(Updated 5:35 p.m.) The bill upon which the Education Committee is expected to vote Monday does not immediately change teacher tenure, but rather sets up a study of the evaluation system that will be used to determine tenure.
“It’s really critical to have buy-in from all parties,” Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the Education Committee, said Monday morning outside a closed-door meeting of lawmakers.
Teachers, who have been attending Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education town hall meetings by the hundreds, and the two unions that represent them have been opposed to certain aspects of the governor’s proposal that asks teachers to earn and re-earn tenure, as well as teacher certifications, through new job evaluations based on student performance.
If one party is “opposed to a system that’s affecting all of them it’s hard to see how it’s going to work,” Fleischmann said. “We’re appreciative of the fact that the administration is still talking to various stakeholders and appreciative of the fact that we can move forward when everybody is moving forward together.”
The governor’s office, Commissioner of Education, and the two teacher unions are trying to get to “yes” but they haven’t gotten there yet, Fleischmann said.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, who was studying the bill after only receiving it on Monday morning a few hours before a Democratic caucus, said “we’re punting on all of the important stuff.“
He said he would like to deal with the issues head on, but turning it into studies seems to put off those hard decisions for another year. However, he agreed with Fleischmann that the bill is still a living document and nothing is final until both chambers vote on it.
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.
The revised bill also requires the University of Connecticut’s NEAG School of Education to study the implementation of teacher and administrator evaluations and support programs adopted by local and regional school boards.
It also reduces the three-level certification structure to two: initial and professional certificates. And it establishes a new “distinguished educator designation,” for highly qualified and experienced teachers.
Like the New Haven school reform model, the bill authorizes local and regional school boards to negotiate new salary schedules to align compensation for teachers under the initial and professional certificates, and allows for additional compensation to be negotiated by teachers holding the distinguished educator designation.
Fleischmann bristled at the notion that lawmakers gave the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, everything it wanted in the bill because it’s an election year for lawmakers.
“I have talked with legislators who have made it very clear that they want to get better results for the children in Connecticut, while showing some understanding of the position teachers are in,” Fleischmann said. “They want to strike a balance and that’s what we seek to do in the bill we’re considering today.”
He said if the parties still negotiating the bill can reach agreement sooner, they’re more than happy to make changes.
He said the legislation finalized over the weekend was largely based on the New Haven model. He said it was a good way to resolve the largest source of anxiety out there, which was “how will this evaluation process work?”
Fleischmann said if the parties, which are the governor’s administration and the two teacher unions, can’t get to “yes” this year on tying an evaluation system to tenure, then the bill guarantees they will get there by next year. Further, he said the bill helps shorten the current process for getting rid of an ineffective teacher.
The revised bill also cuts the governor’s per-pupil increase for charter school students from $2,600 to $900, and makes it optional for the town to contribute an additional $1,000 for each student who attends a charter school.
Under the bill a school district may use the data from charter school students’ standardized tests if the district pays the charter school $1,000 annually for each of its resident students who attend the school. Funding for charter school students would still be included as part of the Education Cost Sharing formula and would increase from $9,400 per pupil to about $10,300 per pupil.
Patrick Riccards, CEO of ConnCAN, said any local district should find it enormously beneficial to report charter school data, but not requiring municipalities to send the $1,000 per pupil to charter schools creates some concern.
“Again what we have here is a real concern we have two classes of students in the same city,” Riccards said.
The plan to force school districts with 1,000 or fewer students to regionalize with surrounding school districts or face a penalty was eliminated from the bill. The revised bill asks the state Department of Education to study the issue.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said clearly there are significant changes from the governor’s bill.
“The problem with this draft the Education Committee chairs are bringing out today is they were negotiated by two Democratic chairman, lobbyists, and the governor’s office,” McKinney said. “Republican legislators were completely locked out. It even appears the governor’s people were invited into some meetings and not others.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said there are enough changes in the bill that it indicates to him the governor’s people may have been in the room, but they weren’t there for long.
“It would appear that on every major issue — whether it’s teacher evaluations, certification, linkage between evaluations and certification, certification levels, charter schools, the dismissal process for a teacher — all of the most significant issues in the governor’s bill have all been dramatically changed in this bill,” McKinney said.
As of 2 p.m. the Education Committee was still in caucus discussing the revised bill behind closed doors.