Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's message that an outstanding education system is vital to Connecticut's economic development is spot on, and he proved his dedication to students across our state by championing last year's landmark education reform law.
Public Act 12-116 not only provided a significant investment in improving public education, but will also help create a stronger workforce. This is a message that was echoed in the governor's recent State of the State address, where he proclaimed: "The bottom line is that students are going to be better prepared for school today, and for the job market tomorrow."
In an increasingly competitive and global marketplace, there are no jobs for the ill-prepared. Every dollar spent on educating the workforce of tomorrow is a dollar invested in keeping high-earning, talented taxpayers in Connecticut.
Each one of the key pillars of Public Act 12-116 — the Commissioner's Network to turn around our lowest-performing schools, per-pupil increases for charter schools, and the groundbreaking teacher and principal evaluation program — will ensure a brighter future for our student and our state's economy.
The Commissioner's Network provides turnaround support for up to 25 of the state's most challenged schools, where student performances has been dismal year-after-year . Four schools are already part of the network, helping hundreds of students across our state receive a better education and, in turn, realize a brighter future.
The educator evaluation system infused some much-needed accountability into our education system, offering a way to identify the best teachers and principals, provide targeted professional development for those educators who need it, and allow for the swift removal of those who consistently fail to improve.
The per-pupil increase for charter schools enacted by Public Act 12-116 was an important step towards treating students in these public schools of choice more equitably. Today, 80 percent of charter schools are outperforming traditional public schools in their districts. Charters have achieved these results despite operating within a funding mechanism that is inequitable and unfair, and now parent demand for these public school options is at a record high.
Unfortunately, all of these initiatives weathered deep cuts during December's deficit mitigation discussions, putting in jeopardy meaningful reforms approved overwhelmingly by Governor Malloy and the General Assembly less than one-year ago.
For example, the Commissioner's Network received more than $2 million in funding cuts. For Commissioner's Network schools that have made critical staffing and programmatic decisions, this multi-million dollar overall decrease in funding is devastating to the progress necessary for a successful turnaround effort, and to help students receive the high-quality education they need to thrive and one-day compete in a global marketplace.
Up to $1 million was cut from the educator evaluation system. And $2 million — $300 per student — was slashed from much-needed charter school increases, mid-year cuts that have resulted in charter schools having to make unfortunate sacrifices, left to choose between foregoing essential services and retaining their teachers.
Governor Malloy is right to link education and the economy. If Connecticut lawmakers are serious about closing the state's worst-in-the-nation achievement gap and creating the educated workforce that will keep jobs in the state and turn our economy around, state leaders must stick to full and effective implementation of Public Act 12-116.
If we are serious about investing in our children, we cannot afford to dial back our efforts to ensure great teachers, principals, and public schools for every child. Our students are counting on us to give them the tools they need to succeed.
Jennifer Alexander is the acting chief executive officer for the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN).