The only thing that was clear after Monday’s Education Committee meeting was that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reform bill, which was rewritten by lawmakers over the past few weeks, is still a work in progress.
“Everything is written in pencil at this point,” Rep. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said after a five-hour, closed-door caucus.
After more than two hours of debate, the legislature’s Education Committee voted 28 to 5 to move the revised bill to the Appropriations Committee.
The two teacher unions were largely content with the new draft released late Monday morning, while charter school proponents were disappointed with the decision to reduce funding for charter schools.
“The changes being debated represent a pathetic attempt at ‘compromise’,“ Patrick Riccards, CEO of ConnCAN, wrote in a letter to supporters. “It appears that in the committee’s language, major components of the bill (quite frankly, the parts that matter the most) are at risk of either being watered down or put aside until next year.”
Rep. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, agreed with Riccards’ assessment, calling the revised bill a “watered down, weakened document that seems to have been stripped of almost all of the governor’s and commissioner’s proposals.”
“To say that many of us are extremely disappointed would be an understatement,” Boucher said.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the committee, explained that those negotiating the bill felt increasing the number of preschool slots from 500 to 1,000 would improve student achievement faster than increasing the amount of money for charter school students.
“The evidence shows that one of the most powerful ways you can advance student academic growth is by providing opportunities for preschoolers,” Fleischmann said. “So we reallocated dollars from the charter school line to the preschool line to serve that cost,” Fleischmann said.
Fleischmann and Sen. Andrea Stillman, the other co-chair of the committee, took offense to statements by some that the bill wasn’t as “monumental” as Malloy’s initial proposal.
“I do currently view the bill before us as groundbreaking and bold,” Fleischmann said.
And while the teacher unions don’t agree with everything in the bill, or at least everything they’ve had the opportunity to read in the 152-page bill, they’re largely in favor of the revised version.
“We’re reacting positively, but it’s not perfect and we have 44 days to go,” Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut, said Monday afternoon.
“I am told that some folks believe this is a capitulation to unions. We don’t think that’s the case because there‘s more work to be done on the bill,” Palmer said.
Palmer and CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine said the bill improves the evaluation process and the timetable and the timelines set out by the revised bill.
The revised bill asks the state Board of Education to consult with the Performance Evaluation Advisory Committee to adopt guidelines for a model evaluation system, but it doesn’t tie the evaluation process to tenure this year.
Loftus Levine and Palmer credited the teachers for talking about what it would mean to tie an unproven evaluation system to their tenure.
“I think the teachers . . . meeting with their legislators and pointing out their concerns really are what moved them,” Loftus Levine said. “Because they listen to their constituents. Their constituents were very, very clear it wasn’t a good idea.”
Palmer said there were more than just teachers talking about what the bill would mean. “We just got more attention,” Loftus Levine laughed.
Tenure, evaluation, certification, salary schedules, early childhood, collective bargaining, professional development, and funding the network schools were just a few of the concerns for CEA and AFT Connecticut.
The bill also doesn’t go as far as the teacher unions would like in shortening the process for firing a teacher.
Under the current law it takes a minimum of 120 days to dismiss a teacher and the bill reduces that to 115 days. The unions recommended shortening the process to 85 days.
Malloy was in Washington, D.C., for most of the day, but Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior communications adviser, took a similar stance to that of the lawmakers, unions, and charter school proponents, who signaled that the bill is a work in progress.
“The bill the Education Committee appears set to approve represents just one step in the legislative process,“ Occhiogrosso said. “Governor Malloy has made it clear that he’s determined to begin fixing what’s broken in our public schools, no matter how long it takes. In the coming weeks, members of this administration will continue to work with legislators and other key stakeholders until there is a bill that represents meaningful education reform.”
McCrory said when he came to the Capitol on Monday he was disappointed at the revised bill because it doesn’t make enough change to a system that is failing so many students.
“The process isn’t over,” McCrory said, adding that he doesn’t think the bill goes far enough. He said he heard a lot of legislators talking about conversations about education reform with their constituents, but he said his constituents are the children and the parents and grandparents who send those children to failing schools.
“You didn’t hear from us, the ones who represent the children who are at the bottom of the well, the children who have been at the bottom of the well for the last 10, 15, 20, and 30 years,” McCrory said, adding that a lot of work will have to be done before he can support the bill on the floor of the House. But he voted it out of committee Monday. McCrory stressed that the committee needs to do “what’s best for children — not adults — but for children.”
Click here for more information about the various changes to the bill.