There's no question who's calling the shots in the legislature. It's not the legislators. It's the unions.
Apparently union pressure was too much for the Democratic co-chairmen of the General Assembly Education Committee, Rep. Andrew Fleischmann and Sen. Andrea Stillman. On Monday, they weakened Gov.Dannel P. Malloy's brave reform bill, putting off key parts of it for further study, including teacher tenure and state takeover of the lowest-performing schools.
The now mushy measure goes to the full Education Committee for a vote, and approval is likely. So then it's up to top leaders of the House and Senate to restore the governor's original bill and enact overdue reforms.
Here's hoping the capitulation by the committee chairmen to union demands is a slight setback rather than a full-fledged retreat.
What a disappointing surrender, however, on a plan that would hold teachers accountable by replacing lifelong tenure with multi-year contracts, having evaluations with teeth and so on. Teacher unions had agreed to evaluations, but are obviously having second thoughts.
This is a dereliction of duty to children, particularly those stuck in foundering schools. Mr. Malloy should refuse to sign any such watered-down measure. The General Assembly is scheduled to wrap up its session in early May. The governor should keep lawmakers in Hartford as long as it takes to get tough reforms passed so that this session, which many hoped would be historic, has more to show than just legalizing Sunday liquor sales and medical marijuana.
The state's largest teachers union, the Connecticut Education Association, has been out in force strong-arming lawmakers on the matter. CEA leader Mary Loftus Levine revealed the group's strategy — "NO deal is always better than a bad one" — in an internal email she accidentally made public.
The union is clearly out to protect its members' benefits. But someone has to look out for the children not being served by the status quo — the kids who are dropping out of city schools in droves, who are falling behind their peers here and in surrounding states, who may manage to get to college but are then wholly unprepared for it.
Gov. Malloy is right on this issue, and the legislature ought to get behind him.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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