Yesterday, the CT State Legislative Appropriations Committee passed its budget plan, in answer to the budget and implementer bill SB 874 that Gov. Ned Lamont put forward earlier. One piece of big news to come out of the Appropriations Committee’s vote Tuesday was that it removed funding the governor included in his budget for a study commission on school regionalization–$800,000 planned for three consultants and helping districts regionalize was eliminated.

Wilton’s state senator Will Haskell called it a “huge victory.”

“Those who were pushing regionalization have softened their position, and instead were focused on fully funding the education cost sharing formula, and increasing funding for community college–all sorts of really important education initiatives that are separate from regionalization. And frankly, it’s a huge sigh of relief for anybody, I think, who has been lobbying against it,” he told GOOD Morning Wilton.

Tuesday’s Appropriations vote was along party lines, with all of Haskell’s fellow Democrats on the committee supporting the Appropriations budget. Wilton’s state representative Gail Lavielle, who serves on the committee, joined her fellow minority party members to vote against it. She says regionalization isn’t over until it’s over.

“I think that’s premature, and there were two reasons why. One is that anything can come back in an implementer. But number two, there are so many commissions and task forces and work groups that are just run without funding. And so all they did today was have the majority legislators put their budget out for a vote on the Appropriations Committee, and they didn’t include funding for that. It doesn’t mean they don’t like that. It doesn’t mean that once they negotiate with the governor, it won’t come back in. This budget is not final.”

Haskell agrees that the work isn’t over yet, but that it’s a good indication of where it’s headed. “It’s our job, as always, to be really vigilant, and I hope that everybody who helped to testify against this, and the grassroots movement that emerged in reaction to regionalization, that ought to continue and we’ll keep our eye out. The good news is we could be having a much different conversation today if the legislature decided to pursue some of these broad-brush regionalization systems. Even then it wouldn’t be over until it’s over. That wouldn’t be a done deal, but it would have been a huge step backwards in the negotiation. Instead we’re now in a really good spot.”

He credits constituents, many from Wilton for helping to bring about yesterday’s news.

“In the wake of the hearings that we had on regionalization, many of my colleagues were struck by the sentiments that it evoked, not just from parents but also from students, from educators, from the superintendents who spoke with such authority before the education committee. I know there’s a lot of overlap between every committee in Hartford, but that includes the appropriations committee and the education committee. So a lot of folks who are building this budget line-by-line saw that testimony. It had a big impact,” says Haskell.

Lavielle is cautious about making any definitive statement, and says there’s still a lot of ground to cover before any budget is finalized.

“Based on this budget that was discussed today it’s way premature. I don’t want to encourage or discourage anybody right now based on this. I don’t think it’s appropriate. That is not a final budget. It will change in one way or another, in many ways, it always does, before it gets to the House and then the Senate floor. There’s always a lot of negotiations with the governor. It was one step in the budget process. It was in no way a final budget. Did it show you that a lot of those people didn’t want to pay $800,000 to hire three people in the State Department of Ed? Yes. But it didn’t actually express a view on whether they liked the commissioner or not. It was just a funding issue,” she says, adding, “It doesn’t mean that the governor won’t trade that for something else when it comes to the final negotiations, and say, ‘Well if you fund all those people for this commission, then I’ll give you something.’ That could happen.”

With 33 days left in that budget process, Haskell says the Appropriations budget “is a major step in the negotiations.

“The fact that it’s not included, I think reflects probably the sentiments of a lot of folks in Hartford at this point. Although I didn’t vote on the budget today, a whole lot of people did.”

William Lalor, who heads up the Hands Off Our Schools group, is playing it cautious.

“Let’s call this progress and something positive, but let’s not call it victory.  The biggest mistake we could make is to believe this fight is now done. That has a nice ring to it, but the fight is not done. This legislative session ends at midnight June 5th and that’s the date that should be circled on the calendar,” he says. “Until June 5th I urge anyone concerned with the specter of forced or coerced regionalization to stay involved and keep up the pressure on Hartford.”