Compromise CT Ed Reform Bill Passes Senate and House

After a extended period of continuous rewriting, partisan bickering, teacher rallies, and hectoring by the Governor, the Connecticut Senate has voted to approve the education reform bill roughly based on the proposal offered up by Governor Dannel Malloy. The bill, now known as Senate Bill 458, and formerly referred to as SB 24, has also been approved by the State House. It will now head to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

The proposal had a rocky path through the legislature after being first unveiled by the Governor last year. Malloy designated the last three months of this legislative session exclusively to the education reform effort and after several rounds of negotiation, some contentious portions of the bill, such as extensive reform of tenure and curtailment of collective bargaining rights for teachers, were either eliminated or extensively watered down. The compromise bill eventually passed the Senate and was subsequently approved by a unanimous vote in the House.

Both sides of the education debate can take away a sense of victory from the bill’s final form. Charter school advocates will see a substantial funding increase for charter schools and other programs favored by supporters of school choice. The per-student grant to charter schools is set to increase to $11,500 for the 2014-15 school year from $9,400 currently. The bill will also expand the early childhood programs to create an additional 1,000 slots specifically for kids from low-income families.

Although tenure wasn’t completely eliminated, the new evaluation system, which will take into account test scores, effectiveness, and a yearly assessment by the district, will cover all teachers when it will go live next year. The evaluations produced by the new system will become a component in tenure decisions, and could also be used by districts as a basis on which to terminate underperforming educators.

The state will now play a prominent role in the turnaround of failing schools via the new Commissioner’s Network.

The state’s education commissioner, along with turnaround committees and local and regional boards of education must take specific steps improve student academic achievement in these schools. Steps include developing a turnaround plan and limiting any privatized management to non-profit private entities. Schools must remain in the network for 3-to-5 years.

Although Governor Malloy was pleased by the passage and said that a unanimous House vote proved that even legislators on the opposite sides could come together in good faith compromise “on issues of tremendous importance,” the road to the compromise was exceptionally rough. In a big setback to Malloy, the extensive changes to the tenure system in the original proposal were deferred for at least a year by the Senate’s education committee. The teachers union organized a call-in campaign by encouraging union members to phone legislators to express their points of view on the reform legislation. Later, a union protest was held in front of the State Capitol Building, which wasn’t attended by Malloy but where three legislators spoke on their opposition to SB24.

In particular, the teachers were protesting the provision that would tie their evaluations to tenure, salary and even teaching recertification, employing Malloy’s frequently used “let’s be clear,” to make their point that such measures will not help improve students’ academic outcomes.