The legislature’s Appropriations Committee unanimously passed a bill Tuesday, which at least a few lawmakers believe will do more to eliminate the achievement gap than the 163-page education reform package proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
“It is my opinion that in this session of education this is the bill,” Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said. “This is the bill we should be doing.”
The bill written over the past year by the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus creates a standardized assessment to ensure that students achieve a basic standard of reading by the third grade. The original bill would have made sure students unable to read at goal by the end of their third grade year were held back and given the tools necessary to catch up with their peers.
But the cost, estimated by one lawmaker at $100 million, was too much for the Appropriations Committee.
Instead, the bill the committee passed Tuesday expanded an existing pilot program to an additional 11 schools. Currently, 11 schools in six districts participate in a pilot program funded with private money the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus found to start it. The bill would fund a total of 22 schools and appropriates $1 million for the pilot.
In addition, it gives the state Department of Education about $500,000 to develop a coinciding professional development program where teachers would learn how to help students improve their reading skills.
Rep. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said what the committee should be looking at is the cost to the state if it doesn’t pass more robust legislation in this area.
“Think about the money we’ll save down the road if we can teach a child how to read,” McCrory said. “The kid who reads won’t go to jail.”
However, the legislature’s fiscal notes only take into account the immediate budget implications rather than the long-term impacts of these types of policies.
Holder-Winfield said he understands that the “exorbitant cost” is why the bill was modified.
But simply leaving the assessment tools in there to help identify the child who can’t read, without giving them the tools they need to improve, rings a little hollow, he said.
Republican lawmakers seemed to agree.
In support of Holder-Winfield’s comments, Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, said she thinks the bill is “why we are here.”
“It is one of the most important bills we’ll be doing despite maybe disagreements on some of the points,” Wood said.
And the unions, who keep butting heads with the governor over his proposed education reforms, are supportive of the legislation.
Eric Bailey, spokesman for AFT Connecticut, has called the bill a “tremendous effort toward addressing one of the critical factors of learning, which is reading.”