Hugh McQuaid photo

(Updated 2:56 p.m.) Legislative Democrats mocked a set of education policies outlined by Tom Foley, saying the Republican governor candidate has failed to provide substantive proposals.

The lawmakers staged a press conference Wednesday on the steps of the state Capitol to rebut a recent television ad by Foley, the Republican challenger to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. In the ad, Foley says he has a “plan for making every school in Connecticut great.”

“Five bullet points—that’s a postcard. That’s not a plan,” Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said.

Fleischmann was referencing a section of a general 9-page plan, which Foley released last month. The plan contains less than one page on education ideas, which included grading schools on an A-F basis and giving parents more ability to move their kids from underperforming schools. The section calls for implementing “money follows the child” and establishing new tests for third graders and high schoolers.

The Democratic lawmakers said the outline fails to live up to the claims in Foley’s new ad.

“Tom Foley’s recent ad also says he will ‘make our schools better.’ He might as well say ‘I’m going to make all of your children smarter and above average.’ It’s rhetoric with absolutely no substance,” Fleischmann said.

House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz said the lack of detail in the plan insulted voters and legislators who worked on education reform.

To say ‘Everything is going to be great, A+ school systems’ and then offer five measly points with very little or no substance to them on how that’s going to happen is very insulting,” he said.

Malloy began running his own ad on education this week. The one minute-spot touts Malloy’s decision to increase funding to education even while facing a large budget deficit and a reduction in federal stimulus funds.

At the press conference, Aresimowicz said those investments have seen graduation rates rising in cities like New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport.

“Those are results we should be proud of. Those are what we said the people of Connecticut four years ago that we were going to take positive steps on education,” he said.

Fleischmann was critical of Foley’s support of “money follows the child,” a controversial funding mechanism that shifts money when a child leaves a public school district to attend a charter school. Under the proposal, the district would pay the charter school to educate the child. The state would deduct the money from the town’s Education Cost Sharing grant and send it directly to the charter school.

Public school advocates and teacher unions say the move would take money away from underperforming public schools and create winners and losers among school districts.

“It’s pretty outrageous when you consider that [Foley’s proposal] is one sentence with no explanation of how it would work,” Fleischmann said. “The one time that someone actually tried to put a bill forward on this topic, we ended up with 167 pages that even the proponents could not explain.”

In 2011, the legislature’s Education Committee refused to even give a bill that included the “money follows the child” concept a public hearing.

Christine Stuart photo

At a New Britain press conference Wednesday afternoon, Foley said he would ask local school districts with schools that are not performing to offer in-district school choice. He would combine that with “money follows the child.” Those two things combined means “the marketplace starts to exert pressure on schools to perform better,” he said.

He said underperforming schools should be on notice if he’s elected governor because those are the schools that would receive fewer funds.

“They should start trying to be better schools right away,” Foley said. 

He said if they don’t improve with fewer resources and lose too many students then they’ll be reconstituted.

If the local communities have the ability to reconstitute the school then they should be allowed to do that, Foley said.

“The city should be able to fix these problems on their own with the state funding that’s available,” Foley said. “If they can’t then the state has a duty, an obligation to come in and help.”

Is this the tough love approach to education?

“I don’t see it as tough love. I see it as institutions that aren’t performing lose. Yeah, that’s kind of the way the private sector works and it ought to be the way the schools work.”

So some schools will close as a result of this and other schools will get more resources? “Yeah,” Foley said.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.