As with any major piece of legislation the conversations surrounding the education reform package have moved behind closed doors as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and lawmakers try to iron out a deal.
It seems as if both were sticking to their respective positions on the more controversial pieces of the bill Wednesday causing Capitol insiders to wonder if it’s even possible to reach a compromise before the session ends May 9.
“Listen, we’re going to continue to advocate on behalf of real education reform in the state until we get a bill that’s acceptable,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday as he exited an event in the Old Judiciary room.
Malloy, who opened up the legislative session two months ago with a 163-page bill that tackles teacher tenure and focuses on the state’s 30 lowest performing school districts, isn’t backing down from the positions expressed in his legislation.
At the end of March the Education Committee modified the governor’s bill and delayed tying teacher tenure to a new evaluation system in addition to modifying language regarding how the state could takeover the lowest performing school districts.
“I think what I’ve said was this bill is not acceptable,” Malloy said referring to the Education Committee’s version.
“I will remind you that it was the CEA in its presentation on reform, actually called for ending tenure. I never did that. I’m a supporter of tenure. Look at their brochure and ask them about it,” he told a group of reporters.
The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, took out a half-page ad in the Hartford Courant Wednesday clarifying their position on the controversial teacher tenure issue.
“Our position has not changed for the past two years,” Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the CEA, said Wednesday in a phone interview.
She said the CEA and AFT Connecticut‘s proposal was to streamline the tenure system, not eliminate it. The proposal calls for a streamlined system that would require one arbitrator, not three and a shortened due process timeline, she said. Any decision made by the lone arbitrator would be binding.
“Tenure is not a job for life,” Loftus Levine insisted responding to the opening day remarks by the governor.
“Tenure is nothing more than the right to due process, but the governor fuels the misunderstanding that it is something else,” the CEA ad in the Courant reads. “And he adds insult to injury when he claims teacher evaluation, tenure, and certification should be lumped together.”
Part of that lumping includes tying tenure which would need to be earned and re-earned under Malloy’s proposal to a new untested evaluation system.
Loftus Levine said the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council which has been meeting since 2010 to create and develop guidelines for teacher evaluations on a statewide basis has not completed its work.
Part of the reason is that Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor didn’t want the council to meet last year from August until December to give him time to get up to speed on the process, Loftus Levine said. If he hadn’t delayed those meetings then the evaluation process would have already been finalized, she opined.
“Governor Malloy’s most disingenuous claim is that teachers agreed to this chaotic recipe,“ the CEA ad goes onto say. “Teachers agreed to a framework for evaluations but absolutely nothing like what the governor has proposed.”
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the Education Committee, has insisted that the bill the governor originally proposed would not have had enough support in either chamber to become law.
What the governor put before the legislature on Feb. 8 “was draft 1.0,“ Fleischmann has said. “What the Education Committee voted out on Monday was draft 2.0 and I’m sure that there will be a version 3.0 and 4.0.”
Fleischmann explained it’s difficult to get 151 lawmakers in the House and 36 in the Senate to agree on something.
“To help a bill become a law I have to have the votes,” Fleischmann said. “Anything that goes to his desk will have to have enough support to go to his desk, so with that understood I’m sure there will be discussions and I’m sure things will change.”
They may have changed slightly since Fleischmann made those comments on March 28, but not enough for either side to declare victory or wave the white flag.
“There are some obvious areas where there’s distance between what the governor proposed and what the Education Committee passed,” Fleischmann said earlier this week after exiting a closed-door meeting on the bill.
“Without getting into the details, to be respectful of the process, I see some progress,” he added.
But finding a compromise in the allotted timeframe between the two versions of the bill may still prove difficult for the two sides.