Lawmakers OK Revised Education Bill, 28-5, But It's Still A Work In Progress
Substitute Measure Delays Tenure Reform, Provides Less Money For Charter Schools But More Pre-School Slots
BY KATHLEEN MEGAN
March 26, 2012
In a 28-5 bipartisan vote, the state Education Committee approved a substitute education reform bill Monday evening that significantly alters Gov.Dannel P. Malloy's original proposal but remains a work in progress.
The new measure, which continued to evolve over the day, would delay any tenure reform until next year, decrease funding for charter schools and cut back on the number of low-performing schools in Malloy's proposed commissioner's network.
Even as the vote went forward, committee members on both sides of the aisle voiced disappointment in the "watered-down" substitute but said they hoped legislators would strengthen it in the weeks ahead.
"When I came here this morning, I was extremely disappointed," said Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, vice chairman of the committee. "I didn't think it went far enough. I still don't think it goes far enough."
McCrory decided to approve the measure because "it's the beginning," but he won't be "on board" if it hits the floor of the House and hasn't been modified and strengthened.
"We have to do what's best in this committee for children, not adults, but for children who need our support," he said. "We need to remove the barriers and remove the politics of education in Connecticut."
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, also spoke of her hope that the bill would be strengthened in the coming weeks, but opted to vote no on Monday.
Noting that Republicans had not been involved in the negotiations on the revised bill, Boucher said that "some of us" consider the revised bill "watered down" and "stripped of almost all of the governor's" major reform proposals.
"To say that many of us are extremely disappointed would be an understatement," Boucher said. She said the education reform effort "seems to be on life support."
Education Committee Co-chairman Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, responded: "We do view this bill as groundbreaking and bold."
He mentioned that the substitute bill would increase the number of poor children with access to pre-school from 500 to 1,000 and that it would move forward on the new evaluation process of teachers and administrators.
Fleischmann said the bill also would make it possible to replace not only "incompetent" teachers but also teachers who are "ineffective."
Malloy was inWashington, D.C., Monday. The governor's senior advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso, released a statement saying the alternative legislation "represents just one step in the legislative process." He said Malloy is "determined to begin fixing what's broken in our public schools, no matter how long it takes."
He said the administration would continue to work with legislators and others to produce a bill that represents "meaningful education reform."
Fleishmann observed that the substitute bill had evolved over the course of the day, which included a five-hour Democratic caucus devoted to it before the meeting began.
The committee's co-chairs — Fleischmann and Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford — put the revised bill together over the weekend in a meeting that included representatives of the state's two teachers' unions, state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and representatives of legislative leadership.
"It's not a perfect bill," Stillman said Monday night. "I don't know any legislation that's perfect, but it gives us a great framework to move forward and continue discussion. ... It's the first step."
One of the improvements that Fleischmann cited during the day was the decision to have the commissioner select 10 low-performing schools for turn-around beginning in the fall. Early Monday the substitute legislation called for only the presentation of a plan for a comissioner's network by Jan. 1, 2013, without it going into effect. Fleischmann said Monday evening that committee members had not been happy with that and wanted to see the work begin sooner to turn around schools in trouble.
Malloy's original proposal for a commissioner's network called for the network to take charge of turning around the 25 lowest-performing schools in the state.
The substitute bill alters or delays aspects of Malloy's bill that were the most opposed by the teachers' unions, including a provision that would have linked the new teacher evaluation system to tenure, certification and dismissal. The revised bill calls for a study of the evaluation system and asks the commissioner of education to report back on how it's working in January 2013 and how it might be linked to tenure.
The new bill also compresses the time it would take to dismiss a teacher from 155 to 115 days.
In addition, the revised bill calls for decreasing funding for each student at a charter school by $500 and would remove the requirement that school districts chip in $1,000 for each child attending a charter school. Instead, that $1,000 payment would be voluntary. Under the proposed substitute bill, if a district chooses to make the payment, the district then can include that child's test scores in its overall test score report.
Fleischmann said this has worked well in Hartford where the district voluntarily pays to have children attend charter schools so the city can include charter school students' test scores in its reports.
The only aspect of the substitute bill that seems to broaden the reach of Malloy's bill is the increase in the number of slots for pre-school for children whose families can't afford it.
Sharon Palmer, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut, and Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said that the revised bill isn't exactly what they wanted but they support it.
Advocates for education reform were not so pleased.
"I'm disappointed," said Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer for ConnCan, a New Haven based group. "We should be doing far more… The focus needs to be on kids, and right now the focus is almost exclusively on adults."
He said he is particularly concerned about the number of low-performing schools that would be included in the new commissioner's network. He said it could put the state's application for a federal waiver to the No Child Left Behind Act in jeopardy because it requires turnaround plans for 5 percent of the state's lowest performing schools. He said that in Connecticut that number would be 25 schools.
State House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk and Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield held an impromptu press conference, criticizing the changes in the bill and the process used to make them.
"We had two members of the legislature, Democratic co-chairmen, in closed-door meetings with lobbyists and special interest groups," McKinney said. He said they "locked out their own members, locked out Republicans completely from the process."
McKinney said he is disappointed that education seems to have become a partisan issue. "It's not been partisan before," he said.
"It would appear that on every major issue, whether teacher evaluation, certification, … charter schools, the dismissal process for a teacher… All of the most significant issues have been dramatically changed in this bill," McKinney said.
"I think right now, it's a setback" for education, McKinney said. But he added, "There's a long way to go on this bill."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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