Today, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will deliver his annual State of the State Address to the Connecticut General Assembly. After one full year at the helm of the ship of state, observers far and wide will carefully consider his speech for its meaning and what it portends for the next year in the Nutmeg State. Only the real authors of the speech and its deliverer have advance knowledge of what it will say, but here’s a suggestion for what he might say:
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Senator McKinney, Representative Cafero, my fellow state officials, ladies and gentlemen of the General Assembly, honored members of the Judiciary, members of the clergy, honored guests, a special mention to my close friend and Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, my family, friends and all the citizens throughout our great state.
Thirteen months ago I assumed the Office of Governor with the state at a crossroads. After years of fiscal mismanagement and pursuit of misguided, uninformed, and self-interested public policies – many of you here in the Legislature voted for them – the state faced an unprecedented financial crisis with spending habits that exceeded our ability to pay by nearly $3.5 billion.
We made hard decisions to balance the budget, many of which were unpopular and asked for a great deal of sacrifice from our state’s citizens. And as it turns out, we still came up short. There remains more work to do on that front but I assure you that we will balance this budget without imposing additional tax burdens on the people of Connecticut.
As we look to this legislative session, it’s clear that we face big challenges. The economy is evolving and changing. It forces us to think broadly about the future and build a workforce that is smarter, faster, and more dynamic than at any other time in the history of the world.
This challenge makes reforming the education system in Connecticut the biggest, most important task we must address in this Legislative Session. There is nothing we could do that will matter more to the future prosperity of our state.
Some advocates are calling for hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment in education. I’m telling you today that it’s a non-starter. We don’t have the money to invest. We can’t – and won’t – meet these challenges by just spending more money and hoping for a better result. We are going to re-purpose the money we already spend on education to produce better results and we are going to change the backward, ill-advised policies that force us into doing things in education that simply don’t make sense.
Here is a big problem: We don’t know nearly enough about how effective our education spending is. Because we aren’t measuring teacher performance in a consistent fashion, it is hard for us to tell which teachers are doing their jobs well and which ones are not. We will institute a rigorous teacher evaluation system that measures teacher performance so that we can tell how effectively our education dollars are being spent.
One more point on this issue: like in the private sector, performance assessments ought not be solely based on quantitative measurements because they don’t tell the full story. But that doesn’t mean that quantitative measurements like student performance shouldn’t matter. They should and they will.
We have to reform teacher tenure in Connecticut. It’s become a shibboleth amongst the teachers’ unions and some advocates, but if a teacher isn’t doing a good job, they should be fired, regardless of whether its their third year of teaching, fourth year, or tenth. School administrators and local Boards of Education should be able to demand performance and hold teachers accountable if they don’t meet the standards.
And while we are reforming the hiring and firing of teachers, we should end the First-In, Last-Out policy that forces school districts to lay off good young teachers rather than bad old teachers.
Lastly on education, we need to stop worrying about whether a school is public or private, charter or magnet, or something else altogether, and start worrying about whether they are giving students the tools they need to succeed in this state and in this new economy.
It should be able to go without saying that reforming education isn’t our only challenge. We’ve got the highest electricity rates in the continental United States in an era and an economy powered by electricity. We’ve got a transportation system that demands our attention and the cost of doing business in this state is too high. All these are big problems but none of them will matter if we don’t get education right. This is the challenge of our time and if we can rise to meet it, we will be well positioned for the days to come.
I look forward to working with you and continuing to serve the people of this great state in the weeks and months ahead. God bless you, the people of the state of Connecticut, and God bless the United States of America.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com