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Strong Schools Strengthen Economy

Education is one of Connecticut's last remaining competitive advantages in attracting businesses – and jobs – to our state. We cannot afford to lose that edge. As a strong supporter of education reform legislation, I am disappointed – but not surprised – that Connecticut is not a finalist in the national "Race to the Top" competition for federal funding. Unfortunately, the reform legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year did not include all the components required to successfully compete for the federal money. Connecticut's education reform legislation lacked the real changes many of us believed would be required of states seriously competing for the federal funding, and that could help us regain our former status as the No. 1 education state in the country.

Nevertheless, we cannot afford to be deterred from future reform efforts and from requiring the best education for Connecticut's children. We must insist on rigorous standards, quality curriculum and accountability from everyone involved in the process, including teachers, school administrators, school boards, education unions, students and parents.

When deciding where to locate or invest, companies look at more than the cost of doing business. They also assess school systems and the availability of a highly skilled labor force. In the short term, business owners know that attracting and keeping employees means assuring them that a good quality of life – which includes good schools – will be available to their families. In the long-term, they want to ensure that their investment will add to their bottom line. That includes a steady supply of well-educated, highly skilled future employees.

I understand the value of a good public school education. My brother and I did not speak English when we moved to this country. If it were not for dedicated teachers determined to see that we learned the language and excelled in academics, the American dream would have forever remained out of reach. Because of them – and my father's daily reminder that "education is everything; it is the way out of poverty and the path to true freedom" — we became contributing members of our communities and proud citizens. We owe that same opportunity to every child.

While serving on my local school board, the State Board of Education and as a member of the General Assembly's education committee, I found that only a few endeavors come close to making a real and lasting difference in our world – one is as a parent and other is as an educator. Another thing I have learned is that while useful and necessary, money is not the whole answer.

It is true that winning "Race to the Top" federal funding may have helped us in our mission to provide a quality education for all of our children. However, it is also true that money only takes us so far. We must all insist on rigorous standards, an excellent curriculum and accountability in our schools. The payoff is a work force that attracts jobs and a higher quality of life for everyone.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, represents the 26th Senate District.

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