Doing better for all Connecticut Learners

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Learning a new language could be daunting and especially more challenging for new immigrants who not only come face to face with a new culture, but with a totally different environment.

Most times children adapt easily, but in the case of English Language Learners, the assimilating process may take longer than most, particularly when the primary language spoken at home is not English.

As we have learned from speaking with constituents in our respective communities, our minority school-age children struggle with issues of assimilation and language — falling victims to an education  system that is not always welcoming to those who look different, or whose names are difficult to pronounce and, especially, to those whose parents can’t communicate effectively with faculty or staff.

I have heard comments of frustrated minority families who find the school building offices intimidating and unwelcoming as they go through the process of enrolling their young child at a new school.

One of the priorities of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus has been to close the achievement gap and, while we have made some progress towards that goal, much more needs to happen if we want all our students to succeed, including the allocation of necessary resources to address this existing gap.

In 2015, then Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey convened a task force to address the needs of English language learners and the panel came up with good ideas to change Connecticut’s bilingual education laws and the state’s approach in supporting the needs of English learners. Some of the recommendations included increasing the period of bilingual instruction from 30 to 60 months, allowing for teacher’s certification reciprocity with other states, and designing multiple paths leading to certification for bilingual and ESL teachers, and providing adequate funding to support programs.

This session, we took action on a measure addressing teacher’s reciprocity which is heading to the governor’s desk. The bill requires the State Board of Education (SBE) to issue an out-of-state teacher permit with the appropriate subject endorsement to teachers from another state, territory, U.S. possession, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico, who has taught for at least two years under an appropriate certificate issued by the other jurisdiction. The permit is nonrenewable and valid for four years.

The bill states the new permit is subject to all the existing rules for a teacher’s certification to be revoked. Under the bill, a qualified applicant is exempt from (1) taking the state reading, writing and mathematics competency examination (i.e., Praxis I); (2) completing the mandated beginning educator program based upon the applicant’s teaching experience after a showing of effectiveness as a teacher, as determined by SBE; and (3) completing a minimum of 36 hours of special education study.

Proficiency and academic success is tied to language. We have an obligation, as a state, to give our public school system students the opportunity to learn and optimize their individual potential as they are promoted from the various levels of primary education.

How is a student going to learn if the environment continually pushes them to the side and leaves them behind their counterparts because they are not catching on quickly enough?

Connecticut is facing a dire fiscal reality, but funding education is a fundamental obligation we have with our citizens.

In order to help English Language Learners succeed, schools need additional resources. And yet, although the number of students learning English is growing, cuts in education funds and fiscal challenges are a constant threat to obtaining desirable results. This must change.

Many have contacted me to voice their concerns about how Connecticut’s public school funding model is broken and I agree with them. Many of us in Hartford have been talking about the urgency of addressing the cost sharing formula and how its distribution lacks a fair balance.  I am eager to be part of the conversation and exploring ways to address the inequities for an improved system that will work for all our students.

We are continually working to find ways to improve the odds for our minority students. I am keeping an eye on the national education policies developing in Washington, D.C. and the proposals attempting to shake up the foundation of a system that has been broken for too long.

The need to restructure our funding formula cannot wait any longer. Our leadership is working hard to address this issue and come up with an ECS formula that will be acceptable. That model needs to be rational and fair, and it needs to be responsive to students’ needs by including considerations for students in poverty and for English Language Learners.

I am not giving up on my efforts to provide a fair and equitable education to the students that come to live in our communities from other countries. Progress has been slow coming, but we will keep our fight.

Providing funding, resources, more transparency and welcoming environments for our English language learners and their families, are all a good place to start.

Paving the way for all our public school students to become successful in their future careers is critical to ensure a strong and viable Connecticut.

State Representative Christopher Rosario of Bridgeport, is Chair of the Legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.

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