually save when the child leaves. And if that's more than 300, fine, but this getting an arbitrary figure of 1,000 is going to -- it's going to -- what it's going to do is honor the choice of the parents who choose to put their children in charter schools, and that choice should be honored, but not at the expense of dishonoring the choice of the parents who leave their children back in the regular school.
Again the state runs the charter schools. You chartered the schools. If we chartered them, we'd pay for them. If the state charters them, I think the state should pay for them.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you. Further questions?
JOSEPH CIRASUOLO: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much.
Our next speaker is Kaylyn Morrill
KAYLYN MORRILL: Hello. I'm Kaylyn. I'm currently serving as the President of the Connecticut State FFA Association. I represent about 3,100 students enrolled in agricultural education across the state. Agricultural education offers potential for -- to effect every high school student of Connecticut. We have about -- we have 20 Agriscience centers across the state, 19 of which are regional programs. The ag-ed centers are represented here tonight by chapter numbers. Students, I'd like all your chapter names.
Housatonic Valley in Canaan serves 6 towns, Northwestern in Barkhamsted serves 8 towns, Wamogo in Litchfield services 9 towns, Woodbury serves 23 towns, Stamford serves 9 towns, Trumbull serves 9 towns, Bridgeport serves 8 towns, Southington serves 10 towns, Lyman Hall of Wallingford serves 9 towns, the New Haven Sound School serves 17 towns, Mattabassett in Middletown serves 17 towns, Suffield serves 8 towns, Rockville serves 10 towns, Bloomfield serves 6 towns, Storrs serves 5 towns, Lebanon serves 13 towns, Killingly serves 12 towns, and Ledyard serves 13 towns.
You do the math, it equates to every single town in the state of Connecticut. However, every year due to financial problems teaching positions go unfilled. And those who are able to obtain a teaching position, have to work with adequate or outdated materials, supplies and in some cases, equipment.
Students are turned away or even discouraged to apply due to a lack of teachers, transportation problems and no funding to (inaudible). Therefore, there's -- those seats go unfilled in such a valuable part of our education system. I encourage everyone or anyone to contact any of these students, they all have their own stories as far as how ag-ed has affected them, and to please support agricultural education. I believe in the future of agriculture. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you very much.
Jaunice Edwards. I'm sorry. Could you pronounce it for me.
JAUNICE EDWARDS: No, you did it perfectly. I'm like normally they mispronounce my name. Thank you. Good evening, ladies and gentleman. I would like to -- would like you to think for a moment of a few topics.
SENATOR HARP: Could you just say your name, please.
JAUNICE EDWARDS: Oh, I'm sorry. Jaunice Edwards representing Bloomfield-Harris AgriScience Center. When you think of topics such as food security, species reintroduction, water, energy poverty, environmental reclamation, food literacy, healthy school lunch initiatives, you cannot help but to wonder who will be equipped to address these issues. My suggestion for a solution should be sought through agricultural students.
As director of the Harris AgriScience Center in Bloomfield, we service a town that has a population of 96 percent minority. Along with 18 other centers around the state, we build foundations for students to meet these obstacles. We educate students in our regional areas of East Granby, Granby, Hartford, West Hartford, Windsor and Simsbury.
The STEM experiences we provide to our students are universal and vital to the success and achievement of our population, especially the minority students we serve. Our students are meeting and exceeding expectations in all 19 agricultural centers in the state. Our students are exposed and are fully immersed into scientific research and are able to answer the question that plagues the mathematically challenged, why are we learning this? And most importantly, where in my life will I apply the things that I learned?
Our students are taking science and math concepts, manipulating their literary tools, and showing us that they are able to raise fish through the science of aquaculture, recycle the effluent through aquaponics, and study the feasibility of providing produce to their school cafeteria and to their local town's soup kitchens. How about students who are using the same science and math concepts to evaluate pollution effects on shellfish thickness in various shellfish populations? How about the students that are mastering CAD design to build marine vessels? This is just a snippet of what happens every day in agriculture centers around the state. Let us not forget that agriculture science education began and continues to serve as the model for magnet school and high school reform initiatives.
As the only high school minority agriculture science instructor and director in the state, I cannot impress upon you enough how important it is to not only to properly fund agriculture centers, but to send a message to the entire ag student body, from prospective eighth graders waiting for acceptance letters, and high school graduates stepping out form the comforts of their home, to ag alumni that are prepared to meet the 21st century challenges that we face.
Tell them that you value their determination and that they are driven from such an early age towards success and you honor their long hours of sacrifice by adequately funding their education not at an average rate of $1,400 per student, but an equitable rate that represents all charter and public student education. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not thank you so much.
Our next speaker is Emily Von Edwins. Good evening.
EMILY VON EDWINS: Good evening. Good evening Representatives and Senators. My name is Emily Von Edwins, and I am a member and the president of the Lebanon Regional FFA Chapter. Four years ago I joined the agriscience program at Lebanon with the desire to be an equine veterinarian. Having a strong background in the horse industry already, I thought the program would further advance my knowledge and provide me with the great opportunities in preparation for my future career.
Naturally my supervised agricultural experienced, or SAE project, revolved around riding, training, and showing horses. While I love all farm animals, I believe horses were my only true passion, however, this quickly changed. Within my first year in the ag program I was introduced to a variety of a different livestock. I took interest in all of the large animals from sheep to cows. It was then that my focus began to shift away from strictly horses, and I decided to work towards a career as a large animal veterinarian.
I began to take a great interest in dairy cattle and was able to be part of the fifth place team in the nation for dairy judging this past year, a competition that taught me a great deal about the dairy and cattle industry, and sparked my interest for showing dairy.
Being enrolled in the large animal and vet science classes in the ag program gave me even more opportunities that many potential veterinary students do not receive until college. From palpations and vaccinations to physical exams and sutures, I was able to learn a variety of skills.
As my SAE project changed, these skills were only enhanced further. I began working at Colchester Veterinary Hospital working as a doctor and technician assistant while having the opportunity to gain even more advanced beneficial skills. Being enrolled in the ag program has provided me with so many great opportunities in preparation for my future, not only with the career aspects, but also in public speaking and leadership.
I feel that I am better prepared for the professional world because of my responsibilities and exposure the ag program has provided me with. Please increase funding for these agriscience programs so that more students like myself can benefit from these great programs like I have.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you.
Our next speaker is Chelsea Arpin and she'll be followed by Tyler Lemoine.
CHELSEA ARPIN: Hi, how are you doing? Good. Well, good evening. My name is Chelsea Arpin. I'm from Killingly. I am currently a sophomore at Mitchell, and I'm proud to say that I'm an active student at Mitchell. I'm currently President-elect of the 2012-2013 Student Government Association, I'm a student ambassador for the admissions office, and Vice President of the Student Athlete Advising Committee.
As a student athlete, I chose Mitchell for the strong -- for the strong athletic program and close proximity to home. I was also attracted to the business studies program and new career center, and I am very pleased with my decision to attend Mitchell College However, my education at Mitchell is only possible with scholarship aid including the CICS scholarship. So to the state of Connecticut I thank you for the scholarship, the aid that you have provided me up to this point.
These scholarships are important because they not only allow students like me to gain a college degree in a smaller campus environment. I chose Mitchell College because it's a small, independent college and also because my family thought I could prepare for my career in business at Mitchell.
I am currently majoring in business with a minor in marketing. After getting my degree in 2014, it is my aspiration to find a job somewhere within the state of Connecticut where I can be close to my family and friends. If I do not get the scholarship I have been receiving thus far, I may seriously have to rethink what are my college options moving forward.
I am deeply concerned about the potential cuts to the CICS scholarship and would ask you to reconsider. And thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you so much. Mr. Lemoine.
TYLER LEMOINE: Good evening. Hello, my name is Tyler Lemoine and I am President of the Southington FFA Chapter and a student from the Carl M. Small Regional Agricultural Center, and I support increasing funding for the agriculture science and technology programs throughout Connecticut.
The agriculture science program makes an enormous difference to students. These programs offer personalized education on agriculture to prepare students for a future and a career that more often than not leads them in a college-bound direction. Not only does our program include education in the field of agriculture, but provides vital skills in organization, business, competition, and leadership. Because students come from different regions of Connecticut, our program promotes diversity. Through career development events, student learn important life skills, jobs and competition in anything from ag mechanics to vet tech. Leadership above all is taught to each student by the support of our teachers and the programs, FFA.
I am in this program for the opportunity it gives students like me and the future it prepares me for. I want to become a veterinarian or a politician where I can help shape agriculture policy. This program provides me the opportunity to learn about veterinary medicine not only through bookwork, but with hands-on experiences. Each student must complete a supervised agriculture experience requirement. With this, students like me are open to volunteering and job opportunities. For example, I was able to shadow a local vet and work at Rogers Orchards.
The agriculture science and technology program provides students like me with an incredible education and vast amount of skills including hands-on experience. Each of us in this room could easily remember which class taught us the most, which class had prepared us for our future, and which class allowed opportunity to come knocking on our doors. For me this is that class. This is why all the FFA members prepare are here. We are part of the great future of our country, and we want our program to thrive. Please increase funding for this program so that we may provide an opportunity for more students to explore an agriculture career for a better student, a better future, and a better state. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you. Are there questions?
If not, Alessandra Cabral. Is Alessandra, oh, there you are. And she will be followed by Madeline Sadlowski. Good evening.
ALESSANDRA CABRAL: Good evening, Senator Harp, Representative Walker, and the members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Alessandra Cabral and I'm simply here as one of the students that benefit from the CICS grant. I'm currently attending the University of Hartford, and I'm working towards my bachelors degree in biochemistry, because I love the sciences.
And I actually fell in love with chemistry and the sciences when I befriended one of my friends, my professor, in high school. And, you know, that love of science just continues to grow at the University of Hartford as I get to know my professors because it's such a small environment and a wonderful environment for learning.
The -- it would really be detrimental to me to lose the CICS grant because I already work two jobs, I am a mother, and just to find the time in my day to take up another job if I lose this grant would really be detrimental to me, and I'd have to reconsider my whole life because I seriously don't think I could afford to go to college without the grant and without the help of all the Connecticut funding.
So I'm here to thank you very much and just represent myself as a student and just thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you very much.
Our next speaker is Madeline Sadlowski.
MADELINE SADLOWSKI: Good evening. My name is Madeline Sadlowski and I'm from the Southington FFA Chapter. At the age of eight I was hit with a passion for horses. That quickly deepened into a passion for all animals. I spend the majority of my spare time working to care for animals and learning a great deal about how to keep them healthy. By the time I was in eighth grade, I couldn't wait to fill out my application to get into the VOAG program at Southington High School. When I toured the facility, I knew it was exactly where I belong.
My mom always tells me how lucky I am to know exactly where my interests lie and sees that I am extremely passionate about the program. VOAG is the reason I love to go to school each day. My peers in VOAG all have similar stories of why they competed to get into this most specialized program. When I find even more amazing is just how much my interest expands the longer I participate.
I am not only interested in the animal sciences and vet tech classes, but find myself intrigued by other aspects such as natural resources and agricultural machinery. The teachers at the VOAG program are so knowledgeable and passionate about the program that it becomes contagious and soon find yourself interested in doing things you never thought you could do. For me this happened many times already and I am only in tenth grade.
I am currently the Sophomore Vice President of the Southington FFA Chapter and have competed in the horse judging contest and our team won states and is now qualified to go to nationals. There is no other program in education that I have found teachers so engaged in each individual's development. They truly make us want to be better students and community members. The leadership, public speaking, and team building skills I am learning as part of the VOAG FFA program will benefit me every day of my life.
The Southington VOAG program is not only important to me personally, but I believe it is extremely important to our community, country, and world. Learning about agriculture and building a more sustainable food source can change the future.
On a personal note, when you make the final decision, I want you to remember me, a 16-year-old girl testifying before you in her FFA uniform. I proudly wear this as a reminder of the tradition and opportunities it represents for me and all the future ambitious and enthusiastic FFA members your decision will impact. Please increase funding for this agriscience programs so that more students like myself can benefit from these great programs like I have. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you. Are there questions? Thank you for coming out tonight.
Our next speaker is Robyn Kaplan-Cho and she will be followed by William Trickett.
ROBYN KAPLAN-CHO: Good evening Representative Walker, Senator Harp and members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Robyn Kaplan-Cho and I am the retirement specialist for CEA, the teachers' association representing over 40,000 active and retired teachers. And I'm going to shift gears a bit from what we've been hearing in testimony.
Frankly, we were stunned to read that Governor Malloy is proposing shifting a portion of the -- of the state's financial obligation over to our oldest retired teachers. When the health fund for retired teachers was created in 1989, the understanding was that active teachers would fund the vast majority of the money in that fund, followed by retired teachers, and followed by the state. And that is actually exactly what has occurred. Over 75 percent of the money in that fund comes from the salaries of active teachers, 25 percent comes from state dollars.
But the system has been working well. The health care fund has been very stable and able to maintain a very well-managed Medicare supplement plan. So I'm dumbfounded as to why the Governor would, in light in of this, propose reducing the state's contribution by over $16 million and shifting that burden over to retirees on the Medicare supplement plan.
Just so you know, the average age of the retired teacher on that plan is 75 and many of these individuals retired before the Enhancement Act, and therefore they're living on extremely modest pensions to say the least. They are, in fact, in the worst position to bear this financial burden. And this increase to their healthcare premium would be on top of whatever annual increase they normally experience as a regular premium increase.
OPM Secretary Barnes has stated that this proposed change will somehow encourage these teachers to stay on their local district plans. Because of the limited time I'm not going to get into that, but my opinion is that that is not, in fact, factual at all and I'd be happy to elaborate if you want to ask me about that.
So what will happen is the Governor's proposed reduction to the state's healthcare fund will send an otherwise stable, well-functioning fund down a path toward financial instability. And why would we want to do that to a fund that's working well and is satisfactory to the plan participants? I also question the propriety of the Governor's proposal to claim the Medicare Part D reimbursement money as the state's own contribution to the fund. And again I'd be more than happy to elaborate on that if you have questions at the end of my testimony.
I'd also like to address the Governor's proposal to consolidate the retirement board under the Office of the State Comptroller. I fail to see how that would save the state any real money given how lean an agency the STRB is. And a study done recently, several years ago, concluded that the STRB provides services to active and retired teachers at a cost of $27 a member. That is the least expensive cost of any retirement system in the universe of pensions that were studied.
The pure median cost of that group was $73 per member. And I think that's a tribute to the extremely hard working and dedicated staff of the Teachers' Retirement Board who have been working for years on a minimal budget with minimal staffing. And let me just conclude by saying in reviewing the budget numbers, as far as I can tell the only savings I see represented in that document would be a $1 savings under the heading of equipment. So I would welcome further clarification on that.
And finally let me please just wrap up by saying that probably the most concerning aspect of this merger proposal is that it would essentially strip the STRB of its autonomy and independence that it's enjoyed since its inception. And again we'd be happy to discuss that with you further, but that's a serious change with very, very serious implications for all retired and active teachers. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions. Yes, Senator Suzio.
SENATOR SUZIO: Thank you, Madame Chair. Okay. I'm game. Explain to me your response to Secretary Barnes' claim about how the impact would affect teachers reverting to their local plans.
ROBYN KAPLAN-CHO: It was stated recently that -- he stated that the, I guess the expectation would be that these retired teachers who are currently on the state Medicare supplement plan would shift to the local district plans. First of all, very few school districts even offer a Medicare supplement plan. And over the course of the last 10 to 15 years, most have aggressively sought to eliminate those plans. They are not interested in hosting these retirees. Again these are the oldest retirees in the system.
Secondly, for those plans -- if a retired teacher who is otherwise on the state's Medicare supplement plan were to somehow decide to stay on the local district non-Medicare plan, which they could in theory do, they would be facing monthly premiums between -- depending on the district for a single person somewhere between $400 and over $900 a month. That is completely unrealistic and is actually a worse situation than the retirees currently find themselves in. So unless -- I might be missing something, but I'm not understanding how that would actually happen at all.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Further questions? Thank you very much.
ROBYN KAPLAN-CHO: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Appreciate your comments.
Our next speaker is William Trickett followed by Julie Savino. Good evening.
WILLIAM TRICKETT: Good evening. My name is William Trickett and I am from the Storrs Regional FFA chapter. Legislators of our state, I would like to address you on a subject which is very important to me, it has been for the last four years. Our chapter is based in the agricultural education program at Edwin O. Smith High School where students are educated in the agricultural sciences in the classroom and in leadership in their membership in the FFA.
I was enrolled in agricultural education my freshman year with little more than an interest in studying agriculture. I had no indication that as a senior I would be where I am today as a result of that program. When I became a student in agricultural classrooms, I learned skills that would not only help me accomplish tasks in the agricultural field, but also life lessons. The classroom experience uniquely incorporated knowledge's -- knowledge from other academic areas such as writing and mathematics as well as safety, logic, common sense, and most importantly, responsibility.
A major component in the FFA experience that I had was leadership, something that has brought all of you here today. I had opportunities to attend leadership conferences, prepare and deliver speeches, and be an FFA officer in my chapter of which I am now president. I was able to travel across the country, develop career plans, and overcome challenges such as -- such as the fear of public speaking. All of this because of my involvement in my local FFA chapter.
My classmates and fellow members also had experiences that we would never have had if it was not for the agricultural education program. I have watched each of them grow significantly as individuals and motivated to be the leaders of tomorrow, the well-educated professionals in various fields for years to come.
Funding for agricultural schools is very important so that agricultural teachers continue -- can continue the work they do in changing the lives of their students. Agricultural education programs are known for their ability to inspire young people nationwide, and our fine state is no exception. The students who leave our programs are focused, motivated and determined individuals who have bright futures ahead of them. Is this not the mission of public education? Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you very much. We really appreciate your testimony.
Our next speaker is Julie Savino and she will be followed by Liz Burton.
JULIE SAVINO: Good evening. Senator Harp, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Julie Savino, and I am Executive Director of University Financial Assistance at Sacred Heart University. I am here today to express our grave concern over the proposed cuts to the Connecticut Independent College Student Grant Program.
Even as we wondered how we could possibly absorb the $2 million cut that was already planned for the next academic year, we received the disappointing news that an additional $4.8 million cut had been proposed. While the proposed cuts to institutions with $200 million in endowments do not directly impact Sacred Heart, they do affect Connecticut students. I am here in support of my sister colleges that would be severely impacted by this proposal.
Endowments at all of our institutions are already being used to support the academic and physical needs of our campuses, as well as scholarships and community investments. They are under increased stress from the downturn in the economy of those earnings and large donations have decreased. In addition, we have already used endowment revenues to fund more need-based institutional aid as more students become eligible or their parents struggle with current economic losses.
In the past, the Legislature has recognized the critical need for college endowments by aggressively supporting growth through matching funds for fundraising efforts at the state's public universities. To now penalize private schools for successfully building those endowments, which again have been used more and more to fund student aid, does not seem right.
While we understand your need to make tough decisions, we do not believe a massive cut like this advances your education reform or economic development initiatives. It makes little sense to improve educational opportunities for students in K-12 and then take away their access to a college education.
The CICS program helps those Connecticut students who lack the resources to go to the college of their choice in Connecticut. The proposed cuts will severely limit the higher education options of the state's most needy students. Instead of being able to attend the in-state private college of their choice, they will be forced to choose a state school or attend an out-of-state college that can afford to offer the aid we no longer can.
Private out-of-state institutions will be more than happy to offer scholarships to Connecticut's best and brightest students who also happen to be needy. As for state schools, while they are right for many students, they are not the best fit for all. With their high retention rate and graduate rate and personalized approach to students, Connecticut independent colleges and universities provide the most appropriate educational setting for many students. In addition, the high four-year graduate rate in the independent sectors allows for the most efficient use of state money.
At Sacred Heart for the 2010-2011 school year, our CICS aid was $2.4 million and we awarded money to 652 students at an average award of $3,700. The average family income for those students was $68,000 and the average amount those families were able to contribute was $8,700. For the current school year our CICS aid was $1.7 million and we awarded aid to 580 students for an average award of $3,300. The average family income, $66,000, with an average ability to contribute of only $8,800. The cut of $400,000 meant we gave less money to fewer students, and many eligible students received no money at all.
Overall, Sacred Heart University provided $36 million in student financial aid for 2011-2012 undergraduate degree-seeking students with 84 percent receiving financial assistance -- thank you -- to support their attendance.
The bottom line is the CICS program benefits Connecticut students, not the educational institutions, and these additional cuts will hurt low- and middle-income students throughout the state. The 29 percent of our CICS grant receipts come from Connecticut's 11 principal cities, and 17% are underrepresented minorities. We provide aid to students from 125 different towns and cities in Connecticut. We cannot continue to limit the options of these Connecticut students. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you. Does anybody have a question? Thank you. Thank you for your testimony.
Next we have Liz Burton followed by Danielle Palmieri. Good evening.
