The 185-page education reform bill was praised by Democratic Senators and panned by Republicans, who didn’t have any time to read the bill before debate began shortly before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The bill, which was negotiated for the better part of the past month by lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s staff, passed the Senate 28-7 at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. Many of the Republicans voiced their displeasure with the process, but ended up voting for the legislation.
“This is vampire legislation,” Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, said. “A bill emerges out of a backroom after midnight and it passes through the Senate before dawn and the debate never sees the light of day.”
Markley said he decided he wasn’t going to support the bill because once he saw it, he wasn’t going to have time to read it or understand it.
Republicans suggested they be given time to go back and talk to their constituents about the contents of the bill, but after protests about the process more than half the Republicans voted for the measure.
Markley said they won’t do that because “it’s a house of cards and it will fall over with the first small breeze that hits it.”
At a 10 p.m. press conference, Malloy admitted that people have been negotiating for a long time, especially during the last few days, “so there’s a chance we missed something.”
But with Sen. Steven Cassano, D-Manchester, said lawmakers need to trust their leaders who negotiated the bill. He said it’s difficult not to be part of the process, but that’s just the way the building works.
“The system of public education will continue to be the major way children will learn in Connecticut,” Cassano said in a statement. “Charter and magnet schools will continue to function with additional funding, but draconian changes proposed over the last few months will not happen.”
Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, praised the bill for addressing the achievement gap once and for all.
She said there were versions of this bill that would have had the General Assembly take one percent of the dollars and “pretty much privatize” education and forget about the other 99 percent of children who attend public schools.
“What this bill does is say ‘we’re going to think about everyone, and we’re going to face the fact that we live in a knowledge-based economy,’” Harp said.
Two of the most difficult issues for lawmakers were in figuring out where charter schools fit into the state’s education picture and how teacher tenure is handled under a newly developed evaluation system.
Charter school funding was boosted in the bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday morning, but it wasn’t funded to the extent that Malloy had requested. Funding for charter schools was increased from $9,400 to $10,500 in the first year, $11,000 in the second, and $11,500 in the third. It also allows nonprofits to operate six of the 25 schools identified as turnaround schools, in effect prohibiting for-profit companies from doing so.
As far as teacher tenure goes, Sen. Andrea Stillman, co-chair of the Education Committee, said a teacher after four years of good evaluations should be granted tenure in their fifth year.
“Tenure, as you know, is due process,” Stillman said. “If a teacher has tenure and their evaluations fall off then the administrator can step in and help mentor that teacher.”
If that teacher doesn’t improve, then a termination process can begin, Stillman said.
“What we’ve done in this bill is shorten that length of time,” she added. The bill also calls for the new evaluation system developed by the Performance Evaluation and Advisory Council to be piloted in 10 schools.
The bill allows for teacher unions to use impact bargaining to negotiate working condition changes in the low-performing schools, which become part of the Education Commissioner’s network.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he has to admit he hasn’t read every word of the legislation and isn’t happy with the process, but he praised the inclusion of a reading proficiency measure initially proposed by Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield of New Haven.
The bill includes a pilot program to enhance literacy for kindergarten through third grade students. It also creates 1,000 new preschool slots, mostly for low-income communities.
Click here to read more about the press conference announcing the education compromise.