Commentary — Education is an economic driver

Richard Deecken
Richard Deecken

Years ago, talent would move to where businesses were located to obtain employment. Now businesses are moving to where the talent is located and we can all agree the talent pool has opted to leave Connecticut and many businesses have followed suit.

While Connecticut is given high marks for education, we are unfortunately situated in an area of the country where neighboring states also excel educationally, and people are opting to move to those states. Connecticut is currently ranked 5th nationally in pre-K-12 education by US News & World Report; however, we are ranked lower than first-ranked Massachusetts and second-ranked New Jersey. Over the last seven years, both these states added over 200,000 new residents, while Connecticut has only added 8,000 residents.

We can only start on the road to higher achievement by acknowledging that we’re being outperformed by our neighbors, and that it’s time to raise our expectations. Otherwise, we will continue to cede more residents, jobs, businesses, and opportunities to our neighboring states.

Education/labor training

Bassick High School, where I currently teach, has recently begun the process to adopt an Advanced Manufacturing curriculum, which will function alongside local colleges delivering focused training in specific trades. High school graduates who successfully complete the program will also earn a trade certification, which will demonstrate their skills and allow them to apply for jobs in trades otherwise only open to older applicants.

This offering should be expanded to public high schools throughout Connecticut, promoting job growth and economic redevelopment by demonstrating to businesses that our schools are producing well-trained, job-ready graduates - a perfect pool of applicants for openings offered by their companies.

Closing the achievement gap

We must expand access to child care and early childhood education. Studies prove that such access promotes higher academic achievement and career readiness. In urban areas, the community school model, once used by Bassick, has been proven to help meet the social-emotional and healthcare needs of students and families, while providing important academic and extracurricular support.

Equitable school funding

Education Cost Sharing funds must be guaranteed to all school districts. School funding must never be subject to arbitrary whims of political leaders, but instead, must be distributed fairly and not held hostage during budget negotiations.

The special education overcourse - the amount of budget overages the state covers - should be increased from 33%, allowing for all students with special needs to receive a quality education without unfairly penalizing the municipalities for the amount of special ed students they have.

Final thoughts

Connecticut is amid an employment crisis that risks turning into a death spiral. Our economy's sluggish job growth must be enhanced by targeted funding toward educational programs and infrastructure. By embedding occupational training alongside the standard high school curriculum, Connecticut's workforce can become better suited for the 21st century work environment and Greater Bridgeport's diverse set of specialized high schools can lead the way in showing that Connecticut is open for business.