ELIZABETH BURTON: Good evening. My name is Elizabeth Burton and I am a senior at Ledyard High School's agriscience and technology program. I also serve as vice president of the Ledyard Regional FFA chapter. My area of study is agricultural mechanics, and I plan to attend college next year to major in mechanical engineering.
When I first applied to the agricultural program, I thought I wanted to work with animals and take part in the vet tech program because I've always enjoyed taking care of the animals we have at home. However, my agriscience teachers showed me how mechanics is so important to every aspect of agriculture. And since I like math and I really to know how things work, I found myself taking more agricultural mechanics courses.
One of the best things about my agriscience classes is that I get to see not only how things work but to work with my hands and apply my new learning to real-world situations. At home I not only take care of my animals, but I also have been helping to put new siding on our garage, making 3-D models of houses and barns, and trying to fix our ATV, which always seems to be breaking during the fall and winter seasons.
At school we're rebuilding an entryway to an old greenhouse and replacing the glass that has been damaged. In addition, I've been a member of our ag mechanics team in which you are tested on the knowledge you would only learn in an ag class. All this has convinced me that engineering is the field for me. I would never have had these experiences if there had never been an agriscience program to attend.
Agriscience helps prepare students for the future. Whether we want to attend college, join the military, or go to work. I feel we are better prepared because we've learned to work with our hands, solve real-world problems, develop the ability of public speaking, and take on leadership roles. I believe that you should help provide these opportunities to more students.
These programs provide us with priceless experiences to help make us better workers and contributing members of society. They also help us become able to speak in front of large crowds like I'm doing now and become outstanding leaders. Please increase funding for agricultural education. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Are there questions? If not, thank you very much. Good job.
Our next speaker is Paul Mutone. Is Paul here? Okay. And following Paul will be Abby Ray. Good evening.
PAUL MUTONE: Good evening. My name is Paul Mutone and I have the pleasure of serving as Vice President for Finance and Operations at Trinity College. And I'm here this evening to put forth our request that funding for the CICS program not be cut for the current academic year.
As you heard tonight -- earlier this evening from one of our students, Preston, Preston is a recipient of a CICS grant this year in addition to a recipient of a financial aid package from the college as well. And even with both of those grants, he needed to take on three campus jobs to make his finances work for the current year. So the importance of this CICS program is just a high, high level to our students.
Trinity tries to do its best on the financial aid as well. In the current year we awarded more than $34 million in financial aid grants to more than 800 of our students. In all it's about a 30 percent discount off the tuition and fees for the school. The bulk of that money is funded by the college's operating budget.
And while we talk about the endowment to schools and the threshold for the reduction of this CICS program was for institutions with endowments of more than $200 million, while Trinity's endowment is more than $200 million, I would like to point out and as was alluded to earlier tonight, there are other demands on the endowment.
And if you look at the endowment and if you look at debt service that institutions have to pay and if you look at deferred maintenance issues, when you take all that into account, Trinity's endowment on a net worth value if you back all that out, is substantially lower than $200 million. So while we might be viewed above the threshold, in our opinion we really view that we are below that threshold.
We're doing our -- our best to try to raise more financial aid for our students, we're are embarking into a capital campaign for financial aid to try to produce more money that we can give out to our students in the form of aid, the college's budget remains driven by tuition and fees. We are -- of our operating budget, 77 percent does come from student charges, again, even with an endowment that might be viewed as a large number.
We do -- we are concerned that with a reduction in that program, we will have to supplement the reduction by using additional college funding for -- for financial aid. And that will put us into a difficult -- into a decision process that we would have to make some tough choices. And we fear some the potential trade-offs could be current funding to programs that currently impact the -- the local community.
The college funds programs such as (inaudible), we have a Center for Urban and Global Studies which we feel is beneficial to the global community. We have a Trinfo Café that is also a benefit to the community. And again a reduction in the CICS program may force us to divert even more money to financial aid and potentially force us into having to reduce some funding from community programs. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you very much.
Our next speaker is Abby Ray who will be followed by Michelle Doucette Cunningham.
ABBY RAY: Hi everyone. My name is Abby Ray and I'm a senior at Nonnewaug High School and a proud member of our chapter, the Woodbury FFA. I remember four years ago I was in the position that 183 eighth graders are in today. I checked the mailbox every day anxiously awaiting a response on my acceptance or denial to the Ellis Clark Regional AgriScience program. Fortunately I was one of the lucky individuals who was accepted.
However, just last week our director, Mr. Davenport, had to deny admission to 93 students who cannot be accommodated in our program. It's not that these students are unqualified or undeserving, our school simply does not have the funding for students from the state that we need to educate these kids. We have seven teachers who are passionate and qualified and very ready to teach, however, we cannot accommodate these 93 students because we only receive funding for 90.
When I opened my acceptance letter that chilly March afternoon, I had no idea that this program would shape my life in such a dramatic way. When applying to colleges this year, I spoke to admissions counselors who were impressed with my involvement in the FFA, but even more so with my ability to speak and conduct myself. These skills are something I would never have learned without my involvement in agricultural education.
In terms of my resume, colleges have been impressed with my long-standing involvement in this program. I held the office of chapter president in 2010-2011, and sophomore class vice president in 2009-2010. One thing the admissions officers commented on was the fact that not only am I job-ready, I'm currently employed. How many educational systems can say that they're graduating students who are already active members in the society? Moreover, how many schools can match our rate of 100 percent student employment during their high school years?
Although these accomplishments are something I'm very proud of, they're not unique to only me. Whether students in these programs hold offices, compete on teams, or have outstanding work experiences, they each -- each find their own way to be involved. Unfortunately, 1,100 students statement will be denied this opportunity because of a lack of funding from the state. Why should they miss out on this opportunity?
Ask yourselves, if these were your students, would you deny them the chance to become a leader, get a jumpstart on their career, or perhaps most importantly, discover their passion in life? Or would you find a way to make their dreams a reality and transform your promising but undeveloped adolescent into a polished young adult?
On behalf of the students who will not be admitted this year, I'm asking you to think of the students in your own life when you consider allotting funding to these programs that have shaped not only my life, but the lives of thousands before me and generations to come. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? I don't believe we have any questions, so thank you very much.
ABBY RAY: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Michelle Doucette Cunningham followed by Christa Roth.
MICHELLE DOUCETTE CUNNINGHAM: Good evening, Senator Harp, Representative Walker, members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Michelle Doucette Cunningham, I'm the Executive Director of the Connecticut After School Network, a statewide alliance representing the thousands of children, parents and staff who participate in afterschool and summer programs all across the state. I'm here this evening on behalf of the network and its members to thank you for your past support for programs for children and youth and to testify on three parts of the Governor's budget.
Number one the afterschool grant program line item in the Department of Education for $4.5 million is essential flat funding for the second year of two-year grants that are serving 40 grantees and more than 5,000 children after school this year. The afterschool programs supported by this grant helps working families, keeps children, safe, and improves student learning. The RBA scorecard prepared by the department each year on this topics shows that they're reaching their target of participants and making an important difference in the lives of young people.
Secondly, I want to voice my support for the Governor's proposed changes to the State Department of Education overall, in particular, the movement of the education-related grants from DSS and OPM to SDE. Many of the organizations with which I work receive funding or at least apply to receive funding from all three of these agencies, and having them better aligned under the State Department of Education will both reduce paperwork and better align their goals and outcomes, making data collection and reporting much easier.
And thirdly, I'd like to voice my support for the $500,000 that is proposed for a personalized learning pilot. In the state of New Hampshire where this was implemented at the high school level, it created a tremendous support for reducing drop-outs at the high school level as well as internships and apprentices and community-based programs that no longer tie students credits to their time spent in the seat.
So it really allows students to gain high school credit from learning that happens outside the traditional classroom but with the traditional classroom alignment and curriculum in consideration. So I think it's tremendous idea to start looking in that direction for some new ideas and some pilot projects. So I very much support funding for that. Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify this evening.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Yes, Senator Bye.
SENATOR BYE: Just very quickly, Michelle, can you be more specific about the programs that are moved to SDE that you think will streamline things and make it easier for programs such as yours that are working with the State Department of Ed?
MICHELLE DOUCETTE CUNNINGHAM: Certainly. So this year some of the boys' and girls' funding was moved from OPM into the -- using -- under the same program officer, and they're going to start using the same data collection software system. So they'll be looking at the same outcome measures. So that alone in terms of programs having to only use one system to report data has been a big plus.
I'm also seeing that there's some funding that's being moved from the Department of Social Services that was for before- and after-school contracts, as well as some earmarked funding. And the department has done that before, but it will allow them to use the same rubrics under which they're measuring.
SENATOR BYE: Great. Thank you. Thank you, Madame Chair.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Further questions? If not, thank you very much.
MICHELLE DOUCETTE CUNNINGHAM: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Our next speaker is Christa Roth followed by Vince Contrucci.
CHRISTA ROTH: Hello everyone. My name is Christa Roth and I currently a junior taking the horticulture class in the agriscience program at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury. In addition, I'm taking regular courses such as all honors courses and AP courses to prepare me for college. I commute daily from Danbury all the way to Woodbury to attend the agriscience program. And once I graduate from Nonnewaug next year, I plan to pursue a career in plant science and plant genetics in college.
I just have to say that the agriscience program at Nonnewaug and those all around the state are extremely beneficial to students and have helped me prepare for a future career. During class, we learn about everything from every industry from flower arranging to the cutting edge of plant science, and the unique instruction in the horticulture class has taught me about different fields of study and also about common techniques used in each field and everyday life.
The agriscience program, just for example, has already helped so many students including my sister who is able to attend Cornell University this year as a freshman because specifically of her achievements that she accumulated during her time in the agriscience program. Whenever she was applying, college advisors always told her that the agriscience program gave her an advantage and provided her with the necessary skills that they were looking for in prospective college students.
And I would just like to read a letter from Prides Corner Farms to just illustrate how much agriculture relies on graduates from these outstanding programs. Prides Corner Farms is a diversified 500 acre wholesale production nursery located in Lebanon, Connecticut, that grows plants for customers all over the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. Our product lineup includes perennials, grasses, herbs, native plants, trees, shrubs, and edible ornamentals. As a large employer in the Northeast, we are actively seeking individuals that are interested in developing a career in horticulture. We are looking for enthusiastic, positive-minded people that like working outdoors and have an interest in plants.
We provide on-the-job training which his ideal for candidates that are just finishing their education and have not yet had the opportunity to enter the workplace. We have full-time openings available and are offering summer positions for those that are returning to school in the fall.
We are particularly interested in candidates that have some horticultural education either at the vocational or college level. We are also very interested in people that have actively participated in the FFA or 4-H programs, as we know these programs foster strong leadership and business skills. The number of students graduating from these types of programs certainly seems to be on a decline in our state. As a large employer, it is difficult to find job candidates that have a true working interest in production horticulture. We are forced to recruit out-of-state employees due to the lack of qualified and interested candidates coming out of our school systems.
We ask that our state continue as well as increase funding to support our 19 regional agriscience educational centers. Agriculture is a $3.6 billion industry in Connecticut. Our company employs 500 employees during our peak season, and has over 200 full-time employees. We need students training in the horticulture field so that they are prepared to enter the workforce upon graduate. Our industry is relying on your support to make this possible.
So just in conclusion, you can clearly see the demand for interested and willing graduates in agriscience programs. So please increase the funding to these agriscience programs so we can help save the future of Connecticut industry and also help save the future of Connecticut agriculture. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you.
Our next speaker is Vince Contrucci. Please forgive me if I mispronounced your name, sir. And then we have a panel from charter schools.
VINCE CONTRUCCI: Good evening members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Vince Contrucci, I am the Director of the Office of Community Service at Quinnipiac University. I have the privilege of administrating the Connecticut Independent College Student Community Service Grant at the university. While the amount of funds that are distributed through the community service grant are small, they are hugely important to students education.
These funds are a vital source of support for students who struggle to meet the costs of college, while engaging them in direct service to their communities. As a result of the community service grant, students self select a nonprofit or a municipal service to devote time to each month. This year, students awarded a community service grant will provide at least 2,400 hours of service to Connecticut communities. Students perform service at agencies such as Animal Haven, (inaudible), (inaudible) Park, Bethel Volunteer Fire Department, Oxford Ambulance Association, Literacy Volunteers of Greater Haven, The Guilford Free Library, and New Haven Reads, amongst many, many others.
Students provide a vital support system for these agencies from general administrative duties to services specific to their majors. In fact, many students sought their service based upon their course of study. A student serving at Orange Government Access Television is a film and video major and uses his skills to benefit Orange through film and video production.
Pre-med majors often serve as EMT with volunteer ambulance associations, while education majors serve at schools or are literacy providers. Regardless of where they serve, the grant challenges students to engage with their community and act as a vital source of support.
Additionally, the service students perform educates and changes them. Each month grant recipients submit reports on their service. One student wrote, this is now my fourth year volunteering (inaudible) through the CICS grant, but each year I am surprised how much I enjoy it. I have begun to see first-hand that even though I am getting older, I am still a kid at heart. I think that seeing this has allowed me to quickly mature and view education and responsibility in a new light.
A student serving at Masonicare wrote, as a future healthcare provider, I think this experienced has helped me to learn the art of small talk with patients. Another student related that working at the Cheshire Community Food Pantry has really showed me the importance of caring for those in your community. And a student serving with Camden Elderly Services teaching computer skills to seniors related, they were so grateful and happy to have me there as their teacher and that really felt great. Everyone had horror stories to tell about their experience in trying to learn how to use computers. I'm happy to know that I was able to provide them with a happy learning experience.
Each month I read how my students impact the community and in turn are impacted. Writer Eudora Welty related that her motivation for writing was to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other's presence, each other's wonder, each other's human plight.
The service the students perform to the grant allows them to part that curtain and to learn about their communities in ways that will otherwise be unavailable. The loss of this source of funds will not only remove students from the challenge of parting that curtain through service, but it would also impact the student's ability to afford their education and negatively impact the service locations and communities that benefit from their involvement. Thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you. Are there questions? If not, thank you so much, sir.
We have one more student before I call the parent panel, and that is Thalia Barrett. I'm sorry. Good evening actually.
THALIA BARRETT: Good evening.
SENATOR HARP: You can begin when you're ready.
THALIA BARRETT: My name is Thalia Barrett. I am ninth grader representing the Donald F. Harris, Sr., Agriscience and Technology Center in Bloomfield. I chose to be a part of the agriscience center in Bloomfield because I thought it would be a great way for me to learn about the real world beyond high school and college.
Some things I learned at the agriscience center were how to determine the water quality of any body of water by just collecting the macroinvertabrates and examining them to produce a final lab which tells you how healthy the water is. Also the growing process of Salmon solar which is Atlantic salmon. We were given 400 total eyed eggs and our goal is to raise and release these salmon along with more than 70 other schools working the Atlantic Salmon Association to aid in the reintroduction efforts of the Connecticut River waterways.
Another activity I'm currently doing at the agriscience center is Kids N' Critters. While doing Kids N' Critters, I've learned about ball pythons, beared dragons, and all sorts of other reptiles we currently have down at the center. We were then assigned to an animal to do further research and be able to present a simpler explanation of the animals to elementary school students. This type of public speaking platform will help me to earn my Greenhand Degree in the FFA, but most importantly, prepare me to articular how important agriculture programs are to students like me.
The teachers in the center are very passionate about what they do. They are the ones helping adolescents like myself refine what we would be -- what we would do for a career when we finish high school and college. Many students in the town and other districts want to be part of the agriscience experience but can't because we are provided with little funding. If given more funding from the state, we can extend our building and activities so that more ag kids can benefit.
When I think of agriscience, I just don't think of it as a class I decided to take. I think of it as a community where students get the opportunity to explore the outside world little by little, building up their knowledge. It gives me a chance to interact with different communities and spread our ideas to make the environment better. Agriscience centers around the town are finding ways to produce plants by simply using water and fish waste. It is a healthier way to grow produce without harming the environment. Where else can you -- where else can a high school student be exposed to areas -- these areas of science? Only a school like mine.
I would like you to take a moment to think about opportunities -- the opportunities for the students like myself being the Future Farmers of America. I along with many other students are finding ways to make a healthier lifestyle choices not just for the benefit of one town, but maybe even the world. If your child was a part of this program, would you hold them back? Would you stop them from exploring the world little by little or just throw them out there unprepared? Providing more funding to agriculture centers can enable more students to build a strong foundation that will support our communities.
Just last year I was one of the class clowns who rarely did any work because I thought it was pointless. After my current teacher, Mrs. Edwards, came down to my middle school and talked about the benefits of the program, my whole attitude changed towards life and school. After completing half of my freshman year in her class, she has taught me the importance of taking my work seriously and has opened my mind to careers in the field of agriculture.
It would mean so much to the Harris Agriscience Center along with the fellow agriscience centers around the state if we have the opportunity to broaden our reach so other students can be part of a life-changing program. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Good job.
And it looks as if we have a panel. Veronica Egis, Carmensita Rios, and Doris Boyczyk. I don't know if you're all coming up together. I think we need one more chair. Well, good evening.
VERONICA EGIS: Good evening. Actually my last name is Egis, Egis.
SENATOR HARP: Okay. I'm sorry.
VERONICA EGIS: That's fine. Thank you. Good evening, everybody. My name is Veronica Egis, my daughters (inaudible) have attended (inaudible) charter school four and two years. They are doing very well at their school and I'm grateful that this greater school choice was available for my family. And I was lucky enough to get -- to get called in the lottery.
My experience has been wonderful. Achievement First is preparing my daughters to have a successful future by given them a top-rate education. My daughters are learning and developing because their teachers are motivating and challenging them every day.
My family is from Ecuador and Spanish is the first language and what we speak at home. My daughters could not read when they began at Achievement First school, but they have made incredible gains. They were initially classified as English language learners. Now my third grader is reading at a fifth grade level, and my first grader is reading at the second grade level.
The teachers are always challenging my daughters academically and are also teaching them how to be a good citizen. They do these by showing them how to be respectful to their teachers and classmates and by pushing them to be excellent students. When my first daughter started school I was nervous and I didn't know enough English to help her with her homework. But her teachers took time to tell me so that I could help her.
I am very thankful for this public charter schools because they are guiding my daughters to reach their goal of going to college in 2025 and 2027. Please vote yes for Senate Bill 24. This bill will help support my child, my family, and my community (inaudible) funding for my public charter school is (inaudible) to my child's success. Please give our schools the support they need to continue helping our children climb the mountain to college. Thank you so much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Why don't you go ahead the rest of you and speak. Introduce yourselves, please.
CARMENSITA RIOS: Good evening. My name is Carmensita Rios. I would like to first thank you for this opportunity to speak with you I am a Bridgeport resident living on the north end of the city. My husband and I have a son that is an eighth grade Bridge Academy student. He has Inattentive ADD. He has been receiving special ed services since kindergarten.
We felt our son would fall through the cracks at our local school, so we applied and made it through the lottery to attend Bridge Academy, a charter school serving seventh to twelfth grade with less than 300 students, and they had a special ed program.
After his first semester there, my husband I along with Josh had a meeting with all his teachers.
SENATOR HARP: Keep going. Keep going, we'll do the entire panel. Normally when you do a panel you're sort of saying that you can do it all in three minutes. But you probably didn't know that, so just continue.
CARMENSITA RIOS: After his first semester there, my husband and I along with Josh had a meeting with all his teachers, including special ed, to strategize how best to support him. I was amazed that in that short time how we -- how well they already knew Josh. Their goal was to find ways to make sure he learned, and they had. Not every child learns the same way, and at Bridge Academy I can honestly say that they provide a personalized learning environment. More families need to access charter schools like Bridge Academy and those schools should be equitably funded. I urge you to support Governor Malloy's proposal. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you.
DORIS BOICZYK: Hello. My name is Doris Boyczyk, and I'm a parent from the Explorations Charter School in rural Winsted, Connecticut. Thank you for listening to my testimony tonight. I'm here to express my extreme gratitude for finding the Explorations Charter School.
I drive my son a 45-minute distance to and from the school daily despite the fact that we live in an affluent town that has a public school system with an excellent reputation. My son began his education in this school district, but developed kind of a stress at an early age. Initial testing that was done disclosed that you had a rare neurological disorder. The testing revealed a high IQ, mild (inaudible), and mostly, social anxiety related mostly to school.
We met opposition with the school one -- once we were advised to get additional testing for him. So we stretched ourselves on his behalf as parents at our own expense, naïve to how the system worked. After much struggle including hiring a child advocate and an educational attorney, an educational consultant, all at our expense, an IEP was implemented to address his learning differences. Only then -- at that point we were able to get -- we were able to mobilize an IEP and get some support needed for him.
Things only grew worse and resulted in him being outplaced, and this was mainly because the team that we became part of did not accomplish to get him in small groups of age-appropriate -- he needs to be in small groups of age-appropriate peers to be able to increase his social functioning. And this was pointed out specifically in the neuropsych eval. Now we were at the next step (inaudible) and when he was outplaced, he was outplaced to school that was unacceptable. He spent his days in a room with students -- instead of being with age-appropriate peers where you would learn to socially function, he became the role model for more severe children. It's not surprising that this also failed. And at age 13, we found ourselves in a situation where we had limited options and we had educational consultants, we had multiple professionals. We were all at a loss of what to do next.
