Connecticut Legislators Cave to Teacher Unions on Education Reform

Connecticut Legislators Cave to Teacher Unions on Education Reform

Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-Working Families Party) of Connecticut, the state with the largest achievement gap in the nation, made it clear that a primary focus of his agenda this year would be to fix what is broken with Connecticut’s public schools.

The governor’s Education Reform proposals included teacher tenure reform, linking tenure to student performance and teacher evaluations for both new and already tenured teachers, and a $2600 per student increase for students in charter schools.

Mr. Malloy’s bill would have allowed the State Education Commissioner and State Board of Education to assume responsibility for about 25 of Connecticut’s lowest performing schools. His plan also would have forced small school districts with expensive per pupil costs to cut spending or lose state funding.

However, on Monday the state legislature’s Education Committee stripped the governor’s bill of much of what was offensive to teacher unions and deemed too drastic and controversial by the Democrat-controlled committee. The bill will now be sent to the Appropriations Committee.

Prior to the Education Committee’s vote, a spokesperson for Gov. Malloy did not seem overly concerned about the removal of key proposals from the governor’s education reform plan. “The bill the Education Committee appears set to approve represents just one step in the legislative process. Gov. Malloy has made it clear that he’s determined to begin fixing what’s broken in our public schools, no matter how long it takes,” he said.

The problem is it sounds like it’s going to take forever. The Education Committee’s rewrite of the governor’s bill sends his teacher tenure reforms and plans to allow the Education Commissioner and State Board of Education to take over the lowest performing schools off to “study” committees which will have until next year to reach their conclusions. In addition, his $2600 per pupil increase for charter school students is reduced to $1100.

The legislative committee went further in changing the governor’s proposal. It relegated the mandatory cutting of spending in expensive school districts to another study and permitted local school districts to include the standardized test scores of local charter school students in their reports of test scores and graduation rates.

The fact that the Education Committee’s rewrite of the governor’s plan was finalized Monday evening after an all-day, closed-door caucus that included union leaders and top level members of the Democratic-led legislature caused Republican lawmakers to insist that the process was undermined.

“What we’re seeing is substitute language here that appears to be significantly different from the bill that the governor had proposed, and, quite frankly, we are very troubled by the process,” State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said.

The question that cannot be ignored is whether Gov. Malloy’s stated education reforms were serious efforts on his part to improve education or “for show” proposals to help boost his image. This is a governor whom public state employee unions and the Democratic-led legislature thought to be the dream of a lifetime, and, in fact, Gov. Malloy did not disappoint them when he gave, to taxpayers, the largest tax increase in the history of the state and, to unions, a sweetheart of a concessions package. Of his cozy relationship with the state’s unions, the governor said, “The reality is in many ways, I won this election because of you…And I’m proud of that.”

His spokesperson’s nonchalant acceptance of the almost total gutting of the governor’s bill may speak volumes.

Another view is that Gov. Malloy believes he can now “cash in” on the concession “gifts” he gave to union leaders in the past, using his positive relationship with them as leverage to get his education reforms passed. If that is the case, it doesn’t look like the unions are buying into his strategy.