Rallying for education reform

By on February 28, 2012

The Students For Education Reform (SFER) group traveled to Hartford on Feb. 21 to attend a rally for education equality. The rally was held to support the passage of Senate Bill 24, which offers a comprehensive set of reforms for the state’s public education system, in the Connecticut state senate. A public hearing following the rally allowed affected students to give their testimonies against Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s new budget plan.

“A critical first step to having a great education system is an equitable, functional school

funding system, and right now there are thousands of children in this state who don’t get the funding they deserve,” stated a SFER press release on Feb. 21. “College students want to do our part to set this right, and we want to see the funding system changed so that all public students get fair funding for their education.”

“College students want to know that if we stay here in Connecticut, our children will have the top notch education we would expect – but right now, that’s not the case,” said Jordan Nadler, Quinnipiac SFER chapter president.

According to Nadler, SFER aims to spread awareness about the achievement gap in America and to advocate for policies that will ensure all children, regardless of where they live, receive an excellent education.

The National Chapter of SFER organized and provided transportation for student groups from Quinnipiac University, Wesleyan University, Yale University, and the University of New Haven to be able to participate in the rally.

At the rally, Malloy addressed a large crowd of students, parents and teachers, the majority of whom were advocates for Connecticut Charter Schools.

Malloy was joined by a group of legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven and a professor at Quinnipiac.

After the rally, the crowds headed inside the State Legislative Office Building for a public hearing where over 500 Connecticut citizens and/or college students came out to show support for education reform in Connecticut. Only a fraction of those present were actually able to sit in the hearing. The remainder of the participants gathered in other rooms nearby and watched the live feed of the public hearing, being projected on screens in each room.

Quinnipiac students took advantage of the unique opportunity to speak with legislatures, administrators, educators, and parents about their personal backgrounds and experiences in the world of public education.

Dominic Yoia, senior director of financial aid for Quinnipiac, Vincent Contrucci, director of community service, and three Quinnipiac students presented their testimonies at the hearing.

Governor Malloy proposed a new budget plan that consists of eliminating Connecticut Independent College Student grants and community service grants given to any student who attends a private college in Connecticut with an institutional endowment larger than $200 million. Quinnipiac’s endowment is $277 million, according to Yoia.

“We’re caught off guard with this,” Yoia said. “The budgets are already in and done [months ago] and we’ll have to go back and revisit it if this goes through.”

Junior Samantha Estelle-Abate, sophomore Sharlen Tarafdar and freshman Taylor Rose all gave their testimonies in the public hearing.

Estelle-Abate is a Cheshire resident and a health science major, taking pre-med courses and studying to be a neurologist.

“There’s no other way for me to go to college, this is where I need to be, it’s where I belong,” Estelle-Abate said.

Estelle-Abate included her family’s struggles in her testimony to try to personalize the legislatures from not passing this budget cut.

“I didn’t feel like the senators that were listening cared that much,” Estelle-Abate said.

Yoia, Contrucci and the students waited to testify for three hours.

“[The students’ testimonies] were concise, articulate, emotional — some of them,” Yoia said. “They just gave you the personal side of what’s going on in their family that legislators don’t often get to hear. They just look at numbers on a piece of paper, and now you’re seeing a student in front of you who you’re about to affect, it can have an impact and I think our students just really go their stories across real nicely.”

Yoia also presented his testimony on behalf of Quinnipiac University.

“I told them, we’re not asking for an increase, we’re not asking to be level funded, we’re not even asking you not to cut us, you already cut us last year,” Yoia said. “What we’re asking you to do is not take money off the table for aiding students.”

We’re not being pigs, going up there and asking for tons of more money, we know that’s there’s still an economic issue that Connecticut’s got to deal with, we’re just saying ‘do the right thing here, guys.’ We’ve already tried out best to absorb a 50-percent cut in two years.”

“I think we covered all the bases,” Yoia said. “I think a legislator shouldn’t have any questions after they heard everybody’s testimony. We did our best and that’s all that we could have done. If the worst outcome happens it’s by no lack of effort in any of our parts, it is what it is.”

There are more hearings scheduled for all the educational issues. The university might know the outcome around May, according to Yoia.

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