He was paralyzed by anxiety, he would hate to go to school. At this point it was in his best interest that we home school him. And through homeschooling, he improved. We were able to meet some of his needs. He opened upon, he began to learn better, but we began to grow concerned that how are we going to bridge the gap toward college.
So thankfully we found Explorations Charter School which proved to be his salvation. It's a small and supportive school. He entered this school in 11th grade. They were willing and able to meet his needs. In the two short years he's been there, he went from remedial math to now a gifted math class. A student that first had trouble writing has now improved so dramatically that he is in an honors English class as well.
His test scores have -- have improved dramatically, the state tests -- I'm sorry, the state tests for (inaudible). But more importantly to me, he did beautifully on his SAT scores. He got very high -- high scores. And when he -- and he became -- when he first walked through the doors of that school, he was socially stiff, and he now has built his confidence, he has many -- he has friends, he's an active participant in student government, and is a member of the robotics team.
He has applied to colleges, Trinity College, UConn, and the University of Hartford. While he has yet to hear from a few of the colleges, he has been accepted to the honors engineering program at the University of Hartford and has received a sizable merit-based scholarship. He was lucky to find this school, we were lucky to find this school because I know that he would not be here if we had not found it. I'm asking you to support the Governor's proposal to increase charter funding because even in affluent suburbs, kids fall through the cracks (inaudible).
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Thank you.
Just for people to understand the rules, when you come up as a group, that means that the entire group is going to make their testimony in three minutes. If you can't do that, you really need to let me know right away and we will try to make some sort of accommodation.
But -- so our next speaker is Greta Stanford. Is Greta here? Okay. Followed by Sonia Manjon. Good evening.
GRETA STANFORD: Good evening Senator Harp, Representative Walker, and members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Greta Stanford, I am a resident of Milford and was a biology and chemistry teacher in that city for 25 years. I am also a newly elected member of the Board of Alderman in Milford, an unpaid position.
Despite the fact that you've been inundated -- well, first let me say that I am speaking on the opposite spectrum of the majority of speakers who've been here. They are at a glorious, wonderful beginning. Bravo to them. I am at the end. Despite the fact that you've been inundated with retirement board figures, they bear repeating. In 2009-2010, active teachers contributed over $44 million to the Retired Teacher Health Insurance Fund. Retired teachers, $27 million. The state, zero. In 2010-2011, active teachers contributed over $45 million, retired teachers $30 million, the state of Connecticut, a big fat zero.
Thankfully last year the full appropriation was recommitted back to the health fund, but now the Governor is proposing permanently reducing its contribution, an action that will jeopardize the future of the health fund and unfairly burden some of our oldest retired teachers and their spouses.
The Governor's proposal will mean that retired teachers pay a premium increase of at least $32 a month. That amounts to $384 a year. That may not seem like a lot, but it won't pay for the vacations that we never take. It won't pay for the new car we need. My husband drives a 14-year-old Accord and I drive a 6-year-old Civic. He lets me drive the newer one. But we're content. However, that $340 -- $384 I spoke of pays part of our prescription co-pays. Meds are the only things that are keeping us alive.
It appears that the Governor is bent on having some of the oldest retired teachers pay a portion of the state's obligation. That just should not happen. Active and retired teachers have consistently paid our fair share to the health fund, which is the majority of the money in the fund. And the state should not be allowed to back away from its obligation to do the same.
Please do not support the Governor's proposal to reduce the state's funding to the health fund. Thank you for your consideration.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Thank you. And welcome to the political club. Congratulations on your election.
Sonia? And would you please pronounce your last name for me so I know it.
SONIA MANJON: Hi. It's Sonia Manjon. Yes. Good evening Senator Harp and members of the committee. My name is Sonia Manjon and I'm Vice President of Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer at Wesleyan University. I applaud the emphasis on education as a long-term investment in Connecticut's economic and cultural future.
The Governor has challenged the Legislators, civic institutions, and all citizens to think harder about how we can support effective instruction at all levels and for all communities. Given this important work, Wesleyan was disheartened to read the proposal to cut support of the CICS scholarship grants even further. I ask you to reconsider these cuts which undermine our other investments in education.
At Wesleyan University, our student body comes to Connecticut from all over the world and every hear we welcome over 200 Connecticut residents into this diverse mix. Many of these students need financial aid, and though the number of students on aid has increased significantly over the last few years, our CICS grant dollars have fallen 30 percent over our allocation from two years ago.
We continue to make significant commitments to educating Connecticut's residents despite the shrinking commitment from the state. We provided over $2.6 million in Wesleyan grant aid to Connecticut residents last year. Of the 86 residents who received CICS funding last year, 40 percent were minority students. Unlike many schools, we meet the full demonstrated need of our Connecticut students and of all students at Wesleyan.
The state's commitment to fund the CICS grant is an important part of what makes it possible for us to sustain our commitment to meeting the financial needs of these students. We save the state significant costs by educating Connecticut residents who might otherwise attend in-state institutions. We maintain an extraordinary commitment to provide access and opportunity to these students. We dedicate our endowment resources to maintain affordable loan levels, well below those of the University of Connecticut.
In addition, we have a higher percentage of Pell grant eligible students than the University of Connecticut. As we demonstrate -- as we can demonstrate, institutions with higher endowments often provide greater access to higher education than our state college peers. The proposal to the Legislator asks schools with the largest endowments to leave the CICS program. Wesleyan is fortunate to have an endowment, but it should be clear that the payout from the endowment does not even cover the institution's annual financial aid commitment.
We use our resources to help provide access to students who deserve admission. The CICS dollars are an important part of our support to these very worthy young men and women. We are eager to help the state be successful in its efforts to improve education and we also hope that you will help independent universities like Wesleyan maintain its scholarship support for Connecticut residents. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you very much. Good seeing you.
Andrew Sellers. Good evening, sir.
ANDREW SELLERS: Good evening Senators and Representatives. I'll be speaking. My colleagues Jessica DiNatale and Janelle Samuel. It seems that from all the conversation, there's a lot at stake tonight. But I just wanted to tell you my story and my testimonial about receiving the CICS scholarship.
Without this money, I would not have been able to go on and succeed in my college career. Currently, I have ten weeks left in college. I'm graduating in May. However, thank you, however, there are other generations of students coming after me. I had my chance and, please, don't take away their chance.
I'm currently majoring in political science with four minors, I don't know how I did that, but University of Bridgeport, a private institution, was the right choice for me. There are students who attend that university from 80 different countries, and without the opportunity to receive CICS, I would not have been able to have the opportunity to meet these students from all these 80 different countries. So I just want to thank you guys, thank the state of Connecticut for funding us.
SENATOR HARP: Give us your name.
JESSICA DINATALE: My name is Jessica DiNatale, I'm also a representative from the University of Bridgeport. I'm a sophomore, I'm a psychology major. Just to be in college these days, especially for me, is a privilege. And as of right now, I just make it. Between university and the state giving me funding, I just make it by.
My goals in life is to go on to medical -- not medical school, I'm sorry, to get my masters in psychology and to become, I'm sorry, excuse me, I want to incorporate animal-assisted therapy in my treatment with working with people. But ultimate I want to thank you for everything that you've given me so far. And hopefully that -- the CICS fund for future generations will still be something to look forward to.
SENATOR HARP: Who's next. Give us your name.
JANELLE SAMUEL: Hello, everyone. My name is Janelle Samuel, and I'm a general science major at the University of Bridgeport. It's my understanding that the CICS fund was developed as a way to allow, you know, us Connecticut residents -- I've been a Connecticut resident all my life, to be able to attend private universities here in the state. I chose the University of Bridgeport over other public state colleges because it is within close proximity to Fairfield County which, you know, has been my home forever. The university also accommodates both traditional students as well as more mature students like myself. You know, I am an older student. I do support a husband and children.
And the school, you know, accommodates to my schedule and I'm able to go to classes at all times of the day. Decreasing this funding coupled with a poor economy will only increase the hardships that I feel. Working families are already struggling to get by with. In this economy, you know, education is key. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: If not, thank you very much for coming out and I'm glad that you enjoy the University of Bridgeport.
ANDREW SELLERS: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Okay. We have two people coming. Remember you just have three minutes. It's Tom DiMarco and Dave Golembeski. I don't know. I've mispronounced it, sir, so please help me.
THOMAS DIMARCO: Good evening. My name is Tom DiMarco. I'm a 2005 graduate of Nonnewaug High School's agriscience program in Woodbury. While at Nonnewaug I studied landscaping where I learned the necessary skills to be employed as a summer intern at a landscaper in Watertown, Connecticut. After high school I attended the University of Rhode Island where I graduated with a bachelor's degree in environmental horticulture and turf grass management. I'm currently the shipping coordinator and greenhouse grower at White Flower Farm in Morris, Connecticut.
White Flower Farm is a multi-million dollar company that has a retail store in Morris that counts for 10 percent of our business. The other 90 percent of our business is made up on our mail order catalog and online business. We ship annuals, perennials, shrubs, house plants to customers all over the country year round. Our business has been showcased on National Public Radio, Martha Stewart Living, XM Satellite Radio, and countless other newspapers and magazine articles. One of the largest customers in our -- for our company is the parent company of Better Homes and Gardens, the Meredith Corporation who uses our plants in their publications.
Our company gives about 200 people from the state of Connecticut jobs and we are constantly looking to fill more positions with qualified employees. Students coming out of our state ag high schools are the type of people our company -- companies like White Flower Farm are looking to hire. These individuals graduate high school ready for college and the workforce.
As you saw tonight, they have the leadership, the skills, and knowledge that employers are looking for. This is why helping the ag centers across the state is so important. Not only do ag centers help with the agricultural industry as a whole, but they also help Connecticut fill jobs with qualified workers. Please remember this when you are thinking about agricultural education. Thank you.
DAVID GOLEMBESKI: Good evening. My name is David Golembeski, I'm a lifelong resident of town of New Milford. I'm here today to speak to you regarding the value of the regional agriscience programs. They've greatly assisted myself and numerous others with career skills and decision making processing.
When I was in middle school, I knew I wanted to go into an agricultural career. I was fortunate enough to have attended the program at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury where I graduated in 2004 in the top ten percent of my class. While at Nonnewaug, I became a very active participant in many activities offered in order to get the most out of my high school education experience. I competed in various contests, served as an FFA officer, and won several awards and more.
As you have already heard, the SAE portion of the program is very important. This whole part of the program played a large part in where I am today. During my sophomore year in high school, at a college and career fair, a graduate who was an assistant golf course superintendent at a local country club said they'd be looking for summer help. I investigated the opportunity further and decided to give it a try. I enjoyed the experience and have not looked back for ten years. I even won a national award for having one of the top turf grass management SAEs in the country.
After graduating from Nonnewaug, I enrolled in UConn College of Agriculture and Natural Resources majoring in turf grass and soil science along with horticulture. While taking classes at UConn, I found that some things were repeat information, stuff I had already learned about in high school ag program which put me ahead of other students.
While enrolled at UConn, I was able to secure many scholarships over my four years, totally over $63,000 from various sources. I attribute much of this success back to being in the agriscience program which gave me the needed tools and skillset to produce competitive applications.
After graduation with a double major degree in 2008, I accepted a position at Silver Spring Country Club in Ridgefield and a few months later became the assistant golf course superintendent at Rock Ridge Country Club in Newton where I am still employed today. At first glance one might not think that golf course management is agriculturally related, but I can assure you that much of the job is from water management to soil fertility to pest management and beyond. According to a comprehensive study done in 2008, Connecticut's golf related economic impact with over 180 golf courses totaled $1.1 billion annually.
In closing, I hope I have been able to show you how the agriscience program can lead an individual down a road of success for the future. These programs are extremely important to keep Connecticut's fast-growing agriculturally-related industries thriving. Increasing funding for ag-science programs is very necessary to meet this challenge so more students can have this great experience as I did myself, contribute to job growth here at home in the great state of Connecticut. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. And we're proud of both of you and we certainly are -- you certainly give us a sense of the futures that that type of education provides for our residents. So you're great spokespersons. Thank you very much. I don't know if there are other questions? If not, thank you.
Maureen Boyd followed by Larry Dow followed by Maggie Adair.
Maureen Boyd. Okay. Good evening.
MAUREEN BOYD: Good evening. My name is Maureen Boyd and I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you a little bit about Connecticut College students and why you should retain their CICS grat.
Connecticut College students are extraordinarily smart, ambitious and talented. They volunteer throughout New London County and carry that spirit of giving back to their own communities. This is especially relevant to our students who come from Connecticut towns and cities, because they understand how important a college is to the state.
Currently 142 of these students receive CICS grants, 23 percent are first-generation students, and roughly 30 percent are students of color like Lakeesha Springer from East Hartford who says the cost of one year of a good education is worth more than my family's yearly income.
Our 142 Connecticut-based students specifically sought out Connecticut College because they wanted the kind of education we provide, a very personalized residential learning community where the student to faculty ratio is nine to one and each student's education can be tailored to his or her own unique goals and aspirations.
This is an important kind of education for our state students to be able to choose, especially knowing that private colleges such as ours tend to have higher retention rates while offering the choice to pursue a liberal arts education.
Connecticut College currently provides financial aid to 48 percent of our students including our 142 students who also receive state funding in the form of CICS grants. In fact, our 142 CICS recipients receive more than $4 million in financial aid from the college. The same 142 students receive less than $400,000 in CICS grants. The CICS grant can mean the difference between a Connecticut student being able to attend our college and stay in the state.
In this weakened economy, more of our students are eligible for need-based aid because of job loss, investment loss, or lowered income. Connecticut College meets full demonstrated need for our students. The CICS grant leverage other financial aid dollars so that more Connecticut students from middle- and low-income families can stay here in Connecticut to pursue their undergraduate education.
At Connecticut College we are committed to educating Connecticut residents, and we need support from all sectors including the state and federal government to make this happen. CICS grants are an important part of our Connecticut students' financial aid packages. Cutting CICS funding will reduce access for Connecticut's best and brightest students to some of the best colleges in the country. Please don't cut CICS funding. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Yes, Senator Bye has a question.
SENATOR BYE: Thank you, Madame Chair. Welcome to our committee. And I know firsthand all that Connecticut College does. I have a sister who went back as a single mom and took many years, but the college really supported her in making her way. Now she's a public school teacher and doing great, but she wouldn't be there without the kind of support (inaudible). I'm going to pick on you a little to help explain something, I think, to this committee, but also just in general.
Because, you know, college financial aid is so complex and I think for parents who are sending their kids to college but also for legislators to wrap their heads around. The money comes in from so many different places, and as Legislators we're trying to figure out how do we make the best investment to help the most students. And so you have a college like Connecticut College with a significant endowment.
Can you explain what happens if the CICS dollars aren't there, at a pragmatic level because I think there's some sense, well, if they weren't there, there's some other dollars that would fill in because it's such a complicated grid. So, you know, from your understanding of the operations of how things work at Connecticut College, can you explain that to this committee.
MAUREEN BOYD: I wish that I could personally give you that information. I don't represent financial aid, I represent the Office of Corporate, Government and Relations. I'm the grant writer and I kind of stepped in at the last minute for the person who could not actually attend. What I can do is promise you that I will get this information for you.
SENATOR BYE: That would be -- that would be really helpful because I think it's the complexity that sort of works against -- against you. You know, parents get this is how much you're going to have to pay. I have a student that just applied for college and my FAFSA says here's your -- what you can pay, parent, and then the college helps to backfill what's in between what I can pay and what the total cost is. So the question is, if CICS wasn't there, what would be -- or would it be nothing and would it truly mean fewer students could attend.
MAUREEN BOYD: And I will certainly get that to you tomorrow and assure you that as Legislators I can tell you that in the last two years the College's contribution to financial aid has increased significantly while the CICS funding has decreased, that much I do know. And we can't sustain that, so hopefully you'll be able to do something to keep this going.
SENATOR BYE: Thank you. That was really helpful.
MAUREEN BOYD: Thanks
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Representative O'Neill has a question. There is someone who can answer the other question out in the audience, and when she comes up we'll have her do it or there is--
A VOICE: Terrific.
SENATOR HARP: Are you Mr. Dow?
LARRY DOW: Yes.
SENATOR HARP: And you can answer the question?
LARRY DOW: (Inaudible.)
SENATOR HARP: All right. But in the meantime, Representative O'Neill has a question for you.
REP. O'NEILL: Yes. Excuse me. Speaking about the CICS earlier, the representative of Trinity indicated that the endowment of Trinity exceeded the $200 million threshold. Do you know what the endowment of Connecticut College is?
MAUREEN BOYD: It's roughly $215 million.
REP. O'NEILL: Now his explanation, which I was going to ask questions, but there's so many witness, I don't want to get into something fairly complicated. But his explanation as to why that in effect shouldn't count or at least shouldn't be as big a factor as it sounds like $200-some plus million ought to be, is that there are other obligations and burdens and things like that on the endowment. Are you familiar with the endowment to be able to say whether, in effect, the $200 million is available or the interest income is available or investment income is available or is basically encumbered?
MAUREEN BOYD: Yeah, I'm sorry, sir, I can't speak to those (inaudible). I wish that I could.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay. Thank you.
MAUREEN BOYD: I can get that information to you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. There are other people that probably do that type of work for the colleges that they represent, and we might be able to get it tonight. If not, we'll let you know and you can try and get it for us.
MAUREEN BOYD: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Further questions? If not, thank you very much.
Larry Dow, who is the man with the answers, followed by Maggie Adair.
LARRY DOW: Thank you very much, Senator. I am going to stray from my original plan to try to address a couple of those questions as best I can. And with the deepest respect, I -- I may -- I certainly don't want to sound facetious, but I -- I do want to say that I think when we're talking about some of the finest independent colleges in the state, I have a little bit of that feeling of no good deed goes unpunished. And so I start with that remark because I think what -- what -- to get to your question, Senator Bye, I have to sound as though I may be boasting. And after listening to wonderful students who deal with the agriscience programs and the charter schools, I don't mean to sit here and sound arrogant because Trinity is privileged to have a sizable endowment.
Nevertheless, I do think it's fair to say that the independent colleges that stand to lose the CICS money do represent some of the finest jewels in the crown, if you were, if you were to accept that, and let me just give you a quick perspective of what I mean by that. Small Trinity, second oldest institution of higher learning in this state, this year received applications from 7,700 students from over 2,700 high schools throughout the state and the world.
With that kind of pool that we're very privileged to review, we have a very strong commitment to Connecticut in proportion to that pool. And it represents almost -- the students from Connecticut represent almost one out of five students at Trinity. Now in terms of what would happen, I don't mean this in an arrogant way, but we do have the rich applicant pool to choose from, and yet we feel strongly that we should continue to make a very strong commitment to Connecticut residents.
One of the reasons we feel that very genuinely is because we -- we are best known in this area of the country and in the state of Connecticut, which means our Connecticut cohort, if you will, is probably in and of itself the most diverse cohort of students from any geographic area. Name recognition brings students from every corner of the state geographically who have the widest range of academic aspirations, who come from different religions, different ethnicities. And so as a cohort, the Connecticut portion of our school is -- is -- you can't define the CICS recipient because it's such a wide range of students. So when you talk about who loses it, it's -- it's a wide range -- the widest range of types of students.
Can we simply move money elsewhere to replace that? That become the most typical kind of institution of choice, because part of our excellence, I think, is based on the idea that we want students to be able to interact with the best students from all over the country and the world. So we are faced with that -- that decision, and I cannot sit here and guarantee that all that money would be simply committed -- recommitted to Connecticut students.
To your question, Representative O'Neill, again --
SENATOR HARP: I'm going to do something really strange. I'm going to ask him to ask the question again.
LARRY DOW: Sure.
SENATOR HARP: Because you had run out of your time, but if he asks the question, that gives you the right.
LARRY DOW: Thank you, I think.
REP. O'NEILL: Well, actually the question for you is slightly different from the question that I asked earlier, but it would be the same question which is, and perhaps you can just amplify on the earlier comment by one of your colleagues who said that, yes, indeed, Trinity has an endowment that exceeds the $200 million threshold. But there are obligations of the endowment has beyond providing data, I assume that's what he was aiming at, and that it couldn't all be sort of -- or you couldn't treat the $200 million as if it was equal to perhaps, and I don't want to single out Yale, but say, Yale, which has an even larger endowment where presumably they can take the hit because their endowment is truly gigantic. But $200 million is certainly -- I think his comment was $200 million sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but if you've got a lot of obligations, then maybe -- maybe $200 million isn't as much as it sounds like.
Now obviously this will fluctuate among schools -- perhaps Trinity has a bundle of obligations that Connecticut College doesn't have or that Wesleyan doesn't have or maybe you all do have the same basic kind of configuration, but I didn't ask him because we were trying, I thought, we were trying to move as quickly through as many witnesses as possible.
