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Petty Partisanship Sinks Plan For Better Schools

Rick Green

June 05, 2009

We need more qualified teachers. We need top-shelf college graduates to become teachers in our failing city schools.

Sorry, but this isn't much of a priority when partisan legislators are too busy trying to find ways to disagree on everything they possibly can.

This year, a small and relatively noncontroversial bill in the legislature would have addressed the vital issue of attracting qualified teachers to needy districts.

The legislature, riven by partisanship, out-of-place debates and brainless filibustering, failed to even respond to this critical need.

Sure, we've got miserable budget problems, but the bill that died when time ran out on the legislative session Wednesday night would have created an easier path for qualified people to become teachers. It would also have made changes in certification to allow more participants in the acclaimed Teach for America program to work in troubled urban districts.

House Republican Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero had it right Thursday when he said that people "look at the General Assembly and say shame on all of you."

"All" is right. How is it that something like this doesn't get brought up by Democrats until minutes before adjournment? How is it that Cafero's Republican friends think it's OK to peevishly hold this bill hostage because they are ticked at the failure to reach a budget deal?

"For months of work and consensus-building to go down the drain is unconscionable. Everybody supported this bill," said Alex Johnston, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, a business-backed school reform group.

Edna Novak, director of Teach for America in Connecticut, said the program's future is now in jeopardy. Teach for America places top graduates from prestigious schools in classrooms in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Stamford for two-year stints.

"We absolutely need to get this legislation through in order for us to be able to continue placing teachers at high-needs schools," Novak said. "Our bill ... got killed because of a power play and brinkmanship that has nothing to do with the content of the bill."

"It is inexplicable to me how our representatives could lose sight of the purpose of legislation people are supporting and delay a piece of law that is good for teachers and good for students in a state with the largest achievement gap in the nation."

The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the House and Senate, with more controversial provisions removed. But because it was revised in the House, it went back to the Senate for another vote. Democrats didn't bring it to the floor for a vote till late Wednesday, and Republicans, annoyed at the Democrats' failure to adopt a budget and their endless debates, weren't about to move quickly.

"They brought the bill out on the floor at 11:50 or something," said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, after an afternoon press conference at which Republicans excoriated Democrats for a do-nothing legislative session. "It tells us that it wasn't much of a priority or they didn't run the show very well."

McKinney is overlooking the embarrassing performance by state Sen. Dan Debicella, who, late Wednesday night, took the mike and yakked on about how much he loved the bill in order to prevent a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney told me that Democrats knew McKinney's troops planned to block even a noncontroversial bill as payback, but they tried to pass it anyway.

"For them to blame us, it's an outrage."

So it goes. No budget and not even a small deal that might bring better teachers into our neediest schools.

Rep. Cafero has it right. This is shameful all around.

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.
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