The Unfunded Mandate That No One Is Talking About

Kim Healy

That Connecticut school students are falling behind when it comes to literacy and other reading objectives is not a political or partisan matter. The same can be said of the desire for answers. But the majority party in Hartford is pressing forward with a flawed and expensive “one size fits all” legislative proposal that could hurt students, impinge on local schools’ autonomy, and stick taxpayers with a hefty bill.

Despite the good intentions of the “Right to Read” legislation to address literacy issues in Connecticut schools, the law does not permit local districts from selecting or creating their own program and curriculum. Instead, they would be forced to purchase a commercially made program unless they get a waiver - which will likely be impossible. This is the wrong approach.


In 2021, the Connecticut legislature passed the “Right to Read'' legislation in Sections 394-404 of the budget implementer bill, Public Act No. 21-2, to specifically address poor reading scores in CT’s Alliance districts. The legislation systematizes a statewide reading response, based on the Science of Reading, by requiring the state to oversee all state and local efforts related to literacy, including setting reading curriculum requirements for districts, providing professional development, hiring external literacy coaches, and coordinating with teacher preparation programs. A newly established Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success (Center) will be the hub of that work. The Center under a director consults with a 12-member appointed Reading Leadership Implementation Council (Council).

The director of the Center, in consultation with the Council, approved seven reading curriculum programs to be implemented by districts. The kicker -  they are all commercial products that could cost upwards of a million dollars per district. There is a small amount of state funds that have been approved but most municipalities will have to cover most of the costs locally which is usually through property tax increases.  


I have spoken to certain legislators who voted in favor of the “Right to Read” legislation. They were assured that it would not be an unfunded mandate for municipalities, and the waiver process was promised to be simple and authentic.  Unfortunately, the waiver application is extremely onerous and time-consuming. It is also becoming clear that districts that have not selected one of the seven approved programs will have their waiver declined.

Approximately 84 districts have managed to apply for a waiver. These districts clearly believe that their current reading programs/curriculum incorporates the requirements of the legislation and in a state which has a long history of supporting local control, they should be allowed to make their program decisions locally. tax increases.  

To address the challenges of the original Right to Read legislation, a bill has been passed by the Education Committee - HB1094- AN ACT CONCERNING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF READING MODELS OR PROGRAMS.  The bill only changes the timeline in which school districts must adopt a comprehensive reading curriculum. 


A bipartisan group provided testimony during the March 1st public hearing on HB1094, including esteemed educator Fran Rabinowitz, former superintendent of Hamden and Bridgeport Public Schools, and current executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS). Ms. Rabinowitz testified that “we must resist the over‐reliance on commercial programs, which cost millions of dollars. Unfortunately, they are not magic bullets and never have been.”

Those of us from the Council who testified agreed with the need to amend the timeline.  In addition, we provided urgent changes that needed to be included to strengthen the original bill and allow our municipalities to retain local control of their reading curriculum. We also asked the legislature to amend the “Right to Read” legislation to allow the Council to create its own curriculum that is based on the Science of Reading. This comprehensive science-based curriculum would be available to any CT district to use, in part or in its entirety, and not force any district to purchase an expensive, commercial program.  


Please contact your state representative today to request they ask for the amendments outlined above be added to the newly approved SB1 bill which has HB1094 language included in it, and to say no to forcing an expensive, unfunded mandate.  


Kim Healy is a Member of the Reading Leadership Implementation Council. She is also on the Wilton Board of Selectmen (“BOS"). This topic has not been discussed by the BOS and thus does not represent the views of the BOS.