Christine Stuart photo

The most recent public poll shows Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy doing better than his Republican challenger Tom Foley when it comes to education policy, but Malloy’s campaign wanted to further demonstrate his grasp of the issue.

Malloy held a press conference Thursday at Robert O’Brien STEM Academy in East Hartford to pan Foley’s plan to fix failing schools by allowing their students to go to another school in the district.

Foley explained Wednesday that he would offer in-district school choice and allow the money to follow those students to higher performing schools, which would receive more money than the underperforming schools.

Malloy, who was flanked by members of two teacher unions and Democratic lawmakers from East Hartford, said Foley had no understanding of what was happening with education policy in Connecticut.

“This is a guy who is totally disconnected from the discussion that’s going on on educational improvement,” Malloy said.

Foley said at a press conference last month he’s been involved with the education reform movement for more than 15 years.

But the lack of detail in Foley’s plan had Malloy curious about exactly what would happen under a Foley administration.

“Am I left to guess what he’s talking about?” Malloy asked reporters. 

Where will all the children go if all the seats are filled? Is he going to expand the capacity of schools? Did he tell you what the maximum size of an elementary school should be?

“I think when you make a policy pronouncement it would be helpful to know what the current policy is and he doesn’t,” Malloy said. “It would be good to know what you would do with students when you close a school and he hasn’t answered that.”

Malloy added that “If he’s going to threaten schools and parents and teachers and administrators in districts and communities with an A-F grade isn’t it incumbent upon him to supply some of that information? Honestly, folks you would hold me to that standard.” 

Malloy, who sounded at times as if he was scolding the media for not getting answers from the Foley campaign, said “you can’t treat a school like a factory. You don’t sell it. You don’t close it. You have an obligation to make it work and that may not be comfortable in a giveaway line or a simple phrase.”

Foley’s campaign did not respond to further questions Thursday about his education plan.

Asked Wednesday if in-district choice and the “money follows the child” approach was a tough love approach to education, Foley said “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.

Marcia Ferreira, president of the East Hartford Teachers Association, said the “money follows the child” concept has the potential to destroy schools, such as the Robert O’Brien STEM Academy where Malloy held his press conference Thursday.

“This funding scheme would upend school financing as we know it,” Ferreira said. “…Our school is not a business. It is not a factory that can be shut down and children are not workers that can just be laid off. Our schools need support and not punishment.”

Jeff Leake, vice president of the Connecticut Education Association, said Foley’s plan would take crucial dollars away from school boards and communities and place them “who knows where.”

“That is not a recipe for success. That’s a recipe for disaster,” Leake added.

The Connecticut Education Association has not endorsed a gubernatorial candidate yet this year, but AFT Connecticut has endorsed Malloy.