LARRY DOW: Understood.
REP. O'NEILL: But since this is becoming a theme that's developing about the CICS money, perhaps you could explain what the other obligations are. I mean you've alluded to it, it's going to be a tough institutional choice. But perhaps you could amplify a little bit as to that -- and perhaps also, I don't know, somebody said in -- that their endowment was $215 million. I think that was Connecticut College. I think the comment before was that it exceeds $200 million, but I don't know if it exceeds it by $1 or $100 million or how much above that $200 million threshold Trinity is sitting with. So it's a bundle of questions, which I think open the door to you to say almost anything you want.
LARRY DOW: Well, I know time is short and it's been a long evening, but I appreciate the privilege. I will say that Paul Mutone, my colleague, could, of course, provide many more details about the list of requirements that -- that we face in dealing with our expenditures. But let me try to answer it briefly in another way, but I hope a relevant way. We all know the state of the economy, generally speaking, both in the state and throughout the country.
It's very typical of institutions of our type to receive not only a lot of applications, but of those applications perhaps 60 to 65 percent of those candidates are looking for financial aid. So even though we may have 30 to 40 percent of our students receiving aid, it falls far short of really being able to address the needs of the applicant pool of this or virtually any -- any college in the country.
So while we talk about many pressures on the endowment, such as maintenance and continuing to provide reasonable salaries for a fine faculty and the like, and the list is quite long, I would go to the financial aid side which is part of my responsibility and say we can't even access the most deserving students in our own pool because we don't have enough financial aid to get to them. We have to have a disproportionate number of students who -- who have to pay the bill. And this -- this is an unfair situation.
So on our list we could easily add 20 percent more students at Trinity receiving financial aid that we simply can't afford to deal with right now. So whatever problem Mutone would give you as a list of expenditures, I could add millions more of potential expenditure if we could just respond fairly to the applicant pool that we're dealing with. That may not answer your question, but I will ask Paul to follow up later with a more detailed answer. It's been a very long night and I do appreciate the extra time.
I do want to say just one quick thing that I would've said originally and it goes back to the Connecticut students who are at Trinity receiving the CICS funding, is it going to students who make good use of it? Yes, let me give you two quick facts that I think are very impression.
Of the seniors at Trinity who received CICS money this year -- who graduated last year as seniors, the percentage who graduated who were receiving the money was 100 percent. All of them finished who were receiving CICS money. When you go to the other end of the spectrum and look at the first-year students who entered last year and who returned for their second year at Trinity, again 100 percent of the CICS recipients returned to Trinity for their second year. And that's compared to about 92 percent for the whole college. So those CICS recipients are absolutely making use of their funding and it is not going to students who don't use it or appreciate it. Thank you very much for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much.
A VOICE: I'm assuming you're through with (inaudible).
SENATOR HARP: Yes. Reading between the lines, you can choose other than Connecticut residents and they could also be far wealthier and wouldn't have the same kind of issues is kind of what I'm getting from that.
MAGGIE ADAIR: Good evening Senator Harp, Representative Walker, and members of the Appropriations Committee. I thank you for allowing me to testify tonight. I know it's going to be a very long night. I'm Maggie Adair, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Early Child Alliance. The alliance is a statewide membership and advocacy organization committed to improving outcomes for all children birth to eight in the areas of early learning, safety, health, and economic security.
The alliance applies the Governor for including significant investments in early care and education in his budget plan, and we urge the Appropriations Committee to support this vision. Specifically, the Governor proposes $4 million to create 500 preschool slots in priority school districts, $3 million for professional development for early childhood educators, $5 million bonding for facilities improvements and capital repairs at licensed early care and education centers, and finally, $5 million in bonding for a tiered quality improvement rating system.
The Governor also maintains funding for important early childhood programs, including child care centers -- services, school readiness, family resource centers, the Parent Trust Fund, Community Plans for Early Childhood, early literacy, state-funded Head Start, and Even Start. The alliance urges the committee to maintain these funding levels in the final budget.
The elements in the Governor's early childhood budget proposals are pieces to building a coordinated, aligned and consolidated early childhood system, birth to eight. To ensure the pieces of the system fit seamlessly together, the Legislature very wisely enacted Public Act 181 last session. This legislation set in motion a process to tie the many components of the early childhood services together, which span across seven to eight state agencies, and calls for hiring a planning director, half funded by philanthropy, I will note, to build such a system. The alliance urges quick action by the state by the state to hire a planning director and get the work underway.
I'm not going to read the rest of my testimony because time is short, but I do want to talk about a few things around slot expansion and professional development. Under the 500 slots the Governor makes a solid down payment for funding 500 new school readiness slots in the priority school districts. But there's a great unmet need for early care and education slots for low-income children across the entire state.
SDE estimates that the total number of children not being served in the 19 priority school districts is about 6,500. Keep in mind that this SDE number only pertains to the 19 priority districts, but does not include the competitive school districts nor the rest of the state. And we know there is poverty in every pocket of the state. So in the long term we have to think about creating access to affordable early care and education in all areas of the state. We know this is expensive, so we understand the Governor's investment is a great step forward and is a targeted approach in communities of our poorest communities.
Under professional development, professional development is critical to moving the early care workforce forward, increasing the educational level of teachers, and recruiting and retaining staff and ultimately closing the achievement gap. We just want to put out that we want to make sure that this professional development money applies to all early childhood settings. So that includes centers, that includes school readiness centers under SDE, as well as the state-funded centers that were from DSS to SDE last year.
They are going to be integrated, but right now they're not entirely integrated. It also needs to include (inaudible) and family day care providers, because (inaudible) and family day care providers provide care for our earliest children, infants and toddlers, and we know about brain research that we have to make sure that we get to children at their earliest years. So thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify tonight.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, I actually have a question. I met someone in the supermarket last night who happens to work with some of these programs, and I'm wondering if in the policy language around all of these changes there is strong enough language to ensure that these folks that you just testified about actually get the resources that you were requesting the assurance that they get. They get them now because it's in the Department of Social Services, and so is that language adequate? Does it have to be tightened up?
MAGGIE ADAIR: Right now the language is pretty vague, so I think it is very important that we, you know, I've had discussions -- some discussions with Liz (inaudible) Governor's Office. We've had discussions with SDE, but I think language should be tightened up to ensure that this professional development money is -- goes where it's needed and not just for targeted approaches that we have to start with our earliest years. And that it's equitable. I mean we're talking about creating an aligned, uniform system, so that we need to make sure that all teachers have the opportunity to receive these scholarship monies so that they can go for their B.A., which is going to be required by legislation passed year by 2020.
SENATOR HARP: Okay. Thank you. Well, I'm sure you'll help us keep our eye on it.
MAGGIE ADAIR: Thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you.
SARAH ESTEY: Dear Senator Harp, Representative Walker, and members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Sarah Estey and I'm here on behalf of Connecticut Voices for Children.
We would like to begin by applauding the Governor for including important increases in funding for quality and access in early care and education programs, and we urge the committee to support his vision and keep this funding in your final budget.
There's great unmet need for access to affordable, quality early care programs which the proposed budget does begin to address. The dedication of $4 million for 500 new school readiness slots is an excellent first step at provided access to preschool for the approximately 10,000 three- and four-year-olds in struggling families who currently do not receive any state subsidies to assist with early care and education.
Also, often the expansion of early care and education is thought of only in terms of increasing the number of slots available without recognition of the need for additional facilities and qualified teachers to serve these additional slots. However, the Governor does, in fact, recognize both of these and he emphasize -- and so we emphasize the necessity of the proposed funding for professional development and facilities improvement in conjunction with the proposed funding for additional slots.
Furthermore, the commitment of $3 million for professional development is another crucial investment in quality. A large body of research has found that children experience better outcomes when served by teachers with a bachelor's degree and specialized training in early education. And the quality early educational experiences are critical to closing the preparation gap that exists between low- and higher-income children entering kindergarten, a gap which becomes the achievement gap in later years.
Furthermore, some of this money will be able to help provide training to family daycare workers, many of whom serve our infants and toddlers during the critical period of brain development from birth to three, and these workers often do not have access to other types of professional development programs.
Finally, the $5 million in funding for the tiered quality rating and improvement system is another important step in increasing quality for all and closing the achievement gap. It allows child care providers to be recognized and compensated for increased quality, creating incentives for greater quality in all programs, and also provides transparency that empowers parents to choose higher-quality options for their children.
However, we would like to emphasize the continued need for a comprehensive plan for Connecticut's early care system, as was called for in Public Act 11-181, which this Legislature passed last spring. We are thrilled to see progress on the number of the discreet elements of the system, but concerned that work not proceed piecemeal but rather with the focus and coordination of a plan and the guidance of the planning director who unfortunately still has not been hired.
We continue to support the goals and process laid out in Public Act 11-181 and reiterate our hope that the planning director for whom it calls will be hired quickly so the process can move forward in coordination with the Governor's important proposals. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. That was the other thing I learned while shopping last night, that that has not been implemented. So you believe that to be important then?
SARAH ESTEY Yes, we think that the development of the plan and the hiring of the planning director to do that plan development is really critical.
SENATOR HARP: Okay. Thank you. Are there other questions? All right. Thank you very much. Number 25 out of 67. I was told to say, just to give you some context.
Star Posick and Samantha Estelle-Abate. Thank you. Good evening.
STAR POSICK: Good evening. My name is Star Estelle Posick and I am Samantha Estelle-Abate's mother. Samantha is a 20-year old very bright junior at Quinnipiac University. She is on a mission to educate herself in the medical profession in hopes of development a cure for her mother and brother whom both have neurological disorders. I have multiple sclerosis and my son has special needs caused by seizures which are -- is another neurological mystery.
Samantha is a child of our future and if we allow educational grant funding to cease, we are allowing our future success to cease. In the recent past, we have had periods of time where there have been acute shortages of practicing neurologists and neurosurgeons in our state. We also know that students are more likely to live and practice where they go to school.
I understand we are in an economic crisis, however, our future depends on our children's education. We need to help fund the education of our future. We do not know which student will find the cure and which medical issue in the future. At this time I would like to request our Legislators to reconsider our grant funding by looking at other avenues to cut that won't cause significant loss of our brightest students to out-of-state schools. Thank you for your time and attention to this very critical issue.
SAMANTHA ESTELLE-ABATE: Good evening. My name is Samantha Estelle-Abate, I'm 20 years old and a junior at Quinnipiac University in the health sciences bachelor program. I'm also taking required pre-med courses so I can apply to medical school to become a doctor and more specifically a neurologist. I'm able to achieve my goals because of the state grant funding I receive every year toward my tuition so I can go to a good university such as Quinnipiac and reach my goal.
I have a mother with multiple sclerosis and a brother with special needs. Both of their disorders are neurological. Throughout my life I've experienced many hardships, but 95% of the people in the room may not have imagined the pain and courage it took me to be where I am today.
But those hardships have made me stronger, and I was taught to always fight for what I believe in and for what I deserve which is why I'm sitting here before you today. I strongly believe that I deserve the grant money that you are considering cutting from your current state budget. My mom and my brother are my reason for wanting to go in to medical school, because I want to help them. I want to ease their pain and I want to ease the pain of other individuals that live with similar issues everyday of their lives.
I -- if you cut this grant money I have counted on, it will make it very hard for me to continue to go to school here in Connecticut. I want to practice here in my state of Connecticut. I want to help not only my family but also many families here in our state with neurological issues. Neurologists and neurosurgeons have been in short supply in our state in recent years. I want Connecticut to be the state that researchers how to find cures for these -- this -- sorry -- debilitating conditions that many of our citizens deal with daily. We are human and all humans wish to believe that we live for a purpose, a purpose that will be remembered after we've died.
I want my contribution to this medical field to be what I am remembered for. I understand that as a state we must make some budget cuts in all of us will be effected, but let's look at how we can cut them without having such significant (inaudible). Please don't let -- please don't let these cuts take away from my purpose, my reason for living and working towards a brighter goal. I hope that my story is enough for you to understand how very important grant money for colleges to all citizens of our state and not just those who are receiving these grants.
I need this grant money that you are considering cutting to achieve my dream and serve the medical needs of many citizens in Connecticut. This is not a privilege for me, it is a necessity. Please understand that I am sincere and that college funding is very important to me. Please do not take away this necessity. Thank you very much for your careful consideration.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much and best of luck to you, and thank you for choosing a field in which you will be serving the needs of the community as well as the needs of your family. You are an inspiration. Thank you.
SAMANTHA ESTELLE-ABATE: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Michael Sharpe followed by Alicia Gibbs.
MICHAEL SHARPE: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Michael Sharpe, I am President of the Connecticut Charter School Network and CEO of Jumoke Academy Charter Schools in Hartford. I come before you to testify in favor of Governor Malloy's proposal to increase funding to public charter schools.
I'd like to address a broad view of where charters fit into the public education and the implication this has for funding. Our vision for the future is to be part of a cooperative portfolio of public schools whose powers combined can meet the diverse needs of all of our children. Not all children will thrive in the same school and a student's zip code is not always the best determiner of where they ought to go to school.
I'd like to be clear on two things. One, charter schools in Connecticut have done amazing things for kids and are closing the achievement gap. Two, so are other schools. There's no single solution or one-type of school that can face down the challenges of public education. Likewise, no school hits the ball out of the park on every front 100 percent of the time, and there is extreme variation within all school types especially independent, highly individualized schools like charters.
Connecticut's mere 17 public charter schools range from urban to rural and vary in size from 88 to 800. Collectively they serve 80 towns. Some draw students from 15 or 20 towns while other school serve only certain neighborhoods through agreement with their city. The important distinction is not between charters, magnets or vo-tech, VOAG schools, the distinction is whether a school is serving the children in it.
Too much debate is focused on comparing and contrasting different school models and deciding which to favor. Instead we should be adopting policy that welcomes all models, offers a variety of schools to meet the diverse needs of children and families, and allows effective schools to flourish while addressing underperforming ones.
Connecticut's public charter schools are committed partners in striving to educate all students in the public school system including special ed students and English language learners. Where the blind lottery that we all participate in has failed to sufficiently reach certain student populations, charter schools in the Connecticut charter school network will voluntarily reach out to the State Department of Education to address this discrepancy through more active, targeted efforts.
In order to fund the dynamic portfolio of schools our kids deserve, Connecticut needs policies that provide all of them with equitable and sustainable resources. The Governor's landmark proposal is a substantial move towards reversing years of inequity and constricted growth for charters, allowing these schools to become more effective partners in education.
In closing I'd like to say for 13 years that I've been coming up here I'm always asked by reporters and others, what does Connecticut need to do to close the achievement gap? And I answered every year for the last 13 years, leadership. And when -- and I'm so happy to see this year from members of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Governor's office that I think that leadership is standing up. And I think if we follow through, the achievement gap in Connecticut will close.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you. Questions? Yes, Representative Fleischmann.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you, Madame Chair. Thank you, Michael, both for your testimony, for your leadership at Jumoke, and for all that you and your family have done for education in Connecticut. I know that this is a difficult week for you and I just want to say on behalf of -- of the Assembly we recognize what a great loss you have had this week, what a great loss Connecticut has had in having your mom, Thelma Dickerson, from the scene. But I feel confident in saying I know that she's proud of all that you are accomplishing of all the children who you oversee are accomplishing, and I wish you continued success at Jumoke.
MICHAEL SHARPE: Thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Every -- every time you come to testify, you urge us a little farther down the road, so thank you. We're very proud of your work.
MICHAEL SHARPE: This is the -- thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Our next speaker is Alicia Gibbs followed by Bill Davenport.
ALICIA GIBBS: Good evening Representative Walker, Senator Harp, and members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Alicia Gibbs, and I have children in the New Haven Public Schools, at Achievement First, and Highville Charter School. As a parent, there's nothing more important that ensuring your child has a quality education that provides for their individual needs. My charter schools have provided that kind of focus for my children.
But I am not just a parent, I am a taxpayer. And I have been concerned that under the current funding mechanisms, the public schools my children attend are funded at a lesser rate than the traditional public schools in New Haven. I see my tax dollars used every year for other public schools, but not for the one I've chosen for my children, the ones that are giving them the best and maybe only chance to succeed in college and in their professional lives.
I'm here tonight in showing support of the Governor's budget and, in particular, of the requirement that cities and towns contribute 1,000 per pupil served to charter schools in their district. Now I know that there are many people and organizations here tonight who disagree with me, who would say that towns like mine have no obligation to support my child's education. I disagree for two reasons.
First, a financial one. The Governor's provides increases in the ECS formula that more than cover district's funding of charters. Second, and most importantly, my children, like all children across Connecticut, represent the future of this state. They will need jobs and the ability to live a successful life. I believe that this committee and all elected officials across the state must work to ensure that our kids get access to the opportunities that help ensure this.
I applaud any public servant who looks out for my children's education and my children's future, and it seems to me that making funding for charter schools more equitable is a crucial part of this process. Let me close by saying that charters are creating an educated workforce that will move our state forward. But it is clearly the case that they must grow to do this for more students.
We need to provide our public charter schools with the funding they need to expand and provide more students with a quality educational choice not cripple them with inadequate funding. I have neighbors and family members who are desperate to attend a great public charter school, and I know that equitable funding is their only chance to do so. I look at my school, Achievement First Amistad High School, and I know that its high school writing scores are higher than those in Darien, Westport, and Madison. That's a school that needs our full support.
The Governor's proposed increase goes a long way towards ensuring that public charter schools become an equal part of the public school system in this state. I thank the Governor and I urge this committee to support equitable funding for public charter schools. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you for coming up tonight.
ALICIA GIBBS: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Bill Davenport followed by Jim Morrow.
BILL DAVENPORT: Good everything, everybody. It's not morning yet, I guess, right? My name is Bill Davenport, and I'm enjoying my 26th year teaching agriscience at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, when I'm not up at the capitol that is.
And I'm here to just talk a little bit about the agriscience funding. You've heard the value of the programs, you've heard the graduates that come out of these programs and those are just two of thousands in our state that have gone through these programs. The programs have existed since 1920. We were the first school choice model and actually we defined the word magnet school before magnet schools existed.
But we need your help because tomorrow I'm going to sign 93 letters sending home to 93 kids who we cannot take in our program. We have 183 kids who applied, eighth grade applicants, and we only can take -- afford to take 90 of them. We have the room for them, but the operating costs funding is not there to support more students coming in and there's 1,100 of these students on waiting lists for -- at places across the state that have the interest for this -- for their school choice, but they cannot be let in because of the operating costs funding.
Our funding structure right now, we get $1,400, $1,400 per kid from the state. Charter schools, up to a week ago, get $9,400, magnet schools around, $9,000 average, voc-tech schools fully funded. So when you talk about inequitable funding, we're at the bottom at $1,400. And last week charter schools got $1,600 more per student and magnets got $5 million more towards theirs, which I think is great, I totally support the schools, it's awesome. However, we were flat-funded once again with no increase. So again the 1,600 charters got is more than the total of what we get.
And what we need is about 5,000 per kid which is still less than half of what everybody does, but we need that number to climb a little bit. In 1991, the programs that existed since 1920, 1991 it was at $2 million, in 2012, 21 years later, it's at $5 million. So if you look at that graph, it's pretty low compared to everybody else's increases. And if you just -- if I had a whiteboard, I would demonstrate this a little better.
But if you can just picture for a second that there's this industry in Connecticut, $3.6 billion a year that has 5,800 job openings a year, and they have to go out of the state to find people to go into these jobs. And in the middle you have 19 well-equipped centers, regional centers, that have over $200 million worth of investment from the state of Connecticut to build, and the operation of them all in place. And then on the left side you have 1,100 kids who we cannot take because of that funding.
Kids who are interested as eighth graders to make this happen, that want to be that landscape architect or that veterinarian or the food scientists or all those careers that we have in the state. And that's a big problem.
I guarantee everybody in this room has a cat or dog and brings it to a vet or a dog groomer or a boarder. I bet everybody bought some flowers last Tuesday, $100 million worth of flowers are sold in this state alone, and there's 500 florists, and I have 5 of them that are graduates who are running florists who had a great day last week.
We have people running national parks. I've had people go to parks, national and state parks, golf courses, we heard about that tonight. Not many people mow their lawns anymore, they hire somebody, also to take trees down. It affects every single part of our lives and also three meals a day I think is what we like to enjoy.
So in closing, it is our turn. It is our -- we need our fair share of increased funding because we're -- it's still $1,400. And my suggestion would be the same $1,600 charters got, we could get. And that would be a step towards closing that gap, so I can start taking those kids statewide so they can come in to learn from us, to get the skills to fill that void in our industry in our state. So I ask you to please consider that as you go forward with your decisions on the Governor's budget. Thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Representative Miner has a question.
REP. MINER: You and I had a conversation earlier about the fact that there is infrastructure, at least there does appear to be statewide infrastructure.
BILL DAVENPORT: Right.
REP. MINER: Yet, it's an issue in trying to supply enough teaching positions to increase the number of student positions at each of these facilities can take.
