Catch-22: State’s Economy Can’t Afford Delay in Education Reform

Issues & Policies

It’s nearly impossible to build a strong economy without an education system able to supply it with a 21st century workforce.

Trouble is, Connecticut’s education system has fallen seriously behind—and a legislative proposal could further delay the critically needed reform of the state’s high schools.

For years, businesses have worried about the quality of graduates coming from Connecticut’s public school system. Many high school students are coming out of the system without the skills required even for entry-level jobs.

An infamous “achievement gap”—widest in the U.S.—separates minority students’ performance in Connecticut from the state’s average.

That’s why employers have joined educators and policymakers in promoting a group of reforms that will raise graduation standards and give young people a much better education to prepare them for careers or higher education.    

While HB-5165 would adopt many of these higher standards emphasizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, the proposal delays them until the 2017-2018 school year because of the state’s fiscal crisis.    

Connecticut is in serious budget trouble, but the crisis is putting the state in a Catch-22 situation: Our economy won’t be able to fully reach its potential if the education system continues to fail—and without a healthy economy, the state budget will continue to suffer.    

What’s more, Connecticut’s prospects for winning any federal Race to the Top funds depends on the state making a commitment to higher standards in its schools. The state this week found out that it will not receive a $192 million first-round grant.

Delaying adoption of the reforms will only weaken the state’s application for the second round of funding.

Focus on technical schools

Manufacturers especially need workers with more—and more sophisticated—skills, but Connecticut students haven’t always gotten the training to prepare them for high-skill, high-wage careers in manufacturing.    

That’s why for several years CBIA has supported efforts to improve and strengthen Connecticut’s technical high school system. Next week, the legislature’s Education Committee will hold a hearing on a SB-379, which is focused on many aspects surrounding the state’s technical high schools.     

Among other things, the proposal requires the State Board of Education to hold a formal vote before any action is taken to close or suspend a technical school’s operations—a recent threat to the schools caused by the state’s budget crisis.

SB-379 also requires at least two members of the State Board of Education to have industrial, trade or technical school experience.    

Manufacturing continues to be a major driver of Connecticut’s economy, with about 5,000 manufacturers providing more than 180,000 jobs. But many Connecticut manufacturers are concerned about a shortage of skilled workers to fill new positions and replace retiring employees.     

Raising awareness of technical schools and improving their standards—such as by incorporating precision manufacturing skill standards and competency assessments through the National Institute of Metalworking Skills—will go a long way to making Connecticut more competitive.    

CBIA encourages lawmakers to work within existing resources to adopt the State Department of Education’s high school reform plan and improve Connecticut’s technical schools in order to improve students’ performance, close the achievement gap and secure the state’s economic future.    


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