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Delay Sought On Ambitious High School Reforms

But Malloy's Budget Chief Says Retreat Might Be Premature

By GRACE E. MERRITT

March 09, 2011

HARTFORD Last spring Connecticut lawmakers and educators united to push through an ambitious reform plan that included a more rigorous high school curriculum, parent governance councils and AP classes at all high schools.

Now, however, legislators and education officials are retreating from most of those lofty goals.

Citing a lack of money, the legislature's education committee has proposed postposting most of the school reforms by two years.

Their concerns may be premature.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget chief, Ben Barnes, said Wednesday that the proposed state budget doesn't include funding this year, but that doesn't mean it won't be added next year when school districts face a more pressing deadline to hire more teachers to meet reform goals.

"Unless I'm incorrect, it is my understanding that the significant part of those mandates having to do with new graduation requirements would come a year from this coming September," Barnes said. "So it's not necessarily an urgent issue for school districts implementing their budgets now.

"If we don't come up with the money now, I don't think that should let them off the hook for the mandate," Barnes said. "I don't see that as a decision that the state has to make this [legislative] session."

The legislature's education committee has raised a bill to postpone the reforms by two years, pushing them back to 2016. Committee Chairman Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said the committee is concerned about giving towns an unfunded mandate. The reforms are estimated to cost a total of about $25 million.

"I feel terrible about it," Fleischmann said. "Frankly, I haven't given up on trying to find the funds to support these reforms. Personally, I believe that secondary school reform is critically important to prepare students for the 21st-century workforce and higher education."

Leaders of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents said Wednesday that, while they favor delaying unfunded reforms, they want to move forward with plans to develop performance evaluations for teachers and administrators.

Robert Rader, executive director of CABE, said postponing teacher evaluations would be a mistake, particularly when there is such a national outcry for more accountability for teacher performance.

"We think this is too important to wait, and we will make sure it happens sooner rather than later," Rader said.

George Coleman, interim state education commissioner, said he would prefer not to delay any of the reforms and said his department will continue to prepare for the changes.

The reforms, developed by former state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan, require students to earn 25 percent more credits to graduate from high school. Students will be required to take more math, science and foreign language courses and pass end-of-year exams.

In addition, schools must offer AP courses, hold parent-teacher conferences twice a year and set up parent-dominated school governance councils at failing schools. Malloy's proposed budget this year does fund one aspect of the reforms. It provides $2 million to build a longitudinal data system to track student achievement.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, had warned last spring that enacting the reforms would impose unfunded mandates on school systems if the state's bid for federal Race to the Top money failed.

The state was counting on Race to the Top money to pay for the reforms but did not win any.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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