It's been a busy few weeks for Connecticut, culminating in Governor Dannel Malloy's signing of the comprehensive education reform law earlier today. The signing ceremony took place at the state's Capitol building where the Governor was surrounded by legislators from both sides of the aisle who worked together to hammer out the compromise bill which will raise education funding in the state by over $100 million.
The law's provisions also include a new plan to turnaround failing school districts and a new tougher teacher evaluation system which will allow districts to link tenure decision to teacher performance. Although the Governor, who made education reform one of the primary goals of his administration, didn't get everything he asked for in the original proposal he submitted to the legislature, during the signing, he called the final law "meaningful." Whatever its impact, even getting it in front of Malloy's pen should count as an achievement of sorts, as the negotiations process to reconcile the views of both parties and the Governor was difficult, long and often fraught.
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.
Some of the provisions from the Malloy's original version that didn't make the cut were the new increased powers for his appointed education commissioner to deal with underperforming schools and unsatisfactory teachers. Instead, these decisions will be spread among the members of the newly-created Commissioner's Network which will take charge of turnaround plans for the 25 schools in the state currently considered chronically underperforming. The Network will also be in charge of putting together an evaluation system for administrators and principals, who, along with the teachers, will be assessed on an annual basis going forward.
The co-chairs of the education committee, Sen. Andrea Stillman, (D) Waterford, and Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, (D) West Hartford, came up with a bill legislative leaders used as a basis for negotiation with Malloy's assistants. What emerged gave the governor enough that he could stand alongside the legislators and declare victory.
"We will not fix what's broken overnight. We can't," Malloy said. "But with tonight's activity, we begin."
Stillman also spoke at the signing ceremony, expressing her pride in the final bill and the effort put in by lawmakers to get it passed before the legislature recessed for the year. The last three months of this year's session were designated by Malloy for the debate on the education bill, and he said he expected to see a version on his desk before the state lawmakers left town. The final vote on the bill took place only last Tuesday.
The timing couldn't have been tighter, as the legislative session is scheduled to conclude tomorrow.