NEW BRITAIN — Standing with his outgoing education commissioner, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday new funding for troubled school districts participating in a state-run improvement program.
Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said the state would spend about $133 million more this year on 30 troubled school districts than the state spent on those same districts prior to the passage of Malloy’s 2012 education reform bill. This year’s funding level represents about $45 million increase over last year’s funding.
“It is proof that we are making the kind of progress that we promised we would make when we undertook educational reform just a few years ago,” Malloy said at a Thursday press conference held inside a New Britain middle school.
In order to participate in the program, school districts are required to draft improvement plans and submit those plans to the Education Department for approval. So far, 28 of the 30 school districts have had their plans approved by the state. Their funding levels were announced Thursday by the administration.
Malloy said the Alliance District program balances state and local control. Although the state identifies the areas where a school district must improve, the governor stressed that local administrators draft the plans to make the improvements. He said the program does not use a “cookie cutter” approach.
“The state’s going to increase funding and we have increased funding very substantially. We have an obligation to make sure that money is spent wisely. I think that is part of the give and take of providing hundreds of millions of dollars of additional funding to be concentrated on the districts most in need,” he said. “Do I think we’ve struck the right balance? I do.”
Not everyone agrees. Jonathan Pelto, a liberal blogger who has submitted signatures in an effort to challenge Malloy on the November ballot, released a statement claiming there were too many strings attached to the new funding.
“In order to get those funds, school districts were required to accept a series of new mandates and programs aimed at further implementing Malloy’s corporate education reform agenda and diverting scarce public dollars to private companies,” Pelto wrote.
For Pelto and other critics of Malloy’s education reform policies, Pryor, who co-founded a public charter school in New Haven, has been a lightning rod for criticism. Pryor announced this week that he does not intend to serve another term as commissioner, even if Malloy succeeds with his difficult re-election bid.
Thursday’s press conference was the first time the two men appeared together since the announcement. Reporters asked whether Pryor’s departure was a political calculation.
“I did not suggest that,” Malloy said. “It was a decision that we reached and we did have the opportunity to talk about it. I did receive his letter on Monday and as you note, I appear alongside my friend today. So let there be no doubt about that.”
Asked whether he felt his continued service may harm the governor’s re-election chances, Pryor answered that he was proud of the work he had done during Malloy’s first term.
“Sometimes when you look at a transition point — and a change in term is such a point — it makes sense to pursue opportunities and know that the contribution you’ve made is the right one and you wish to go on and make other contributions in your professional life. I maintain a superb relationship with this governor,” Pryor said.