BILL DAVENPORT: Correct.
REP. MINER: If the Appropriations Committee and the Legislature and the Governor were to agree with you that $1,600 moves us in the right direction, how do -- how do -- how would we know that that actually will open up spaces statewide? I think that's one of the problems that, in terms of trying to get the message here and receive the message that we've been having over time.
BILL DAVENPORT: Okay. Well, $1,600 would bring us closer to fulfilling the amount of money that it costs to educate those students in those towns, in the host high schools where they come from so that we could be able to accept some more because it's a step in the right direction to help fill that gap. To close it completely would be about $4,000 total -- or $5,000 total, an almost $4,00 increase. So that would allow our schools to be able to hire that English and math and science teacher that would be needed for those extra 30, 40, 50 kids that we could bring in in each of these schools. So the scaled down version of what potentially could happen, but some could be let in.
REP. MINER: And does the -- and does the State Board of Education know how many individuals have applied, would go, but for the funding? And do they keep track of all that information to know whether we would have the space even if they all wanted to go?
BILL DAVENPORT: If they asked, it would be available, yes. I'm not sure if they actually have the data, but we do with all the 19 centers. We every year say how much space do you have? And that's where that 1,100 figure does come in. And we presented to the state board, all the latest figures, a week or -- a week-and-a-half ago, so they are aware of it.
REP. MINER: Okay. Thank you.
BILL DAVENPORT: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. And thank you for bringing that to our attention. I think that we oftentimes forget the importance of what you do to the economy –- agri -- economy in our state.
BILL DAVENPORT: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Congratulations for making your statement.
Jim Morrow. Is Jim Morrow here?
Tamika Mesider followed by Judy Richey.
DENISE DOWE: Hi. My name is Denise Dowe. I'm actually here with Tamika to speak as Tamika did not attend.
A VOICE: So (inaudible) are you speaking?
A VOICE: Yeah, we're together.
TAMIKA MESIDER: Good evening. My name is Tamika Mesider and I'm the parent of two students at New Beginnings Family Academy, a kindergarten through eighth grade charter school in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My son, Fritz, is a fifth grader, and my daughter, Nicala, is in third grade. I'm also in my first term as president of NBA -- NBFA Parent Teacher Association.
Even though public speaking puts me way outside of my comfort zone, I believe this moment in our state's history is too important for me to remain silent. Nicala is in third grade. She has been in NBFA since kindergarten and Fritz, well, we call him Junior, has been there since second grade. He is now in fifth grade.
I heard about NBFA through the Head Start program initially with Junior and immediately tried to get him in, but he didn't get picked in the lottery. That was devastating to me because my son is bright and needs to be challenged, and I know he wasn't being challenged in his district school. Not only wasn't he being challenged, but he was being bullied as well. He'd been jumped by a group of students on the school bus. Two years later my daughter, Nicky, number was selected in the lottery and she got into New Beginnings.
By then Junior had attended two other traditional district schools as my husband and I sought the right place for him. Thanks to NBFA's sibling policy, we were able to transfer Junior in after Nicky was accepted. Today, Junior is academically and socially excelling. He gets straight A's in the core academic subjects and is a CMP scholar each year. Nicala has a harder time because she had lead poisoning as a child -- as a toddler and has some difficulty grasping concepts. This requires her teachers to differentiate instruction. I appreciate the extra focus Nicala's teachers have always been willing to give her to be successful.
Even though they work longer days and a longer year than most traditional schools, NBFA teachers are always willing to put in the extra effort and time and energy to meet the needs of their students. I also appreciate the school's focus on culture and discipline and the role the parents play as partners.
The truth is that NBFA Charter School and charter schools throughout the state set out to provide a quality education to their students, but must work with one hand tied behind their backs due to a shortage in per-pupil funding. That means that our students don't have a foreign language or enough digital learning.
If we receive a bump in per-pupil funding to $12,000, NBFA could offer Spanish, buy some Smart Boards, improve its science program and do a better job with its athletic program. Our kids are not active enough. Under the current funding formula --
SENATOR HARP: Will you please wrap up. Did you hear the --
TAMIKA MESIDER: Yeah.
Okay. So if you could just wrap it up.
TAMIKA MESIDER: Okay. Under the current formula funding, the DPA and ESA have to chip in with frequent fundraisers to help offset some of the costs. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. I don't really understand?
DENISE DOWE: I was teamed up with Tamika (inaudible).
SENATOR HARP: Okay. All right. Great. So thank you. You know, the problem is I don't have your name anywhere.
DENISE DOWE: Denise Dowe.
SENATOR HARP: It's not --
DENISE DOWE: I'm a parent of a student at Common Ground.
SENATOR HARP: I'm going to have to ask you to -- I don't have you paired up with her, and --
DENISE DOWE: That's what they told me when I got here.
SENATOR HARP: I'm really sorry. If you could just wait a minute. Let me go to the next person on the list and we'll try to fit you in.
DENISE DOWE: Okay.
SENATOR HARP: And your name is Denise Dowe?
DENISE DOWE: Yes.
SENATOR HARP: Because I don't have you on the list at all.
JUDY RICHEY: Hello. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight. I'm speaking for strong support of the state teacher's health insurance account for teachers account for teachers, the HIPA account, and for strong independent state teachers' retirement board.
It is my understanding that in the late 1980s Medicare was opened up to groups of people that didn't have the opportunity to join before. And at that time teachers newly hired in Connecticut could enroll in Medicare, but teachers who were already employed in Connecticut could not enroll in Medicare.
Teachers who now are not eligible for Medicare can receive a state subsidy for their insurance premiums only if they buy their insurance through their former board of education. An example of this would be a person with a good retirement benefit of perhaps $40,000 after federal and state taxes would have to buy their insurance through their former employing board of education. That could be $10,000 (inaudible). That person could receive a benefit -- a subsidy of between $1,300 and $2,600. That would leave them with insurance payments, premium payments of $6,300 and up.
Now the retirement benefit will go up with the cost of living, but the insurance premium is going to go up much, much faster. So that when most Americans reach 65, they get to Medicare and that they know they're going to have some relief. This group of teachers, they're looking at going through their 60s, their 70s, their 80s paying higher and higher insurance premiums. The decision of the Connecticut Legislature to deny them entering into Medicare in effect threatens their financial security.
The best defense for this group is a strong HIPA account. And the other best defense for this group is a really strong state retirement board. It's the state retirement board that has lobbied for the HIPA account to be strong, to remain strong. And they're lobbying now for -- for the state to fund it, to continue funding it. Teachers are very different, we're a different group. We have as many different retirement plans and insurance premiums as there are boards of education.
So I think the State Teachers' Retirement Board understands the history of that and will be a good advocate for us if they can pick their own directors and if they are grouped not under the Comptroller. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much.
Judith Dobai followed by Denise Dowe.
SENATOR HARP: You're also a lady that has some answers, I think.
JUDITH DOBAI: Thank you very much, Senator Harp, Representative Walker, members of the committee. I'm Judy Dobai, and I'm Vice President for Enrollment Management at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut. And I speak tonight on behalf of Fairfield's 272 student recipients of the Connecticut Independent College State grant program.
Over half of our recipients at Fairfield University are first generation to college, they're the first in their family to make this decision to be successful and choosing to pursue a college degree. Over 17 percent of our recipients are residents of the City of Bridgeport with significant additional representatives from the cities of New Haven and from Waterbury.
These students are striving to earn a college degree and advance their own lives and their own communities. And because of the commitment that Fairfield has to low-income students, Fairfield University enrolls 595 Pell grant recipients each year. This represents actually 20 percent of our student enrollment at the university. It's a significant commitment on behalf of Fairfield to make sure that our state residents have access to a college education. Forty-five percent of our Pell recipients are Connecticut residents.
Ninety-five percent of the students who received a Connecticut Independent College -- Independent College Scholarship grant last year, 95 percent of those recipients returned to the university for the fiscal year 2011-2012. This is a smart investment by the state of Connecticut. These students will earn their degrees, they will make their way through the university. In fact, the average grant recipient at the university -- at Fairfield University has a grade point average of over 3.1. These students are working hard and they return to the state. This investment (inaudible) both as college graduates who have a future of higher earnings as well as (inaudible) as alumni of the university.
In fact, Fairfield University has over 20,000 alumni living here in the state of Connecticut. Yes, this is a grant program that requires an investment by the state, but it's one that yields significant benefits for the state in the long term. It was mentioned earlier in regard to grant aid and how the university funds its scholarship resources.
Fairfield University comments over $50 million each year to financial aid resources for our students. This is significant. And most of it comes out of our operating budget. Only 10 percent of our grant aid is able to be covered by the university's endowment. The rest of it must come from the university's operating budget each year. And that's a significant commitment that we're most willing to make, we simply can't absorb any more than that.
An example of this wise investment that Connecticut is making, Fairfield has graduated 80 students just in the past year who have entered -- who have earned first degrees in engineering, in bioscience, and technology. Sixty-three percent of these individuals are Connecticut residents fully poised to make an immediate impact on our state's economy.
In addition, I think you'll find that one of the questions that had come up earlier I do want to try to address because what happens is we lose funding, there is no other source of funding to potentially step into this gap. It is a gap that our students would have to absorb or that the university would have to cut the educational experience in order to make up for the resources that we would lose. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions. I think you did a good job of answering our question.
Denise Dowe, Elizabeth Fraser and then Jennifer Alexander.
DENISE DOWE: Thank you for taking the time. Honorable Chairs, members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Denise Dowe. I'm the proud parent of Charlie Dowe who actually spoke a little earlier this evening. He's a sophomore at Common Ground High School in New Haven.
Common Ground is a charter school with a base on the environment. Charlie is a good, good student and loves learning. When it was time to send Charlie to high school, we received it advice that it would be good to look at alternative schools where he would be challenged daily. He chose Common Ground instantly. He liked what he heard about the academics, he would be in classes based on his learning level not just his age. He would be expected to meet a rigorous academic schedule, learn about the environment, and at the same time interact with children from different backgrounds.
As a parent, I wanted a school that would learn about Charlie, what his dreams were, where he would excel, and where would he be challenged. Charlie has a dream to be a design engineer, also known as a master builder for Lego, which is based here in Connecticut. He loves math and science and solves any puzzle. From day one Common Ground has always considered what is best for Charlie. As a freshman he's enrolled in chemistry and in Algebra II. He was able to take Hungarian Literature and continued his Spanish requirements.
He has earned honors in all three semesters as a freshman. As a sophomore, he is taking pre-calculus and AP environmental science. They expect him to take AP calculus as a junior and are trying to find solutions for him as a senior for his math requirement. He is looking at different programs this summer that will continue to challenge him.
I am proud he has all these opportunities and can't help wonder what other possibilities he would have if he was receiving equal funding. I understand that times are difficult, but I also believe that if we do not invest in our students today, we will only hurt our state later. We need schools that are willing to go the extra mile to help their students achieve their dreams. Common Ground has a very dedicated staff willing to come to school early and stay late every day. Encouraging their students to create afterschool programs, work with the community, and create a better school.
Students who go to charter and magnet schools deserve the same chance that any student going to a traditional public school should have. A great place to start is equal funding. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions. Thank you. Sorry about the mix-up.
Elizabeth Fraser followed by Jennifer Alexander followed by Taylor Rose. Good evening.
ELIZABETH FRASER: Good evening. In an effort to save time, we're going to keep -- put our three minutes together so that later on you won't listen to Donna.
SENATOR HARP: (Inaudible)
DONNA LABBY: L-A-B-B-Y.
ELIZABETH FRASER: Good afternoon -- evening. I'm Elizabeth Fraser, Director of the Middletown Even Start program. On behalf of all of the directors and our families, we would like to sincerely thank you for including our unique program model in the biennial budget. We are also very heartened to see that we were also included in the Governor's version of the budget. We wanted you to also know that Connecticut has taken a leadership role in funding this program, and we've been recognized through a national -- the National Even Start (inaudible) throughout the country for this achievement.
We are also here today to testify in support of developing an early educational system that is carefully and thoughtfully being developed in Connecticut. As we work on the evolution of the Even Start model, we are cognizant that individual programs should not operate in a vacuum. Without a workable, comprehensive and accountable system, we are just a myriad of solo programs rather than an inspirational state with educational strategy and vision.
In fact, the collaborative, comprehensive model of Even Start cannot be fully successful without this largest context of the system, and we are looking forward to the time when the system of well thought out programs and services will benefit from common vision, common goals, and common access to the quality enhancement resources our workforce needs to be exceptional. We thank you for all this work.
As we work towards being a more cohesive intentional system, we respectfully submit that the Even Start model has a specific and necessary role, that of providing educational opportunities for undereducated families. In the perfect world, the foundation upon which all children grow and develop would be secure, nurturing and filled with the rich experiences that contribute to solid developmental growth. However, social and economic challenges often provide barriers to a secure family footing.
For many of our most in-need parents, a lack of education and the problem of illiteracy obstruct their personal and economic success, limit the pre-literacy skills of their children, and contribute to the cycle of poverty that repeats through future generations is a community concern. Even Start educates parent, child, and parent and child together. By using this model approach, we have had success in breaking the cycle of undereducated families and the cycle of poverty. Thank you.
DONNA LABBY: Good evening. My name is Donna Labby, and I have the dual role of being a (inaudible) discovery collaborative coordinator as well the Even Start program director. So I have a unique viewpoint. Liz spoke of the impact on Connecticut's families and the system that is needed in order to serve them. I will now brief you on the community impact.
There are two areas that we have highlighted, that Even Start and our discovery collaborative have helped to initiate. One is in partnerships. We have broken down silos and are working across agencies. With over 20 private and public agencies within our three communities, we have built strong relationships with key organizations that help families most in need and the hardest to serve, including adult education, Department of Children and Families -- sorry, and many others. Secondly I just want to let you know that we are all looking at a diversified portfolio. We know that education is everybody's business. Thank you for this time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. I appreciate the way you summed that up. Thank you.
Jennifer Alexander followed by Taylor Rose.
JENNIFER ALEXANDER: Good evening, Chairwoman Harp and Walker and members of the committee. Thanks for the opportunity to testify on Governor Malloy's proposed midterm budget adjustments.
In my written testimony I provide a summary of the strengths of the Governor's proposal including increasing funding for schools and districts in the form of conditional and competitive, increased funding for high quality public school choice options to serve our highest needs students, and a common chart of account system. I also suggested ways in which the proposal could be improved. Although these proposals fall far short of the full fix our school funding system needs, they are essential first steps towards improving how we fund our schools.
Right now I'd like to talk about two specific aspects of the proposal that can bring much needed transparency to how we spend our precious education dollars, first, a common chart of accounts. A statewide common chart of accounts is basically an online system that requires districts to report budget and expenditures in a detailed and similar fashion at the school level. The Governor's proposals should also require the common chart of accounts system to be online and publicly accessible. The system should allow everyone from district leaders to parents to track and compare spending and budgets more accurately and share best practices across cities and towns.
Rhode Island implemented a common chart of accounts last year at a total cost of about two million which covered both state and district costs. District leaders in Rhode Island report the system is already helping improve spending decisions. We need this common chart of accounts here and it should be accessible and online to all stakeholders.
Second, I want to talk about the conditional aid and competitive grants. These proposals have the potential to spark innovative reform at the district level. ConnCAN strongly encourages the inclusion of district-wide, weighted student funding systems in the list of reforms for these grants. Weighted student funding, or student-based budgeting, has been successfully implemented in over a dozen large school districts across the nation including Oakland, Houston, Cincinnati, and here in Hartford.
Studies about these districts show that this type of funding system has enabled them to significantly improve the equity of funding across schools within the district, direct more resources to students with greater learning needs, shift resources from central offices to classrooms, and provide school leaders with greater autonomy over their school budgets. Additional aid and competitive grants programs should include weighted student funding as one of the reforms that could be (inaudible).
In sum, these proposals can help improve transparency, equity and accountability in education funding. They do not fix ECS once and for all. We need a clear, achievable funding formula that consistently funds students' learning needs at all public schools. However, they are solid first steps down the path to improvement and should be passed with the improvements I suggested today. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? No. Thank you. We really appreciate it.
Taylor Rose followed by Jon-Paul Roden followed by Lydia Tedone.
TAYLOR ROSE: Good evening. First off I'd like to say thank you for being patient tonight in hearing all the testimony. My name is Taylor Rose, I'm a student at Quinnipiac University, and I'm double majoring in Spanish and education. I'm here tonight to speak on behalf of myself and my father who are the only two contributors for the funding of my education as well as the Connecticut independent student grants.
I've received -- one of the grants that I have received consists of volunteer work where I'm able to apply myself in institutions like the homeless shelters where I'm able to serve the homeless. I also tutor children and chaperone various activities they plan throughout the year. I also find myself often in Maplewood, an elderly home, where I'm able to plan activities for the elderly to partake in.
I'm very fortunate enough to receive this grant. I feel as though it's not only beneficial for myself to receive this grant because it allows me to create such great social networks, but also beneficial to the people that I serve because I'm basically -- essentially providing them with a service that they wouldn't have otherwise.
A year ago I decided to attend Quinnipiac University because it was and still is my dream school. I knew that if I attended anywhere else, I'd be settling for less than what I deserve. So with that my father decided to commit himself to taking out loans worth more than he makes in a year, and I am a full-time student with a part-time job (inaudible) same thing as well. Without this grant I wouldn't be attending Quinnipiac University. Without this grant I wouldn't be living my dream. Now I know that I'm only one voice, but this grant applies to several students across the state of Connecticut, and who's to say their dreams aren't worth (inaudible). Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions. If not, congratulations and best of luck with your education.
Jon-Paul Roden followed by Lydia Tedone followed by Hallie -- and I will figure out how to pronounce that later. Good evening.
JON-PAUL RODEN. Good evening, Senator Harp, Representative Walker, members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Jon-Paul Roden. I'm a resident of Vernon and taught in the Vernon Schools for 35 years, retiring as the district's coordinator of computer science. I've submitted my written testimony for this evening, but I'd like to take this time to emphasize some points.
I've read the recommended adjustments being proposed for the Teachers' Retirement Board budget and I find them disturbing. There are two in particular that concern me. The first is the consolidation of the Teacher Retirement Board within the Office of the Comptroller. One part of that proposal removes the authority of the Teacher Retirement Board to appointed secretary, a position we know as its director. The proposal does not say who would assume that responsibility. I believe that this might just be the first step of many that would reduce the authority of the Teacher Retirement Board, a board now composed of members who know and understand the needs of retired teachers, replacing it perhaps with less knowledgeable people or even perhaps eliminating it all together.
My most important concern in the state's plan to return the state's portion of funding to the Teacher Retirement Board Medicare supplemental health plan to the pre-fiscal year 2006 level of funding by shifting that cost to retirees. It's simply a numbers-switching game. In these economic times, wouldn't it be great if the state could just go back to the level of funding for all of its expenses back to 2006 and find someone else to pay those additional costs?
There are over 30,000 retired teachers in the retirement system, 21,000 over the age of 65, 19,000 on the Teacher Retirement Board healthcare plan. In only the past four years since I became a part of that plan, the basic premium has increased by 27 percent. It's not only the state that has seen its share increase, retirees have paid more too. But the proposed plan would dramatically increase the costs to retired members.
I'm especially concerned tonight for the over 1,600 members of the plan, the oldest participants, teachers who retired before the Teacher Retirement Act, whose pensions are among the lowest in the system. What will a major rate increase like this do to their incomes and how will it impact their quality of life? These changes have upset retired teachers and caused much anxiety. I urge you to keep the promise that was made to retirees as they look forward to retirement, that the cost of their healthcare would be equally shared with their teaching colleagues, themselves, and the Teacher Retirement Board health fund. Don't break that promise and attempt to balance the budget by cutting the state's share and thrusting that additional cost on the backs of retirees. Thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Thank you for coming out tonight. We appreciate it.
Lydia Tedone followed by Hallie Blejewski followed by Yusra Cahn.
LYDIA TEDONE: Good evening, Senator Harp, Representative Walker. I am Lydia Tedone, President of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and Chairman of the Simsbury Board of Education. We appreciate the opportunity to address you on those aspects of the Governor's budget proposal which impact elementary and secondary education.
In general, CABE is supportive of the budget proposal which, despite challenging in economic times, provides for the first increase in education cost-sharing grant in five years. We are concerned, however, that non-conditional districts, ECS aid is added to the board of education budget only at the discretion of the municipality. This significantly weakens the intended impact of providing resources to better support all our public schools.
Given the multitude of new requirements which are included in the Governor's reform package, including implementation of an extensive teacher and administrative evaluation and support system, it's imperative that our districts receive these educational dollars. CABE is very supportive of the proposal to fund an additional 500 children in school readiness programs. It is clear that access to quality preschool programs is a critical component of closing the achievement gap.
We must recognize that 500 new slots is a small piece of the total need and we urge you to make a multi-year commitment to reach the goal of access to quality early childhood programs for all of the needy students. CABE opposes the requirement that public schools fund $1,000 per pupil for those students who attend charter schools. Charter schools are authorized and approved by the state and the funding of them should remain a state responsibility. It is important that we continue to honor the choices made by those students and families who elect to remain in a traditional public school setting.
