Friday, May 23, 2008

If you can read this.....

Legislators urged to put back $19.7M for reading

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
— As lawmakers plan to return to the Capitol for a special session, mayors and school superintendents Thursday continued to push Gov. M. Jodi Rell and state legislators to restore $19.7 million cut from early reading grants.
“I can’t tell you how urgent it is that this grant is placed back on the docket this special session,” said New Haven Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo. “We cannot afford to have these dollars taken away from these young people.”
Lawmakers adjourned in May without reaching consensus on changes to the $18.5 billion biennial budget. While leadership on both sides of the aisle and Rell’s initial budget proposal had supported restoring early reading funding, no additional money was approved.
New Haven received $2.3 million in state aid this year for its early reading initiative, which went toward literacy mentors, kindergarten and first-grade paraprofessionals, a reading coordinator and curriculum development staff.
Reading funding for Ansonia, Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, East Hartford, Meriden, New Britain, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Stamford, Waterbury and Windham supporting an estimated 316 positions also was eliminated for fiscal year 2008-09.
Mayors and school leaders from New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk, Waterbury and Windham pled Thursday for the restoration of those funds at a press conference at the Capitol.“I challenge anyone to find a program more meaningful or more deserving of your support,” Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said at a press conference at the Capitol.
Minority Republicans held their own press conference Wednesday, continuing to push their budget proposal, one that includes restored funding for early reading as well as additional spending for nursing homes and a gas tax holiday. The proposal would be paid for by an early retirement plan estimated to generate $167 million.
“I urge both sides to take a look at that plan,” Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia, a Republican, said Thursday. “Our students have made significant progress in their test scores, but there is more work to be done,” he said. “Every mayor in this room would agree the most important job we have is taking care of our young people.”
Rell and Democrats have not supported the proposal.
State Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, called the plan a “political election year gimmick,” and claimed early retirement savings estimates were “not in any way realistic.”
Democrats plan to address extending the municipal real estate conveyance tax during the special session, he said. Whether early reading success will be addressed is “under discussion,” he said.
“We have a budget that is in place for the upcoming year. We believe it will be perhaps even difficult to sustain that budget if the economy continues to decline,” he said.
The state’s Office of Policy and Management estimated Wednesday a deficit of nearly $53 million, and a projected deficit of $150 million for 2009, said Rell spokesman Rich Harris.
“The governor supports any program that encourages educational success, however she also recognizes the financial realities that face the state right now,” said Harris.
Harris said Rell is “open to suggestions” that would fund early reading, but doubted the Republican plan would generate the savings currently estimated.
“The long-term costs, pensions and health care tend to eat into the immediate savings that are achieved,” Harris said. Rell has asked legislators to balance spending priorities with cuts elsewhere, he said.
The special session is expected to take place around the second week of June, and should be scheduled next week, Looney said.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or

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