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Legislators Talk Ed Budgets at NCC Breakfast

Legislators are sometimes known for pork barrel politics or bringing home the bacon. Wednesday morning, however, state representatives and senators from Fairfield County were eating those items and more at a legislative breakfast hosted by Norwalk Community College . It was a chance for lawmakers to see firsthand what state support of the community college program has meant, and for school officials to make a case against losing funding as part of Connecticut’s budget crisis.

“Our enrollment has gone up 10 percent, and our funding has gone down by the same amount,” NCC President David Levinson said in his opening remarks. “We realize we’re not going to get an increase in this budget. We’re just asking you not to cut us.” Levinson made the argument that a strong community college system is a key part of driving the state’s economic recovery. “We can help create the educated workforce that employers want, that will bring jobs to the state and keep companies here.” He also praised the NCC Foundation for successfully completing a $20 million capital campaign, and pointed to the new health sciences building, will be completed six months ahead of schedule, as an example of how community colleges can respond to rapidly changing job market demands.

“Community colleges are on the front lines of job creation” for that reason, said Speaker of the House Chris Donovan during his keynote speech. But he cautioned that while the new budget will entail sacrifices, this is not always a bad thing. “You can think about it in Catholic or baseball terms,” he said. “There’s a benefit from sacrifice. We may have to reform our education system, but we can make it better and move things forward.”

Bob Duff, speaking for the state senate, said the budget crisis is only an immediate problem, albeit a large and pressing one. “The 800-pound gorilla is the workforce training gap. Connecticut has the largest achievement test gap in the country, and that’s an embarrassment as a state. The community colleges can help us close that gap.”

Moira Lyons, the former Speaker of the House who is now NCC’s director of government and community relations, might have best summed up the sense of the breakfast when she said, “Higher education is expensive. But ignorance costs billions.”

Contact Jim Gerweck at jgerweck@mainstreetconnect.us .

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