Diverting education dollars to charter schools will result in the reduction in programs for those students who made a different choice. While I respect the comments recently made by Secretary Ben Barnes of the Office of Policy and Management that this budget proposal wasn't able to accommodate an increase in funding for the special education (inaudible), which we must point out the (inaudible) on this critical grant imposes a significant burden on school districts and forces them to make additional cuts in regular education programs to accommodate the rising special ed costs and the lack of funding increases from state and federal government. We urge you to remove the cap as quickly as possible.
And finally, CABE strongly opposes the proposal to reduce the (inaudible) cost-sharing grant to Connecticut school districts of 1,000 students or less whose per-pupil expenditure exceeds the statewide average. There are a multitude of reasons that districts, regardless of size, have expenditures that exceed the statewide average. When we look at districts with 1,000 students or less, we see the average per-pupil expenditures that range from $10,000 to $19,000. Many of the districts in this category fall well below the state average in 2008-2009 of #13,000.
Rather than establish an arbitrary penalty where the data does not show that the size of the district bears relationship to per-pupil expenditure, we support incentives for school districts to explore collaboration or consolidation if that is in the best educational interest of our students. Particularly at a time where we talk about more personalization of learning, that's something that's the strength of the small school districts in this state.
We appreciate your attention to these issues and thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you for coming in tonight.
LYDIA TEDONE: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Hallie Blejewski followed by Yusra Cahn.
HALLIE BLEJEWSKI: Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to speak. I'm Hallie Blejewski and I was raised in New Britain, Connecticut, and I graduated from (inaudible) High School. Now I'm a senior at Trinity College and the recipient of a CICS grant.
As a high school student, my search for a college was guided by my desire for an individualized education. I knew the best fit for my self-directed learning style would be a small private college with a flexible curriculum. At Trinity I designed my own major in (inaudible), and if you don't know what that is, I will take follow up questions. I study the role of music in the human experience specializing in the music of Trinidad. I spent two semesters studying abroad at the Trinity in Trinidad global learning site, and I received a student-initiated research grant to spend an additional summer there conducting interviews with steel band performers.
I have also received a summer research fellowship to work with a steel band here in Hartford. As a Connecticut native, I found it especially rewarding to engage with local musicians and apply my academic interests in a community setting. Trinity has given me the opportunity to share my enthusiasm about music with others by presenting to my peers and class, speaking at academic conferences, and even guest lecturing for a graduate course at a state university.
My ethnographic research on the community-building effects of the performance inspired me to begin the steel band ensemble at Trinity, which I currently lead in the form of a student-taught course. I created the ensemble as a way for Trinity students in diverse cultural and academic backgrounds to come together through shared performance.
The low student-to-faculty ratio at Trinity means that I have had the chance to form close relationships with the professors who inspire and guide me. My favorite anecdote is about the first time I met one of my academic advisors before I knew that I would be taking all of his classes and TA for them afterwards. I had forgotten a folder in a music classroom and I asked him to open the door for me, and he took the request very seriously and has since opened quite a few. Without the CICS grant, I would not have been able to succeed and grow in the unique way that Trinity allowed me to. I now have the solid foundation of knowledge and the confidence to succeed as a graduate student starting next fall and wherever my life takes me beyond that.
When assessing the value of these grants, please consider not only the benefits to the student recipients themselves, but also the immeasurable contributions these students make to their college communities. To limit the ability of schools like Trinity admit some qualified and deserving students because of financial restrictions, is to reduce the quality of every student's education. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much and congratulations on your success. Are there questions? If not, thank you for coming out tonight.
Yusra Cahn and I may be mispronouncing your name. Are you here?
Tommy Panyanouvong. Is Tommy here?
Dominic Yoia followed by Ray Rossomando
DOMINIC YOIA: Good evening and thank you for your patience. Senator Harp, members of the Appropriations Committee, my name is Dominic Yoia, I'm the Senior Director of Financial Aid at Quinnipiac University. And I've worked in this capacity for the last 13 years at Quinnipiac and in the field of student financial aid for almost 26 years.
Since 1972, the CICS program has enabled needy Connecticut students to afford a higher education, yet tonight we find ourselves debating the value, viability and integrity of this program for students who choose to attend one of the select group of six private colleges with the highest graduate rates in Connecticut. The good news is that a recent study issued in January of 2012 by the Office of Financial and Academic Affairs for Higher Education concludes that CICS recipients have higher retention rates, graduate rates, higher GPAs then all other students in attendance at their respective colleges. This report also concludes that CICS is, quote, working as intended, unquote, and that awarding formulas, quote, continue to be relevant, unquote, amongst other findings.
To complicate matters further, there have been ongoing cuts to just about every federal and state financial aid program across the country. As you may have heard, interest rates on subsidized student loans are set to double in July. The ACG SMART and LEAP programs have been eliminated, SEOG and work-study funding has been reduced, Perkins loans have not received a federal capital contribution in ten years, the subsidized Stafford loan program for graduate students has been eliminated, grace period interest rate subsidies for student loans have been eliminated, and we continue to charge our parent borrowers an interest rate of 7.9 percent with 4 percent in processing fees in an environment where the federal funds rate continues to hover around one-tenth of one percent.
In other words, if you went to a lender to refinance your mortgage and they told you that the prevailing rate was 7.9 percent with 4 points, would you refinance your loan or would you walk out? As absurd as this sounds, we ask parents to pay these rates each and every year for the federal PLUS loan program.
At Quinnipiac, 81 percent of our students receive some form of grant or scholarship and last year 526 students received a CICS grant. And 47 of them worked in various community service capacities, and you've heard many of those tonight such as soup kitchens, food banks, nursing homes, animal shelters, and inner-city schools as tutors, to name a few. Without CICS funds, these underfunded and understaffed community organizations would scramble to meet the needs of their clients.
The bottom line is this, when you reduce or eliminate a grant program, you leave a student with three viable options. They are parent loans, private student loans, and short-term monthly payment plans. And when we collectively make cuts across federal, state and institutional aid programs, we send higher education back 100 years where attending college was based upon a family's wealth and not a student's academic potential.
I respectively ask that we don't view the CICS program as an expense, but rather as an investment. It's an investment in our students, in our communities, and all our futures. Thank you for listening and I humbly ask for your support in assuring that low- and middle-income students can continue to pursue their educational aspirations at six of the finest colleges -- private colleges and universities that Connecticut has to offer. Thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. And actually Quinnipiac has done a wonderful job and a lot of people are very excited about the work it does (inaudible). So congratulations.
DOMINIC YOIA: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Ray Rossomando. Oh, one question. That's what happens when we talk too much, people start --
REP. O'NEILL: Can you tell me what the typical size of the CICS grant is for a student at Quinnipiac? How much money is -- how many dollars do they get?
DONIMIC YOIA: Sure. Last year at Quinnipiac we had about $2.8 million to award, this year we have about $2 million to award. On average we don't meet the state maximum, nor are we able to fund all Connecticut residents with CICS grants. So we do award -- we cap it at $6,000 per student. I don't think we award more than a third of the eligible students that we actually have available. So it has been an underfunded program for a very long time. We're not asking for an increase in funding, we're not even asking for level funding, and we're not even asking for you to not cut the program because we did undergo the cuts last year and this year.
What we're really asking for the six private schools in Connecticut based upon an arbitrary endowment number is to not remove financial aid for those students. Financial aid is an acronym for opportunity, and I think when we cut financial aid for students, we remove the opportunity for needy students as well as minority students who choose to attend a private institution in Connecticut.
REP. O'NEILL: And we talked a little bit about Trinity and Connecticut College, I don't know if you heard that conversation?
DOMINIC YOIA: Yes.
REP. O'NEILL: I mean the threshold is $200 million figure and -- but the explanation given at least from initially Trinity was that you really can't just look at that number, that you have to sort of analyze that number to understand what it really means relative to I guess other obligations and so forth. Would you be able to briefly indicate what else is expected to be paid for out of the endowment monies beside student loans?
DOMINIC YOIA: An endowment, it's difficult to explain because there's no way to really to soft peddle $200 million, $200 million is a lot of money no matter which way you say it or how slowly you say it or how you want to sugarcoat it. As is the state's, you know, $15 billion budget or wherever we are today. It's a lot of money, but to put it in perspective, we have about a $270 million endowment at Quinnipiac which is probably equivalent of our operating expenses for the year. Not that one has anything to do with the other, but again endowments are typically restricted funds.
Many of that -- much of that -- a lot of that number isn't necessarily just cash in a bank account, you know, we don't have stockholders we're beholden to. A lot of this could be real estate, buildings, contributions that are, as you know, we're building a medical school. There was a recent $10 million donation from a donor to help build a medical school. So those are restricted funds that unfortunately can't all be given out in terms of financial aid grants.
To also put it in perspective, this current year we're in, we're giving out about $72 million of our own institutional aid as compared to the $2 million in state funds that are given out. So we have increased that contribution immensely over the last -- I've been there for 13 years and it's increased double digits just about every since I've been there. So we've made incredible strides to make sure we can meet the needs of our students in an economy where it just it made it tough on families.
REP. O'NEILL: Thank you Madame Chair.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much and thank you for explaining all of that. I think it does help.
DOMINIC YOIA: Thank you
SENATOR HARP: Mr. Rossomando followed by Ethan Senack.
RAY ROSSOMANDO: Good evening, Senator Harp, Representative Walker and members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Ray Rossomando, I am a legislative coordinator for the Connecticut Education Association. And I'm here today -- tonight to speak on the Governor's proposed $128 million increase in funding for public schools.
We are pleased to see an increase of $7 million in early childhood investment. Certainly it's a step in the right direction. Early childhood funding in Connecticut peaked about a decade ago, so we still have a far way to go to invest in early childhood, which really would have the greatest impact on closing the achievement gap by addressing the readiness gap. In addition, the Governor proposed $25 million for something called network schools which are persistently low performing schools. And we recognize that providing money to turnaround these schools is something that's important to do because to go in and to reform schools and to do it right, it does take innovation, it does take work with consultants and specialists in order to do -- to do this.
One strategy that we support for turning around schools is a compact school. For those of you who don't know what a compact school is, it's essentially a public school that uses the existing enrollment, existing staff, and by agreement among the community, parents, administrators, teachers, it decides to kind of go its own route in school with respect to school reform, make changes to collective bargaining agreement as necessary, and to sort of build ownership of reform to perpetuate -- to improve the school. It's been a rather successful model, and the Governor flat funds it at $712,000 this year. We also know that UConn has been very supportive in a partner-ness program and has been subsidizing it. And we recognize that for this program to continue its work and expansion, we probably need more money and UConn to do this.
The Governor's budget also puts -- increases ECS funding by $50 million. Again, that's a step in the right direction. We've seen frozen ECS over the, you know, since 2009. It increases the foundation to $12,000 per pupil which is much more in line with actual education expenditures, even if it only phases in that increase over time. We are pleased to see that increases in ECS will be phased in towards full funding rather than arbitrary amounts that were put in previously.
There are two aspects of the ECS changes that we do take issue with. We remind the Legislature that ECS was put in place as a result of Horton v. Meskill, and its basic purpose is to equalize funding for schools based on each town's ability to pay. And the Governor's proposal folds charter school funding, no other funding, charter school funding into ECS. And it also requires districts to send $1,000 of local tax dollars outside the district to charter schools. These in combination work to compromise the mission of Horton v. Meskill and undermine the ECS formula. And for a town like New Haven or Bridgeport, they only get about $8,000 per child in ECS. To now have to send $1,000 outside of the district, you know, adds even more damage.
Each of the -- each of -- New Haven and Bridgeport are already underfunded by $20 million in ECS formula. And by virtue of this proposal alone, they would have now to send more than $1.6 million outside of the district. We think that runs to Horton v. Meskill, and certainly we can lift up both without penalizing of local public schools.
There are also changes to the minimum budget requirement. The minimum budget requirement is in place to ensure that ECS increases actually go to schools and aren't used to supplant other local resources. Prior to the MBR, was the MER, which is something -- it also did something similar. And essentially a couple years ago when we began freezing the ECS formula, we froze the MBR. We said that districts no longer have to increase, you know, if their ECS is not increasing.
I'll just finish with this point. In the Governor's proposal, he now increases ECS again but does not make the adjustment to the MBR. So we think that should now rise with increases in ECS. The rest of my testimony is written and submitted, so there's more information in there. And I thank you for your time.
REP. WALKER: Thank you. And thank you for your testimony. Any questions. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Ethan Senack. Ethan, you multiplied.
ETHAN SENACK: Yes. Yeah, we also have combined our testimony in the effort to shorten the speaking list. So my colleague is Sam Tracy. We'll be speaking on (inaudible).
REP. WALKER: Wait one second.
ETHAN SENACK: Down the list, I think number 65 or so.
REP. WALKER: Okay. So you're going to do two for three minutes, right?
ETHAN SENACK: Correct. Yeah, we're going to squeeze it in. Don't worry.
REP. WALKER: Thank you.
ETHAN SENACK: Members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education. As you know, the University of Connecticut just approved a four-year plan to hire 290 faculty by 2015 while raising tuition between six and seven percent per year. A large number of students recognize the necessity of this plan because of the dire need for more faculty at UConn. Many students find it difficult to get all the courses they need to graduate on time, forcing them to incur the costs of staying for extra semesters. However, while hiring more faculty is clearly necessary, students do not have the resources to bear the entirety of the cost.
Over the past decade or so, the state has slowly chipped away at its commitment to UConn. When I was born in 1991, the state provided 50 percent of UConn's operating budget with the other 50 percent coming from student fees and private donations. Now in 2012, the state provides only 27.6 percent of UConn's budget. Twenty-ten was the first year in history that UConn received more money from students than from the state. And the gap has only widened since then.
This is setting us on the dangerous path of transitioning from a state university to merely a state-supported university. I understand that cuts have to be made across the board in order to balance the state's budget. But these sharp reductions in funding cannot be attributed solely to the recession and its resulting budget problems.
According to the Connecticut General Assembly's Office of Legislative Research, in 1985, 2.34 percent of the state's budget when towards funding towards UConn. In 2012, this dropped to only 1.11 percent. It is clear that the state is not simply tightening its belt, but is actually shifting its priorities away from higher education and towards other programs and projects.
SAMUEL TRACY: That's a very dangerous slope more so for students than anyone else. Right now student loan debt has topped credit card debt in America. And by reducing funding for institutions of higher education, you're asking students and parents to pay more. Tuition at UConn is set to go up six percent every year for the next four years. If students cover that increase with loans, that six percent can result in almost $12,000 more of debt upon graduation. Out-of-state students will fair even worse, paying $47,000 a year for a UConn education by the end of these tuition hikes. And that's as much as some of the most expensive private schools in the nation.
As you've been hearing here tonight, funding for primary education is important, but just as critical is providing those students somewhere affordable to go after high school. We know that maintaining quality is critical. We also recognize that you're trying to balance the budget, and that's why we're willing to do our fair share. Governor Malloy has called for a shared sacrifice, but asking students to pick up a $50 million tab is too much. We need the state to help fund this faculty hiring plan.
I know the current proposal includes just over $1 million to go towards the program, and we are very much thankful for that. But, frankly, it's -- it's not enough. If we are to truly carry the sacrifice, ideally we would ask the state to fund half the cost of the new plan. Keeping the cost of higher education low is important. It's right on principle, not to mention that it makes sense economically. We need to grow our way out of this recession and the best way to do that is by reinvesting in education.
REP. WALKER: Thank you. And you both gave us a lot of food for thought, your numbers and the fact that you were born in 1991. I'm sorry. When you said that it was like for a minute my brain shut down. But I heard you afterwards, okay. So it was okay. Thank you very much for your testimony tonight, and we hear you truly loud and clear. Any questions? Thank you. Thank you very much.
Next we have a charter school teacher's group, Larry Dome, Tiffany Johnson, and Heather DeLaurentis. So we've got two teachers. Good evening. Go ahead.
TIFFANY JOHNSON: Good evening. To the members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Tiffany Johnson and thank you for this opportunity to speak. I am a founding science teacher and co-teacher representative on the board of Park City Prep Charter School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Park City Prep Charter School was founded in 2006 to address the underrepresentation of minorities in the fields of science, technology and mathematics.
Park City Prep Charter School is a public charter school servicing approximately 250 students in grades six through eight. Our teachers, due to lack of -- lack of equitable funding, have to provide lots of extra staff support such as being part-time social workers, custodians, professional development specialists, curriculum writers and more. Although we spend what money we do get very wisely, there are still some things that we are in dire need of.
Park City Prep Charter School does not have a cafeteria or a library. We are currently renting space in an industrial factory building that also houses a tractor-trailer school. Because of this, our students are subjected to loud noises during their independent reading, and a variety of other distractions that comes with not having our own building.
The extra funding will allow us to move into a more reasonable learning environment. I believe strongly not only in the work of my school, but that one-size education does not fit all learners. We need a funding system that allows for choice, funds all students in schools fairly, and breaks down rather than creates arbitrary barriers. I implore that the committee and the rest of the Legislators to support the Governor's proposal. Thank you for your time.
LARRY DOME: Honorable Chairs and members of the Appropriation Committee. My name is Larry Dome and I'm a math teacher at Common Ground High School. I'm speaking to you this evening in support of Governor Malloy's recent education proposals particularly regarding how schools are funded in the state of Connecticut.
I have been teaching at Common Ground High School for four years. It has been my experience and it is my belief that the school is providing a unique and very important opportunity for students in the Greater New Haven area. Since I began teaching at Common Ground, it has been painfully clear how under -- how underfunded we are, yet each year we have managed to raise the bar of our students academically.
However, we are faced with some real challenges in the next few years with changes in the state standardized testing and the move to the Common Core Standards. Without fair funding it will be difficult for us to meet these challenges. Our school has an extremely dedicated staff. In four years we've had one raise of one percent. As painful as this has been, we have not lost staff. We do not have a 40-hour work week, we have many after school responsibilities, and work that runs into the evening and often into the weekend.
I worry that the staff at Common Ground will not be able to sustain this level of commitment without more assistance. Common Ground takes students and provides them with a chance to learn about what it means to be a productive member of the community. And please support Governor Malloy and his education goals so that the schools like Common Ground can continue to help our students take the next step. Thank you.
REP. WALKER: Thank you and thank you both for your testimony. Any questions? Thank you, have a good evening.
Next its Lira Park.
LIRA PARK: Good evening. When applying to colleges four years ago, I had applied to a mixture of 17 large research and public universities. The reason why I chose Trinity over any other state or public university was due to the fact that I would be able to forge my own personally tailored experience at the college. I myself have experienced this through intimate faculty and co-collegiate (inaudible). You are not the number you would be at a large state school, but rather a name and a voice.
Trinity is uniquely seated to my interest in psychology, with a particular strength in the sciences. Specifically, I have had a number of research opportunities with faculty members along with taking advantage of many opportunities offered in the City of Hartford, a city that has ultimately shaped the institution and my experience at the college.
After graduate this spring, I plan on taking my background of psychology from Trinity and applying that the communications in which I intend to pursue a graduate degree in. Once again I would like to thank you for your time and generosity. I leave you with one last sentiment, Trinity has given me a valuable and unforgettable experience that I cannot see myself receiving anywhere else. I have formed a great deal of bonds with the college that are invaluable and have left a permanent impact on my life.
It would be discouraging and disappointing to hear that students like me would not have the amazing opportunity to make -- to make a name for themselves and be remembered through the Trinity College community. Thank you.
REP. WALKER: Thank you, and thank you for your testimony. Any questions? Representative O'Neill.
REP. O'NEILL: If you hadn't gone to Trinity, where would you have gone? What was the next school on your list?
LIRA PARK: I was picking between actually Boston University and also the University of Connecticut (inaudible). So a school with 20,000 students compared to 2,000 students. And I can honestly (inaudible) just the attention that you receive in the classroom. I can have lunch with the dean of students on a monthly basis, seeing him ride around on his bicycle. Also my professors want to get to know me on both a personal level and an intellectual level.
I know that after I leave Trinity College, I'll be able to go back and still have these relationships with my professors and with the faculty members at Trinity. And I think that's pretty rare and very, very important to me.
REP. O'NEILL: Okay. Thank you.
REP. WALKER: Thank you.
Sharlen Tarafdar. And you will have to explain to me how to say your last name. And after Sharleen, Orlando Rodriguez. And after Orlando, Kim Jackson. And after Kim Jackson, Jessica Johnson.
SHARLEN TARAFDAR: Good evening. (Inaudible.)
REP. WALKER: Could you move the mike closer to you. Yeah, there you go. Go ahead.
SHARLEN TARAFDAR: I attend Quinnipiac University as a freshman, and I'm a health science major declaring a major in nursing. I also applied -- I also hope to apply to the M.A.T. program as an early childhood education teacher. Attending Quinnipiac University was my dream all throughout my junior and senior year of high school. And when I was accepted, I couldn't have been more thrilled. However, paying for tuition as well as room and board was going to be a challenge.
