Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders celebrated what they called an “historic” agreement on a sweeping education reform proposal that believe will help Connecticut erase its largest-in-the-nation achievement gap.
At a 10 p.m. press conference, Malloy told a packed room of reformers and leaders of at least one of the state’s teacher unions that the bill the Senate is expected to take up later this evening is just a beginning.
“We will not fix what’s broken overnight — we can’t. But we will begin to,” Malloy vowed.
The package allocates an additional $100 million for reform.
Malloy said the agreement reached is a compromise, but not a compromise on the six principles he laid out last December. The bill which Republican lawmakers said they have yet to see increases the number of preschool slots, allows the Education Commissioner to intervene in 25 of the lowest performing schools, increases per-pupil funding for charter school students, and “awards tenure on the basis of effective practice.”
Two of the thorniest issues and the most controversial as Malloy toured the state touting his education package were the issue of charter schools and whether they should be allowed to take over low performing public schools, and teacher tenure and how it was tied to an untested evaluation system. Malloy never mentioned the later, which caused teachers to show up and boo him at public forums, in his remarks Monday evening.
According to the bill, there will be an increase in per-pupil funding from $9,400 to $10,500 in the first year, $11,000 in the second year, and $11,500 in the third year. It also allows a nonprofit school operator to take over six of the 25 schools targeted as turnaround schools.
As for teacher tenure, it requires annual performance evaluations and allows for “ineffective teachers to be terminated” on an expedited basis.
Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut, said she thinks what she knows of the bill will put people’s minds at ease. Many teachers were anxious about their jobs being tied to an untested evaluation system.
She said tenure always has been tied to evaluations. Itt was just the “how” that was the problem. She said the process is not significantly different than what we already have, except that it’s shorter and it’s one arbitrator and it delineates the factors in a stronger way.
“At this point, it’s fairly reasonable,” Palmer said.
Patrick Riccards, CEO of ConnCAN, said he believes the bill is a step forward.
“Just because this was the ‘Year of Education Reform’ doesn’t mean this is the only year we’re going to reform education,” he said. “This is an important first step for Connecticut in terms of education reform.”
Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, the co-chair of the General Assembly’s Education Committee, said there were times she wasn’t happy about the challenge to move forward with education reform in a short legislative session.
“Having this as a priority this year has awakened all of us to the fact that education reform is really the number one issue for our state and our children,” Stillman said.
She said they were often reminded by their colleagues in the House that this bill was about the children. “We have never forgotten that this was about the children,” she said.
Rae Ann Knopf, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, said she didn’t think the legislation was a compromise on principles.
“I think the governor has definitely delivered on his promise of education reform,” Knopf said. “We’re supportive of the notion that effectiveness is introduced and evaluations will be used to determine effectiveness, and the results will be used to help teachers improve.”
Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said her organization has always “agreed teachers who are deemed to be ineffective should have the opportunity to go through a hearing.” She said it’s her understand that the bill reduces the number of arbitrators from three to one, and “limits the number of hours of testimony and evidence at a termination hearing.”
Republican lawmakers said that as of 11 p.m. they were still waiting to see legislative language so that they could determine whether it agrees with the two-page memorandum they saw earlier in the day. The documents didn’t arrive until shortly before midnight.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said the press conference the governor and Democratic lawmakers held at 10 p.m. was originally scheduled for noon when it was canceled because the language didn’t match the memorandum.
“As a matter of fact, it would be fair to say that the governor has not seen it,” Cafero said. “That probably at this point 99.9 percent of the General Assembly has not seen this bill.”
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the Education Committee, said he’s been around long enough to understand the Senate is about to go into a process that’s “akin to giving birth.”
Stillman will usher the bill through the Senate debate and Fleischmann will handle the House debate.