WINDSOR — While they remain far apart on teacher tenure reform, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that he’s willing to talk about funding the 1,000 preschool slots suggested in the revised Education Committee bill.
Speaking to nearly 200 early childhood providers and educators Saturday at the 6th annual Childhood Conversations Conference in Windsor, Malloy conceded that 1,000 slots is better than the 500 he proposed.
“I think we’re going to probably create 1,000 additional seats,” Malloy said. “And then they need to be used in such a way as we make sure we’re distributing as many of those seats as we can to the 30 low-performing districts.”
As he was leaving the conference, Malloy reiterated that “if the legislature wants to go 1,000, I’m more than happy to go 1,000.”
He said the funding would have to come from another part of the budget, not necessarily the $128 million he set aside for education reform this year. But he didn’t offer up any suggestions.
The Education Committee’s revised bill released last Monday would give 600 slots to children in the 30 lowest performing districts and 400 slots to children in the rest of the state. Malloy isn’t necessarily in favor of that formula.
“I think we’ve got to concentrate where we have the biggest problem,” Malloy said. “But I understand the political realities that people gotta bring something home, so we’ll work with it.”
The Education Committee reduced the amount of funding Malloy gave to charter schools by $500 per pupil in order to fund the 500 additional preschool slots.
Asked Friday if creating more preschool slots or increasing charter school funding will close the achievement gap faster, Malloy said “this is not a baby designed to be cut . . . This is a comprehensive package in a state that hasn’t done anything on education, pre-K through 12, on a comprehensive basis in my lifetime.”
Malloy took a moment Saturday during his 15-minute speech to focus on the state’s lowest performing districts that he wants to make part of the “Commissioner’s Network.” He said there’s little or no change in student test scores year after year at these schools that educate 40 percent of the state’s children.
“That’s got to stop,” Malloy said. “We can’t send kids back to schools year after year that are failing them without trying to move outside the box.”
The state’s two teacher unions are opposed to the “Commissioner’s Network,” which they say forces the unions in those schools to give up their collective bargaining rights. The Education Committee bill allows 10 school districts to join a version of the “Commissioner’s Network,” but Rep. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, who supports the governor’s approach, said the revised bill fails to properly fund the initiative.
McCrory, who inserted himself into the closed-door negotiations on the bill, said last week that the “Commissioner’s Network” was initially tossed as a concept, but was added back in at the last minute. The revised bill allows the changes the state imposes on the low performing schools to be negotiated with the unions, but the only thing they’re allowed to negotiate is how the change affects employees, not whether the change should take place.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the Education Committee, said in a WNPR interview last week that it was changed because they are “realists.”
“I and most colleagues I’ve spoken to in the legislature support a Commissioner’s Network of 25 to 30 schools,” Fleischmann said. However, he said they spoke to stakeholders about what is “doable” and they thought 10 was a good number. He said no one thought fundamentally turning around 25 to 30 schools was not “fully feasible.”
But Malloy doesn’t have a tolerance for going halfway on any type of reform.
“I know that change is scary,” Malloy said. “Everyone says they want change until they look at it and they get frightened by it, but to continue down the same path makes no sense at all.”
Connecticut has the worst-in-the-nation achievement gap and Malloy decided that this is the year he wants to do something about it, but not everyone is comfortable with how far he is willing to go.
Malloy said what he often hears at the public forums on the education legislation is that “we can’t do better because people are poor.”
But Malloy said some of his first year in office was spent addressing that problem.
“First and foremost, we’re doing something about poverty,” Malloy said Saturday. “We created an Earned Income Tax Credit that helps working families and will distribute about $120 million over a 90-day period of time to working poor families. We changed our laws to make sure parents can stay home with their children when their children are sick.”
“I do not accept the fact that poverty has to be continued on an intergenerational basis,” Malloy said. “We’ve got to break out of the mold.”
He said Massachusetts, which revamped its education system a decade ago, is moving up in test scores and graduation rates.
The Connecticut Council for Education Reform sent an email Sunday saying that in 2010, Massachusetts and Connecticut had almost exactly the same percentages of students who were in low-income circumstances — 34.2 percent in Massachusetts vs. 34.4 percent in Connecticut.
“Nonetheless, on national math assessments in 2011, Massachusetts’ low-income 4th graders scored 2nd in the nation — while Connecticut’s low-income students scored 48th. This difference in performance between Massachusetts’ low-income students and Connecticut’s equates to about 1.5 grade levels,” the email said.