After the recession in 2008, my father had lost his job and was unemployed for about six to eight months. And ever since then, money has always been an obstacle that we as a family had to face. I was always conscience of how I spent my money and did everything in my power to help my parents in any way I could. Luckily, the financial support I received from Quinnipiac allowed me to fulfill my dreams and reach my full potential as a student and individual.
Without the CICS grant, I would not be attending this school. And if this CICS grant is not renewed for me for years to come, I'll not be able to cover my expenses financially. Everything that I've worked for since the beginning of my career as a student will diminish and I will always feel as if I've sold myself short. If I did not receive this grant, I would no longer attend Quinnipiac University and will probably end up going to a community college wondering how different my life would have been and how many opportunities I missed out on because I could not afford to go to my dream school.
This $6,000 grant that I receive from CICS makes it affordable for my parents to pay for my education which also allows my parents to send my two younger sisters to their dream school in the future. I would never want to take that opportunity away from them because of this grant. Please remember that most of us are struggling to pay our tuition and room and board because this is a school that we've always to attend in hopes that it will help us achieve everything we want. Thank you.
REP. WALKER: Thank you. And thank you for your testimony. Any questions? Thank you and have a good evening.
Orlando Rodriguez, Kim Jackson following him, and Jessica Johnson following her.
ORLANDO RODRIGUEZ: Senator Harp, Representative Walker, and distinguished members of the Appropriations Committee. I am here today on behalf of Connecticut Voices for Children. The Governor's mid-term budget increases the Education Equalization Grant by $50 million. This is a prudent investment in the state's economic future, its children, that we whole-heartedly support.
As you well know, the success of fiscal investments are determined by their implementation, the details. We welcome the additional funding, but have concerns on the details of the implementation that may result in unforeseen and undesirable consequences.
Regarding the ECS formula, we support replacement of per capita income with median household income as proposed, but disagree with obtaining income data from DECD. DECD does not have independent calculations for -- for personal income and would need to obtain this data from either the private sector or the American Community Survey. Based on the most recent American Community Survey data on median household income per towns, Deep River has the highest margin of error at 22.3 percent, 54 towns have a margin of error of at least 10 percent, and the average margin of error is 8.5 percent.
The Governor's proposal to use HUSKY A enrollment data as a proxy for poverty is a better option than either the current use of Title I data or the proposed alternative of free- and reduced-priced meal eligibility. Connecticut Voices recommends that personal income data be derived from the median household income based on the state income tax returns. We recommend SDE work with DSS to provide a count of children in each town at various multiples of the federal poverty level based on income eligibility data collected from HUSKY A enrollment.
Regarding actual town funding from ECS, the interim report by the ECS task force states, the budget acts of 2009 and 2011 each overrode the statutory ECS formula and specified each town's ECS grant. These increases in ECS funding resulted in some towns being funded above their ECS maximum because new funding levels are based on prior amounts without sufficient regard for the ECS target amount.
It is -- it is proposed that any increase in ECS aid be added to the board of education at the discretion of the staff -- the municipality. In short, increases in ECS are not required to be spent on education. Furthermore, currently local tax dollars collected for education are not required to be spent on education.
No town should receive ECS funding above their maximum entitlement. Furthermore, it is necessary to mandate explicitly that all education monies, most including local monies, must be spent not merely budgeted on education.
Regarding charter school funding, the reallocation of 59.8 million in charter school funding into the ECS formula is inappropriate given that charter school funding is fixed, not driven by equalization, whereas the ECS formula is focused exclusively on equalization. Requiring towns to pay charter schools $1,000 for each attending resident would force towns to either raise local taxes, reduce education spending on local schools, or reduce local non-education spending. Furthermore, the state's COREs towns will be the most adversely impacted with schools in DRG I having to pay 4.8 million to charter schools.
We are strongly against the comingling of ECS funds with charter school funds and other non-equalization based funding at the -- this time. We are also against requiring towns to contribute $1,000 per resident student for charter school attendees. I'm almost done.
Regarding a common chart of accounts, the implementation of a uniform accounting system for the public schools institutions is crucial for determining the true cost of education in Connecticut. To ensure comprehensive accounting, we recommend that the proposed statute stipulate revenue from all sources, local, federal, state, and private. The accounting system also must take into account monies budgeted for education in addition to expenditures. Furthermore, the accounting system must be able to determine whether local taxes collected for education were shifted to non-education purposes and whether ECS funding is supplanting local education funding. Thank you for this opportunity to testify regarding House Bill 5014.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Before you go, because I actually have some questions. I don't think I understood on your HUSKY A and the poverty measure, I -- I understood that you said that you thought that it was the best measure of the options that were out there, at least I think I did. But what I didn't understand is how you thought to roll that into DRS numbers to get an actual count. I don't think I quite got that.
ORLANDO RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I had to shorten the testimony. We think of the options that are out there which are Title I poverty which is currently used. We've also proposed -- there's also the option of free- and reduced-priced meals and HUSKY A. We think the best is HUSKY A, it's the most inclusive. However, the problem with HUSKY -- well, it's not a problem, we -- we believe that HUSKY A could overstate poverty in some areas and doesn't allow the identification of severe poverty towns versus moderate poverty towns. So what we would like -- what we suggest as that SDE do is to use HUSKY A enrollment data and come up with different tiers of poverty based on income level, say 130 percent of poverty, 185 percent of poverty. And then we would use that in the ECS formula. We would have different poverty measures for each town, severe poverty versus moderate -- moderate poverty.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Actually you have some ideas that are very interesting and we would like to probably contact you to pursue these further. So thank you very much. Unless, oh, we do. Representative, go ahead.
REP. HURLBURT: Thank you, Madame Chair. And I'll be brief. Orlando, always great to see you and thank you for your testimony tonight. I do appreciate that -- that not only did you identify problems, but you also gave recommendations which is very helpful. And as the Senator said, these will be helpful in moving forward. Senator, I appreciate that you asked the question of Orlando about numbers. I've known Orlando for a number of years now, and as an economist he knows numbers better than I think anybody I've ever run into about these sorts of things. So thank you for waiting until this late hour, and I'm sure Sarah appreciates that you probably gave her, as a gentleman, first up to testify and took the (inaudible) by yourself, but I appreciate your testimony and staying late tonight, Orlando. Thank you.
ORLANDO RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Representative, and we're available. And there's a lot more specifics to talk about, but you can only do so much in three minutes.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. We may be giving you a call. We appreciate having been assisting us, you know, quietly, so we'll be calling to see if we can work out some of these things and understand them a little bit better.
ORLANDO RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Kim Jackson followed by Jessica Johnson. You know, when we call your name, if the next person could come down to the front row.
KIM JACKSON: Good evening, Senator Harp and members of the committee. Thank you for staying up late with me tonight. I'm Kim Jackson, and I'm the District Facilitator of Family Education in New Britain, which includes our two fabulous family resource centers. And I'm also secretary of the Statewide Family Resource Center Alliance.
Connecticut has 62 family resource centers that are funded by grants through the SDE. In the past two years, our previously flat-funded amount of $100,000 per center was cut by a total of 10 percent. This reduces our service to families by two more months of the year and leaves our staff underemployed. We are still charged with providing service in all seven components which collectively cover the lifespan of a families education in a strength-based manner.
We provide a system of service delivery that is integrated within our school districts and communities strengthening the bond one family at a time. Our services are open to all families in our districts, but we focus on the hardest to reach and the most vulnerable. In these tough economic times, there are more families than ever before trying to make ends meet with less than ever before. As families work hard to keep the basic needs of their children met, vital to that and their survival in the future is their education. From home visits to developmental screenings with families with children under the age of five, family resource centers hope to strengthen the bonds between parent and child while building a solid base for educational support.
Early identification and intervention by trained family resource center parent educators leads to timely service delivery that saves money and minimizes the negative impact of stress on the child and family. The family resource centers are currently working with birth to three to improve identification of children under two years of age who require evaluation to see if intervention is required to help them develop mentally.
In addition, the parent educators certified in the Parents as Teachers model provide much needed personal visits and parenting education to families with children prenatally through five years of age. This internationally recognized model emphasis -- emphasizes healthy brain development and educated parenting because parents are a child's first and most important teacher. Parent educators partner with parents to help them effectively parent and provide their child with an environment that nurtures healthy development.
Parent educators also help parents to understand the importance of preschool in their child's development and to enroll in a quality setting that's a good fit for the family. Family resource centers also provide support to home daycare providers in the form of professional development. Most recently the family resource centers worked with All Our Kin to provide home daycare providers for training and consultation to implement the use of the Early Learning Guidelines to improve provider's knowledge and their work with parents with children under the age of two. This professional development increases the quality of care for infants and toddlers in our licensed and unlicensed friend and family daycare providers in the state. By increasing the provider's knowledge of development, the providers are also more likely to notice children needing further evaluation and making referrals with the family.
Through a strong network of resource and referral partners, the FRC assists families in utilizing the services available in their communities to reach their goals. Families need support and the FRCs need your continued support in restoration of our full funding in order to continue supporting families in our state. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Really appreciate it. They are very important institutions in our community. Thank you. Are there questions? If not, thank you very much.
Jessica Johnson followed by Dawn Crayco, followed by Kathy Queen. So if you could come down to the front row.
MARYANGELA AMENDOLA: Good evening.
SENATOR HARP: Good evening.
MARYANGELA AMENDOLA: Thank you very much for this time. My name is Maryangela Amendola and I am reading this testimony on -- by one of my parents, Jessica Johnson, who had to leave earlier in -- earlier in the evening.
I am a single mother of two and I -- and I'm here to testify of the benefits that my child has received from a school that has incorporated FRC into the daily learning of my child. I learned about the recent cuts during meeting with the FRC director and talking about a program that was being offered, People Empowering People, that inspired me to speak in front of you today.
In preparing this testimony and discussing my visit to the Capitol with my son, who had visited this very room on a field trip sponsored and encouraged from the FRC, I realize the impact that the FRC has had in motivating my child. As a parent, the FRC has given me the tools to prepare my son to be the achiever that he is. One little thing that -- that was shared with me was the secret that my son, Maurice, shared with Maryangela, our FRC director, and that secret is reading will make you successful(inaudible) -- reading will make you successful enough so that in your future you can be whatever you want to be. That secret is a small point but one of the huge tools that our FRC has helped me to enforce the morals and values into my child. I am one of 700 parents that appreciate that secret shared with our children.
Maurice, who is now in fifth grade, has benefitted directly from programs such as Mutt-i-gree, Junior Achievement, and has learned to donate to the Leukemia Foundation. These programs have been encouraged -- have encouraged empathy and compassion in my child. The Junior Achievement has given him an optimistic attitude -- attitude regarding money in the future. All the programs are in the community, but these are delivered to my child through the efforts of the family resource center.
For the past two years, FRC has given me knowledge to make me an involved parent. One example is a simple -- a simple bookmark that was -- that has the reading strategy used to help my promote -- to help promote my child learning while he is reading. While that -- with that -- with that bookmark, I feel I am helping my child learn too. I am Maurice's teacher. As a matter of fact, he has made it to the semifinals in the spelling bee, and last year he placed eighth in the math -- in the Math Minute Madness in the -- in that 125 student competition.
I receive newsletters from the FRC informing me of everything from tips to prepare my son for the CMTs to income tax preparation and the barriers to the achievement gap. Last year after the achievement gap letter was sent out, I was one of 400 parents that signed --
SENATOR HARP: If you could please wrap up.
MARYANGELA AMENDOLA: -- and returned the letter stating that I too would join the force to help our children succeed. My younger son, Maurice, will be entering kindergarten in the fall at Chase School. As a mother, I want to -- I want him to benefit as my child -- as my oldest child has. I sit here to tell you please do not cut funding to the family resource centers because you would be decreasing the goal that parents have set for their children. Thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. And I probably should have said at the start of the hearing that if someone leaves and they have testimony, they can give it to our staff and we will have it. It will be online, you don't have to read it on their behalf.
MARYANGELA AMENDOLA: Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Are there questions? Well, actually we can't ask questions of you, it was somebody else's testimony. And could you give her the testimony, our staff person, and your name, please speak to them. It throws us off, we have a very tight system here.
Dawn followed by Kathy Queen followed by William Myers.
DAWN CRAYCO: Good evening, Senator Harp, Representative Walker and members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Dawn Crayco and I'm the Deputy Director of End Hunger Connecticut!, a statewide anti-hunger and food security organization. Our primary mission is to create long term sustainable solutions to end hunger.
I would like to commend the Governor for his support for continued state funding for the federal Child Nutrition Programs and specifically the School Breakfast Program and the Connecticut Healthy Food Certification Program, otherwise known as the Healthy Foods Initiative.
In March of 2011, the Governor joined in a partnership with End Hunger Connecticut! and the national anti-hunger organization, Share Our Strength, called Connecticut No Kid Hungry, to lead and support a comprehensive strategy to end childhood hunger in Connecticut. Connecticut is one of 18 other state campaigns with similar models aimed at maximizing federal and state resources to increase awareness and access to healthy food.
Maintaining funding for the School Breakfast Program and Healthy Food Certification Program is in line with the campaign's goal of supporting infrastructure and systems for getting healthy food to children. The School Breakfast Program is administered federally by the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and schools that choose to run the program are reimbursed by the federal government for meals served to students.
A recent report from the Food Research and Action Center entitled the School Breakfast Scorecard 2010-2011 ranks Connecticut, for the fifth year in a row, last in the nation for the number of schools that offer school breakfast. We have seen growth, however, in the number of low-income students participating in the school breakfast program due in part to state support for school breakfast.
Connecticut offers a small per-breakfast reimbursement depending on available funds and grants to schools offering school breakfast with 20 percent or more of their students participating in free- or reduced-priced lunch in the second prior year. Often, depending on the level of participation in the program, the federal reimbursement does not provide enough for schools to cover their costs. This extra funding allows them to do so and thereby encourages schools with higher need and low-income students to offer school breakfast.
Another program with proposed level funding is the Healthy Food Certification Program. Currently if schools choose to serve only healthy foods as described by the State Department of Ag, they receive an additional ten cents per meal served. This national precedent has been a huge incentive for over 133 school districts, just over 70 percent, to serve healthier menu items. It appears that the Governor intends to maintain funding for this program and End Hunger Connecticut! is in full support of this.
A study done by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale shows that students that are part of this program have better scores in teaching students about nutrition, healthier foods in all parts of the school and school environment, and most importantly, this is being translated to healthier nutritional choices in the student's homes.
It is crucial that our state continues to support these successful initiatives and also takes advantage of more opportunities to make the connection between nutrition, healthy, and achievement. If we want our children to success in school and in life, we must give them the foundation and the tools to do so to the best of their ability. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you for the great work you do.
Kathy Queen followed by William Myers followed by Liz DuPont-Diehl. Good evening.
KATHY QUEEN: I'll save you a few seconds, is I think Liz DuPont-Diehl left. Representative Walker, Senator Harp, members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Kathy Queen, I'm Co-Chair of the State-Funded Child Care Center Director's Forum, representing the 102 early care and education centers in Connecticut that moved from DSS to SDE last year, and Director of Wallingford Community Daycare, Incorporated
I'm here to testify in support of the proposed education budget related to child care services, and appreciate the continued funding for the network of our 102 child care centers in 53 municipalities in Connecticut. We serve over 4,300 children including 1,200 infants and toddlers.
Since 1968, Connecticut has made a sustained investment in quality child care for low- and moderate-income working parent families. Our centers form an important component of the early care and education system. We believe wholeheartedly in high standards for staff and programs that are currently mandated to acquire and maintain NAEYC accreditation and our staff must meet the standards set by the school readiness law.
The Town of Wallingford has been the grantee and partner for our state-funded center since 1969. Without this partnership, our center may not have been able to help the thousands of parents stay employed by providing the quality education for their children. Our families are the backbone of the community and are proud contributing members of society because they can access safe, secure, high quality education and affordable care for their youngest children.
As part of the 2012-2013 biennial budget, the state-funded child care centers will move from the oversight of DSS to the State Department of Education, charged with developing and coordinating the system of early care and education, integrating child care centers with the school readiness program.
We have worked diligently with SDE over the past several months and continue to work on a set of recommendations that will help establish that seamless program serving children from birth to age eight that we're hoping to start it in for 2014. The early care and education system requires support and funding for professional development to ensure teachers obtain the mandated credentials. To that end and my presence here, we support the increase in quality enhancement dollars for professional development and career advancement proposed by the Governor. Additionally, we ask that a priority for the allocation of professional development funds go to programs that are mandated to achieve NAEYC accreditation and to -- and the increase staffing qualifications, teachers credentials and the like that are coming along here.
These standards are the foundation of Connecticut's proposed Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System envisioned in the Governor's education legislation. And quality enhancement dollars are necessary for teachers serving infants, toddlers, and three- and four-year-olds to comply with those program and staffing mandates, absolutely essential.
In summary, the centers appreciate Governor Malloy's investment in early care and education, and we urge the Appropriations Committee to support these budget recommendations. Thank you for your consideration.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you for joining us this evening.
William Myers followed by Alexia Coyle followed by John Kane.
WILLIAM MYERS: Good evening, Senator Harp, Representative Walker, and members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Bill Myers, I'm in my 25th year of teaching in Connecticut, the last 16 in the Town of Southington. I am an elected teacher serving as the vice chair of the state Teachers' Retirement Board. Thank you for your long day of listening.
I've been actively involved with the subcommittees of the TRB, one charged with interviewing and selecting a vendor to manage the TRB's Medicare supplement plan. This process is -- is repeated every three years. The past summer once again it was very competitive. The committee chose Stirling and Stirling as the vendor and the full board later approved that selection.
The current financial structure of the Retired Teachers' Health Fund is the -- the state -- the teachers -- our active teachers, the retired teachers, and the state. It is an extremely efficient and well-subscribed fund program and over 19,000 participants. The plan is the envy of our state health plans due to its tight management and its cost-effective history. However, it has had its share of dire financial circumstances. In Governor Rell's tenure, the state eliminated its contribution for two years and put the fund at risk since the shortage in any one year has lasting and increasing repercussions for years down the line.
Nonetheless, during those years active and retired teachers continued to make their required contributions to the fund. Now we find ourselves in yet another untenable financial situation because -- because the Governor's current budget proposes reducing permanently the state's share to the fund, a share on which the plan is now balanced. Instead, the Governor proposes shifting a portion of its share to our oldest retirees, those on the TRB's Medicare supplement plan. They're being asked to pay a premium share increase from 33 to 42 percent of the cost of that fund, and these retirees are the ones who can least afford it.
(Inaudible) for the TRB, an autonomous state agency, is the Governor's proposal to combine and merge the TRB with the Comptroller's Office. The concern here may be simply a matter of detail for the many, many unanswered questions not covered by the legislation. There's a serious need for clarifications on which the board is willing to work together to help come to the best solution for all parties. As it is now, the TRB operates with a bare-bones staff and yet still provides services to the members at a cost of $27 each.
No other state teacher or state employee system comes close to matching that number. Would this proposal actually save the state money? We are -- we have serious space needs that are also not met with the consolidation, parking, a dedicated space for the staff, and the storage of all its files. These files can't be housed outside the agency because the workers refer to it daily.
I'll skip to the final, autonomy of the TRB. It's almost entirely removed. Rather, the TRB would operate under the direction of the Comptroller, and under this proposal most of the statutory functions vested with the TRB would be transferred to the Comptroller. Again, thank you for your listening. Parts of this budget proposal pose serious risks for the TRB and all of its members. The aforementioned sections need to be studied and perhaps rewritten before they become law. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Thank you. I think you were articulate (inaudible) your point of view, so thank you.
WILLIAM MYERS: Thanks.
SENATOR HARP: Alexia Coyle? And, if not, are you John Kane?
JOHN KANE: Yes, I am.
SENATOR HARP: Come on down.
JOHN KANE: Thank you. I have, thank you, Senator Harp and Representative Walker. My name is John Kane, I'm the President of Southern Fairfield County's retired teachers' organization. I do not envy you at all and I don't mean that because it's intended to be funny. You have an awesome task.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with some of the people including Representative Fleischmann and Aman and our wonderful treasurer, in helping to resolve a problem which the CEA and AFT also worked with in solving our pension plan. It was a program that was put in that lost us billions of dollars in about four years. That was a bad move. Tonight, you're concerned about the TRB.
The problem with the TRB is that you underfunded it. It used to have 34 members, they have now 21. They -- their phone system doesn't work very well at all. As a matter of fact, it's hard to get in there. Secondly, the -- the computer system is also down many times. So the point is, if you wait long enough, there's nothing left. So unfortunately, you're at a dire position. Do you appropriate money and take it from someplace else that you've had many people speaking in favor of?
And secondly, let me give some figures that might help you understand why we're concerned. Your state health plan last year -- last year, received $42 million a month, $484 million a year for the state retired employees plan. Our plan last year was to receive $32 million for the whole year, the whole year. Now the Governor is asking that we take 7.9 million away from that and let the working teachers pay for it.
