February 5, 2021

Legislators Advocate Long-Term Support of Debt-Free Community College Program Through Approval of Gaming Legislation

Today, legislators including Senate President Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven), Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport), State Senator Cathy Osten (D-Sprague), State Representative Josh Elliott (D-Hamden) and State Representative Gary Turco (D-Newington) advocated for the passage of Senate Bill 146, which seeks to expand gaming options in the state. Among the bill’s benefits, they said: revenues from internet lottery gaming would allow for continued, consistent funding of PACT CT, the state’s debt-free community college program connecting numerous students with debt-free access to higher education.

“By passing iLottery in the gaming bill we already have in front of us, we will be able to fully fund the PACT program,” said Sen. Osten, Senate Chair of the Appropriations Committee and Vice Chair of the Public Safety and Security Committee. “PACT is for all residents in Connecticut to maintain and improve upon their working conditions through educational and certification classes. This program will help our residents down in Eastern Connecticut. Electric Boat is starving for workers, and this program can provide training in our community colleges and get people into these well-paying, local jobs.”

“This is an investment in Connecticut’s future,” said Sen. Haskell, Senate Chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. “Expanding access to higher education isn’t all that expensive. We’ve modeled our program on our neighbors in Rhode Island, where not only did they see enrollment increase but enrollment among low-income families and students of color. This program isn’t just inspiring more students to get a degree; it’s bringing dollars from Washington, D.C. to Connecticut. PACT is designed to leverage federal aid and cost the state as little as possible through FAFSA applications, which may reveal more funding opportunities and access for them. Debt-free community college can cost as little as $3 million per semester, a tiny fraction of our state budget but a huge difference for our students and our state’s economy.”

“Anyone who thinks education is only K-12 is decades behind,” said Sen. Duff. “Here in the state of Connecticut, we rely on our workforce to propel our economy. Our capital, our resources, are our people. Ensuring we have a well-educated workforce to meet the needs of the jobs of the 21st century and beyond is why PACT is so important. If we’re going to meet the jobs needed in Fairfield County, Eastern Connecticut, Hartford, New Haven and beyond, we need to focus on education.”

“Our stock and trade in Connecticut is the intelligence, education and skill of our people, and that’s why this bill is so critical,” said Sen. Looney. “It is so important to recognize today’s need of access to higher education. A high school diploma is so much more limiting now than it was years and decades ago and post-secondary education is critical. We have to make it possible for lower-income people to navigate the educational system by, at minimum, not going into debt. People who are weighed down with debt sometimes become discouraged, which in some ways can put them in worse positions, especially if they drop out with debt and no degree. We also have to recognize we need to fund this. The Board of Regents forwarded funding out of its reserves; we need to replenish those funds and strengthen this program for the future.”

Students including Izzy Jacobs of Northwestern Community College, Lilia Burdo of Three Rivers Community College and Christopher Rosario of Housatonic Community College joined the legislators to share the importance of the PACT program in their lives. All three can access opportunities through the program allowing them added security for their futures, allowing them to save money for the future to further their educations and give newfound opportunities to better themselves with significant reductions in day-to-day stress, letting them focus on what’s important – their studies. Maureen Chalmers, President of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges, further delved into the importance PACT has for educational bodies in the state.

Senate Bill 146, “An Act Authorizing Sports Wagering, Internet Gaming, Internet Lottery and Internet Keno,” is currently being drafted by the Public Safety and Security Committee. It seeks to expand availability and forms of gaming in Connecticut including internet gaming, with proceeds from the iLottery program in particular expected to fund PACT.