Come Nov. 4, there will be a lot people holding their noses in Connecticut. And it won’t be because of the onset of cold and flu season. The two major-party candidates for governor aren’t exactly the most likeable people in the world, but perhaps their enemies in the education establishment are willing to make amends to thwart an even greater nemesis — the other guy.
The state’s largest teachers union, the Connecticut Education Association, is slated to announce its endorsement late today, Friday, Sept. 26, when the union board will vote on whether it wants to give its nod to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy or one of his challengers, Republican Tom Foley or petitioning candidate Joe Visconti. The state’s smaller teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed Malloy back in June.
As a large and powerful labor union, the CEA has been keeping careful track of the candidates’ positions on education issues to see whether they comport with the CEA’s agenda. Unfortunately, we can’t see precisely what that agenda is because that page on the CEA’s website is restricted to members only.
But, based on its past legislative victories, I think we have a pretty good idea what the CEA wants to accomplish: more money to hire more workers, resistance to meaningful reform in the way workers are evaluated and better conditions for workers. In other words, pretty much what every labor union tries to deliver for its membership.
The CEA held a forum with the three candidates Sept. 13 at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford but, like the agenda on the CEA website, the event was a members-only affair. So we are left to wonder what kinds of questions they asked. Fortunately, former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto, a staunch CEA ally who tried and failed over the summer to become a petitioning gubernatorial candidate, has put together a helpful list of suggested questions for Malloy on his blog.
Malloy, whom he brands “the most anti-teacher Democratic governor in the country,” would be subject to a withering set of queries if Pelto had his way. Malloy, you may recall, disparaged the teaching profession in 2012 when, in a budget address to the General Assembly, he foolishly asserted that, “Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.” Then the governor introduced legislation — later watered down under pressure from the CEA and others — that would have partially tied teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests.
These are sore subjects for educators. Pelto, who insists Malloy proposed to eliminate tenure and end collective bargaining for teachers in failing schools, would have demanded that the governor clarify his position on those subjects.
And I’m sure the union also wants answers to questions about the Common Core, the Race to the Top, and the fairness of the state’s Educational Cost Sharing grant program. And you can bet that Malloy did his level best to kiss and make up to the teachers whose support is crucial to his re-election campaign.
One of the union’s favorite whipping boys, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, is resigning at the end of this year. That was a smart move by Malloy because it removes a lightning rod for criticism. But it also raises the question, foremost on the minds of the CEA bosses who will vote Friday night, of who will replace Pryor.
A controversial commissioner like Pryor who comes from outside the system, or someone who rose through the ranks as a teacher and has been a fixture in Connecticut’s educational establishment? Bet on the latter with an announcement coming in advance of the election. It’s a safer move for a governor who needs to mend fences with educators.
As for Foley, he has done his best to say as little about education as he can get away with. His website is full of bromides about “fixing our underperforming schools,” “providing more support for teachers” and — beyond in-district school choice and an A-F grading system for schools — he offers almost nothing in the way of specifics.
But that hasn’t stopped legislative Democrats from criticizing Foley’s education platform.
“Five bullet points — that’s a postcard. That’s not a plan,” said Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee.
My guess is Foley is banking on the likelihood that education will not be first and foremost on voters minds — not with a sluggish economy anyway. And maybe those teachers despise Malloy so much that they’d be willing to go with the devil they don’t know. After all, Foley wants to “support teachers.” Who could possibly object to that?
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