Malloy, legislators forge 11th-hour deal on state education reform
Published 6:22 am, Tuesday, May 8, 2012
HARTFORD -- With the end of the legislative session two days away, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic leaders Monday night celebrated an education reform deal.
"I can say, with confidence, that this bill will allow us to begin fixing what is broken in our public schools," Malloy told a packed press conference in the Capitol's Old Judiciary room.
The event culminated a weekend of intense negotiations and a daylong effort to massage the language so it was ready for a vote.
The legislation was expected to be taken up by the Senate after midnight.
It must be passed by the House of Representatives before the session adjourns at midnight Wednesday.
The clearest sign the parties were scrambling to meet the tight deadline was when Malloy warned that the 100-plus-page bill -- unavailable at press time -- might contain some "human" errors to be fixed later.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk said afterward he and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield turned down invitations to appear with Malloy and Democrats because they had not seen the final language.
"I cannot stand side by side with the governor, pledge support to a bill I haven't seen," Cafero said.
Still, Malloy thanked Cafero and McKinney. Asked about their absence at the press conference, the governor said, "I think they want to see and pass judgment before appearing with us."
"The devil's always in the details," she said.
Malloy staked the success of his second year in office on sweeping education reforms to fix the state's failing schools and close Connecticut's achievement gap.
But almost immediately upon announcing his effort in early February he insulted teachers and their Democratic allies when he targeted teacher tenure. Malloy said to earn that job security, teachers simply show up for four years.
Subsequently the legislature's education and appropriations committees in March passed reform bills critics claimed were watered down, pro-union documents.
Malloy said he would not sign anything he did not consider to be real reform, and the sides began the haggling that resulted in Monday's deal.
Under the compromise reforms, ineffective teachers can be terminated. In the past, teachers could only be fired for incompetence, which critics said was too difficult to implement.
Termination hearings would be limited in length -- something Loftus Levine's union has been pushing for.
The new evaluation system will first piloted in eight to 10 school districts.
Sandra Kase, chief academic officer for the Bridgeport public school system, said Monday her district would be part of the pilot.
"This is something we wanted to be a part of," Kase said. "We have an opportunity to create something."
The evaluation system is expected to use a formula similar to one developed last winter and agreed to by the teacher's unions. It would take into account student performance.
The reform plan will also allow for the creation of an Education Commissioner's network to support 25 of the lowest-performing schools, but it does so over three years. Each of those schools will get a Turnaround Committee made up of parents, teachers and administrators that will submit a plan to the commissioner for improvement.
Loftus Levine said she was pleased with that collaborative approach.
Up to six of the 25 schools could be operated by non-profit school operators like charter schools.
Critics of the governor's original bill feared it was too focused on charter schools. The compromise increases charter school funding from $9,400 per pupil to $11,500 over the next three years. It also requires charter schools to submit plans to recruit and retain underserved student populations.
"Public charter school students will come closer to fair and equitable funding," Sharpe said. "And more students and families will have the opportunity to choose a charter school in their community."
Despite the differences Malloy had with legislative leaders over how the bill should approach the unions, he, Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn and House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, took time Monday night to congratulate each other.
Donovan in particular was viewed as an obstacle because his current campaign for the 5th Congressional District has been endorsed by the two major teachers' unions.
"I want to thank Gov. Malloy for putting education up front for this session," Donovan said Monday night.