Let's take Senator Bye, for example, let's say you retired 20 years ago and your health plan in the community that you're from might have been $5,000. It might now be 8,000, 9,000, or in Greenwich, 10,000, or the same thing is true in Franklin, Connecticut. How do you retire? If you have a spouse, you have to pay twice as much. And if it goes up again, you have to pay the extra fee. So we are really in a muddle.
I think you should set up a committee. You said let's bring some people back and talk to them about a solution. We have 1,800 people that are without Medicare, but the few of them are spouses, most of them are teachers, and they are going to have to pay the group rate for the rest of their life. A little bit more?
We have $55 millions of dollars as of last June 30th in our health insurance premium account, most of which came from the investment returns of our treasurer, and the surplus monies that come from working teachers. This year it will be about $48 million, of which 32 million is necessary. The rest of it is surplus. If you took $5,400,000 out of the HIPA account and you applied it to those 1,800 people, you'd save a lot of people some angst. When you've got to take yourself and put up 7,000, 8,000, 9,000, that's a lot of money.
So in the back of the speech that I prepared for you, there's located a chart with some of the names of the communities, Lisbon, $9,877 presently a person. You got a spouse? You want to retire? To what? Oh, Voluntown, there's a big economic center, $9,936, and it goes on. You'll see it on the chart.
Please, I don't envy you. You want to do good by everybody, but you've got to call people and let us assist you. And you can still disagree with us, and that would be all right too. At least we've made our -- our thoughts known. Thank you so much and like Mrs. -- Representative Miller, I'm on my way back to Stamford. I got her at half past four today, and it's 25 after ten.
SENATOR HARP: All right. Well, thank you for your opinion and (inaudible).
JOHN KANE: I was proud to be here.
SENATOR HARP: Well, thank you.
JOHN KANE: It's my 51st year.
SENATOR HARP: All right.
Sarai Peart. Is Sarai here? Colleen Brennan. Colleen?
COLLEEN BRENNAN: Good evening. I am from Hebron, my name is Colleen Brennan. I'm here tonight to talk to you about the family resource center and give a little bit of my personal experience on that topic. It takes a village to raise a family is an often-quoted African proverb which epitomizes many family's experience with the family resource center.
The family resource center coordinator and parent educator has created an invaluable resource of knowledge and support to the families of my community. To reduce funding of the family resource center grant from the Connecticut State Department of Education would jeopardize the availability of these benefits to thousands of Connecticut families.
As new parents, my husband and I often joke about wishing we'd come home from the hospital with an owner's manual for our babies. With a master's degree in elementary education, I'd certainly considered myself well prepared for motherhood. Upon the arrival of our first son, we quickly realized we had a lot to learn.
We read numerous books about newborns and toddlers only to discover, quite often, that our child was not always in that book. We had lots of questions. I was also struggling with transitioning from a busy career to that of a stay-at-home mom. I wondered how stay-at-home moms got through their days. We had lots of friends with children to whom we posed these questions, but most of these children were now older and parents -- the parents could no longer remember the details of how they'd handled the parenting issues in question. Too much time had passed and they had focused -- they were not focused on new and different developmental issues. One piece of advice I did hear repeatedly was the family resource center.
I quickly joined the play and learn and discussion groups which is one component of the family resource center. I learned that they are the answer to many -- to many of the questions we were facing. We now have two young children, and I've been attending the play and learn and discussion groups with FRC for almost five years. The family resource center coordinator and parent educator have years of experience and training with regard to issues families face and are therefore extremely knowledgeable. This is the place to learn from and share with families with children of the same age. During the newborn and toddler years, it was my place to brainstorm, learn, and practice new parenting skills such as feeding, sleep, communication, discipline, routines, sharing and potty draining.
As my boys entered preschool, I found the FRC play and learn group to be the perfect place to introduce and reinforce many skills necessary for the classroom. The structure of the play and learn group includes side-by-side play, cooperative play, circle time, transitions, and snack time. It is here that I'm currently helping my youngest learn to solve conflicts directly with peers using appropriate strategies and to initiative appropriate requests to be included in play.
To summarize, because I know we're short on time, I'd like to say that I truly believe that the -- that FRC is the modern day village it takes to raise a family. I respectfully request that the Legislators not reduce funding for the family resource programming. Thank you for your time.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. And thank you for spending your evening with us.
Our next speaker is Patrick Riccards.
PATRICK RICCARDS: Chairwoman Harp, Chairwoman Walker, thank you. My name is Patrick Riccards and I'm the CEO of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now. I appreciate the time to speak with you today.
Senate Bill 24 is an incredible step forward for Connecticut. For too long we have waited for real education reform to come. Earlier today I heard that S.B. 24 is actually too much, too fast. I think in reality what we have here is that we have to deal with the fact that we've done too little for too long. I want to discuss three strengths of the bill first. One is the increased funding to districts based on the adopt of critical reforms, two is the local contribution of public charter schools, and three is the commissioner's network and our focus on school turnaround.
If we look at what S.B. 24 does, what we're finally looking to do is how do we tie additional aid for school districts that need it the most, that's tied to changes in local education policy. This becomes incredibly important. If we look at what's happened in Connecticut over the last eight years, we've seen the number of full-time employees in our schools increase by 20 percent. We've seen our spending per pupil in Connecticut increase by 15 percent. At the same time, we've seen our NAPE scores increase by just one percent, while the number of students actually enrolled in Connecticut public schools has decreased by two percent.
What we're doing here is an important step in starting to address that and making sure that the funding is tied to our improvements, that we're seeing as we spend more for employees, as we spend more on our districts, that hopefully we're going to start seeing the impact in our student performance. This is particularly true and it's particularly important when we look at the money that we're putting in for schools of choice.
I would say that the recommendations in the Governor's bill are important twofold. One that we're starting to bring some equity in making sure that students in public charter schools are treated the same way as students in traditional public schools in their same communities. And what we're doing here in twofold is, one, trying to increase the per pupil expenditure, as the Governor has proposed. But more importantly is making sure that our localities have skin in the game when it comes to funding our local charter schools.
Our taxpayers pay their property taxes under the assumption they've entered into a social contract to help fund the schools and ensure that their children get a great education. For those parents that chose to send their students to charter schools, they should have some belief that that tax dollar is going to fund their child's education. Right now it's not. And so it becomes very important that we make sure that that $1,000 stays in S.B. 24.
I want to be very clear though is that, you know, when we look at this and we look at the funding that's included in this bill, S.B. 24 does not fix one of the greatest problems we have and that's the ECS funding formula. You know, we have not addressed this, we're still waiting for the ECS task force to deliver its results this fall. What we know is this bill does not address the problem. What we need to do, what we need to see as we move forward is a weighted, student-based funding formula that makes sure that all students are treated fairly whether they go to a traditional public school, a magnet school, a charter school, or a technical school. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Yes, Senator Bye.
SENATOR BYE: I'm sorry you are the unlucky recipient. I've been sitting here, very trying to contain myself. And I'm sitting close to Representative Walker trying to contain me. But, you know, $12,000 per pupil in charter schools, just for the record, is more than a lot of towns spend per pupil because they can't afford to spend more.
So I -- I just think -- I just think it's important that people understand that. It's -- it's more than a lot of towns can afford to spend per pupil. Maybe not all the urban cities, I don't know what their per pupil is, but I think it's more than all four towns that I represent. So it's more than equitable from my point of view, the $12,000 per pupil. So I just wanted to say that.
PATRICK RICCARDS: I think, Senator, you're absolutely correct. If we look across the spectrum, it is more than a lot of communities are paying. It's not though more than we're spending in those communities that house our public charter schools. I think that's where the difference -- if we look at what we're spending per pupil in Hartford, what we're spending per pupil in New Haven, what we're spending per pupil in Bridgeport.
What the Governor's recommending actually brings it on par. And it says that there is inequity and that we have to make sure that regardless of what type of public school you attend, if you're living in New Haven, for instance, that those students are treated fairly and equitably. That's what it does. And I think -- and that becomes very important. We can't lose sight of the fact, we have 17 public schools -- public charter schools in the state of Connecticut, 17. You know, the Governor is looking to increase it by a number -- another five. We have to look, I think, specifically at those communities that are housing those to see where the equities and inequities lay. But I think you'll find if you look in those communities, there has been a great inequity over the last few years.
SENATOR BYE: Well, you and I might disagree about that because part of the whole charter movement initially was we can do this for a lot less. And, you know, I'm a supporter. I started a charter school (inaudible) myself. It's not that I'm against charter schools, I just think it's important that people recognize that it's a lot of money for people.
It's more than a lot of towns who are struggling with a lot of low income students have, and we're not funding our ECS and we're diverting money other places while those other towns with a lot of low-income students are not getting resources. So I think it's a very cautious balance that we're trying to strike here. So I just wanted to make that point. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? If not, thank you very much. It's been a long day for you, I know. Two committees.
We're down to number 60 and there are four people signed up. And I just want to remind everybody, if that's the case, it's four people for three minutes, not three minutes each but three minutes.
So I have Gail Srebnik, Anne Dichelle, Bill Troy, and Mike McGuire. So it turns out that we just have two, okay. Just remember (inaudible). It's getting late.
GAIL SREBNIK: Good evening and thank you all for being here with us. It's given me an opportunity to change four times what I was going to read. I'm happy that you all have my printed testimony, because I'm not going to touch on all of it.
My name is Gail Srebnik, I am the Executive Director and Principal at Explorations Charter School, the smallest charter school in the state of Connecticut. Located in Litchfield County, serving 15 towns and Litchfield and Hartford County pupils. You earlier heard from Doris Boyczyk about her son's situation. Her son is one of the 27 percent special ed students that Explorations serves. They have come to us for many reasons, primarily because we're small and that we're able to help with certain kinds of conditions that certain students have that just are not being able to be dealt with in a larger school setting.
You've heard a lot of people talk, and you'll hear one more talk about what their schools mean to them. But I need to tell you that Explorations does suffer financial strain that will not be sustainable for very much longer. Being smaller and not wanting to grow because we know what our niche is hampers -- hampers our ability to meet our budget year after year. I can't express this stronger than that. I plan to and need to retire after the next school year. I want to be able to leave this school in stable condition financially so that it becomes options for parents like Doris and others. And I thank you for your time.
ANNE DICHELE: My name is Dr. -- I'm sorry -- my name is Dr. Anne Dichele, I'm a cofounder of Side by Side Charter School in Norwalk, which is a pre-K through grade eight elementary school. And I have also served for the last seven years as the board chair. In my paying job, I'm actually a tenured professor at Quinnipiac in the School of Education where I train teachers to teach. So my whole life has been devoted to equitable education for students.
We've been open 15 years now. Explorations was one of the first along with Side By Side. We're the first of the 12 charters that were given -- opening in Connecticut. We have been, in the 15 years, successful both fiscally and academically. We've done this with extremely small resources. You mentioned, Senator Bye, before that we could do more with less. I think we've proven that over the 15 years. As we -- I'm sorry.
As the chair of the board, it's simple math. I have had increased costs in healthcare benefits, in salary, in insurances, and a revenue stream that has not changed in four years. It's simple math. We will not be able to remain open long term unless this appropriation goes through. And we're -- we have lived on a shoestring. Every Tuesday night I am there trying to figure out how to make it go again. We have had enormous success, we have 100 percent long-term data, 100 percent graduation rate from high school, 99 percent college. We are doing wonderful things with very little money, but we can't sustain it without more. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Okay. Thank you very much. Questions? If not, thank you. You're doing an excellent job. The person who testified on behalf of your school was a special needs student, made a very compelling case. No one else had to get up, it was moving. You do a wonderful job.
Virginia Coleman followed by Erin Morton
VIRGINIA COLEMAN: Good evening, Senator Harp, Representative Walker, and members of the Appropriation Committee. My name is Virginia Coleman, I reside in the town of North Canaan and taught in the town of Salisbury in the elementary school for 39 years, including grades one through eight.
I am here tonight to comment on the Governor's proposals related to the teachers' retirement system. My critical concern is for my elder colleagues who retired before the Enhancement Act of 1986. Their pensions are already so small that many of them qualify for public assistance. Asking these people who have -- who have spent their lives giving service to their communities to assume some of the state's share of its contribution to healthcare is telling them that they are a waste of state dollars, and denying them the dignity of even a margin of comfort in their sunset years.
I empathize with the Governor's desire to cut wasteful expenditures and unnecessarily funding projects. However, to expect to relieve the state's financial burden by transferring it to retirees and especially those retirees who can least afford it, is disrespectful and uncaring to those who have already -- already given so much.
I urge you in the strongest possible terms to vote against the Governor's proposal as it does not solve the state's financial problem, but does create an even larger one for retired teachers and possibly for local towns as teachers who are 65 or more will not be able to afford to retire. Thank you for your kind attention and I wish you a good night.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much. Are there questions? Representative Thompson.
REP. THOMPSON: (Inaudible.)
VIRGINIA COLEMAN: I don't, but I can get it to you. Absolutely.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much.
Is Erin Morton here? Erin Morton?
Daria Plummer? All right. Daria, come on down.
DARIA PLUMMER: Anyone after me? I was 99. Okay. No problem. Good evening. Thank you so very much, Madame Co-Chairs and all of you who remained in the Appropriations Committee. Thank you very much for being here. I am Daria Plummer, I am a retired educator from South Windsor. I taught for 39 years, 38 in South Windsor, one year in Massachusetts, and I did that with pride, absolute pride and passion for my profession.
I'm here obviously not for the same reasons as our articulate young people were here this evening, but on the same path that Janeen and a whole host of my other colleagues came here tonight to talk about, the cut to the State Teachers' Retired Health Insurance Fund.
I would like you to look at me if you don't mind, because I want you to see who I am, I am a retired teacher. But as I put in my comments, I could be your mother, I could be your spouse's mother, I could be your grandmother, I could be your sister, I could be your aunt, I could be a relative, I could be your very, very best friend who is going to have to increase payments for health insurance by nine percent should the Governor's proposal go through.
Active teachers have given every single year as have retired teachers have given, and it is the state's responsibility to also do its fair share. Last year alone, 2010-2011, active teachers gave $45 million to this fund. Retired teachers gave $30 million to this fund. We are asking that the state do its part. It's not just you, I understand that. And I know you know that (inaudible).
Representative Thompson, you asked the previous speaker how many teachers were affected pre-Enhancement. It is 1,900, approximately 1,900. For them, it is a dire, dire situation. We can't forget them at all. You have heard over and over again from the few of us who were able to come. Understand at our age, and each of you has to drive home tonight, an evening meeting in winter in the dark driving home is not easy for many seniors. And I wish you well driving home and be safe. But for many people, they could not come tonight. We have 33,000 retired teachers in this system, and I'd like you to understand that all of us who came here this evening are speaking for those 33,000 teachers who could not come.
Lastly, our state Teachers' Retirement Board is a role model of efficiency and effectiveness despite the fact that it has been underfunded for years. Merging it -- merging it, nothing against the Comptroller's office, but merging it is nothing that needs to be done. If anything it needs to be increased. And I would just simply like to close by saying this, why aren't we raising taxes on items such as tobacco, soda, potato chips, things that cause obesity, poor health, known causes.
And yet we're -- retired teacher's health insurance -- we want to tax retired teachers. I just don't think it's fair. I think it's insane. I think it's unconscionable. And I know it's not your doing, but I know you have to rectify it. So I ask you sincerely to consider those few points. Thank you very much for staying this late. I deeply appreciate it.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you. I remember you now
DARIA PLUMMER: And I remember you also.
SENATOR HARP: You were the president of CEA or --
DARIA PLUMMER: I was. In my past life I had a history. Yes.
SENATOR HARP: But you're very articulate.
DARIA PLUMMER: There is life There is life after CEA --
SENATOR HARP: Okay. Well, that's good to know, and you wear it well.
DARIA PLUMMER: Thank you very much. And thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Are there questions? If not, oh, John, go ahead, Representative Thompson.
REP. THOMPSON: Is he still (inaudible).
DARIA PLUMMER: No, Tom passed away quite a few years ago. Oh, I'm so sorry to have to say that. He was a great, great man and he is (inaudible). Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you for joining us.
DARIA PLUMMER: And seriously, drive home safely.
SENATOR HARP: You too. Thank you. Okay.
Is Steve Paul here?
And Ramon Bentley.
I know Dr. Dworkin is here, so she can come forward. She has a great little apartment.
DR. HEIDI GOLD-DWORKIN: Good evening, Senator Harp, Representative Walker, and members of the Appropriations Committee. My name is Dr. Heidi Gold-Dworkin, and I'm the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Little Scientists, a Connecticut-based, minority-owned small business. I was trained as a scientist at Cornell and Yale Universities, and I've lived most of my life in the cities of New Haven and Milford, Connecticut. I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you tonight, and thank you for staying this late to hear what I have to say.
Connecticut's future as a leader in the 21st Century depends on educating young children in science. Little Scientists and its team of Yale, Cornell, and MIT educators and scientists have devoted years to science education of young children as well as the training of elementary and middle school teachers in science.
The benefits of educating young children in science are twofold. Firstly, the excitement of science encourages children to develop strong educational foundations in all academic areas. This will help to close the achievement gap in Connecticut. Secondly, young children are innately curious. They are natural scientists. Encouraging their natural curiosity helps interest them in a future of science.
There are major benefits to educating scientists in Connecticut. Number one, Connecticut can become a world leader in science, technology, engineering, and innovation. Number two, Connecticut will benefit economically. Number three, Connecticut will not be the state with the largest achievement gap in our nation. To accomplish this goal Connecticut needs Little Scientists, a sustainable and effective hands-on, minds-on, inquiry-based science curriculum which exceeds both state and national science education standards.
Little Scientists has worked with many school districts in Connecticut, throughout the U.S., as well as internationally in Japan. In fact, most of the interest in Little Scientists has come from Asian countries. And this is troubling to me as a Connecticut citizen because the U.S. has fallen far behind other countries in terms of science education and scientific innovation. All the leading international indicators, including TIMSS, PISA, number of patents, Ph.D. and M.D. degrees, they all say that the U.S. has been surpassed by most other advanced nations.
The latest PISA report shows the U.S. students as number 23 on international science assessments, far behind students of China, Japan, Finland, Canada, Australia, and Singapore. Little Scientists wants your support to help Connecticut students compete globally in science.
By participating in hands-on, minds-on, I'll finish up in a sec, inquiry-based investigations, students develop essential learning skills. I have given you a copy of the testimony, so in summary, funding of Little Scientists and priority school districts will help close Connecticut's achievement gap, boost Connecticut's economy, and enable Connecticut's youth to compete in future jobs for a high-tech future. Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you very much.
DR. HEIDI GOLD-DWORKIN: Yes.
REP. THOMPSON: I had a theory that if you increased health services in all our communities, especially in poverty communities, you would create an industry where more doctors would be required -- we -- we now are experiencing a shortage of primary care doctors as I understand it. And it has a major impact on the health of our community.
But it would seem to me like you go into a fishing village, kids go off, maybe become fisherman, and so on, that with that kind of interest in the community where doctors are available, healthcare is available, and so on, it would seem to me that the opportunity for kids with your program to be involved in that healthcare system, learning about healthcare and learning about science (inaudible) on -- on healthcare. And it would create more doctors, more nurses, and so on coming out of that community, growing up in that community. Does that make sense?
DR. HEIDI GOLD-DWORKIN: That makes sense, I mean that's one area of science that's needed for -- for the future. Certainly healthcare is growing, the requirements for healthcare as the population ages. But also in terms of all the innovation, technology, scientific research for human diseases, we need more scientists. And the U.S., our whole education system needs to reprioritize what we're teaching our students, because science needs to be a critical component in the early years.
REP. THOMPSON: All right. So there's a threat, I was wondering, you know, in those -- those countries that have universal healthcare, I mean there everybody has it. And I'm -- as I understand it, many of those countries offer healthcare at a lesser cost that we do with far greater -- far better results. And I got to think that they're producing doctors and nurses and everything else, you know, people going into that field because there's such a demand -- there's such a demand for that -- those types of skills just to keep up with the increase in population. And so, makes sense?
DR. HEIDI GOLD-DWORKIN: Makes sense, yes.
REP. THOMPSON: (Inaudible.)
SENATOR HARP: Yes, we're listening.
REP. THOMPSON: (Inaudible) qualified health methods? Thank you, Madame.
DR. HEIDI GOLD-DWORKIN: Thank you very much.
SENATOR HARP: Thank you for coming out, Dr. Gold-Dworkin. It's a wonderful program that you have.
DR. HEIDI GOLD-DWORKIN: Thank you.
SENATOR HARP: I don't see anyone, unless there's someone -- it looks like everyone is either staff or us. And I want to thank everybody for sticking it out tonight.
A VOICE: We'll establish a rule, if you ask a question, you have to stay here from now on.
SENATOR HARP: If there's no objection and there is no one else to testify, I declare this hearing closed.