HARTFORD, CT – The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), a non-profit organization representing business and civic leaders, outlined its legislative priorities today. CCER’s mission is to represent the business and civic voice for comprehensive reform efforts to close the achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all students in Connecticut.

“Today we are outlining our priorities for real education reform,” said Steve J. Simmons, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of CCER. “These are measures that have worked in other states and are critical to our ability to raise overall student performance and close the achievement gap.”

“If we want businesses to thrive in this state, and consider locating here, we must make sure we have a well-educated workforce. That’s why this group of business and civic leaders has come together to support the education reform movement that is catching fire in Connecticut and will be a focus of the upcoming legislative session.”

The 2012 Legislative Session convenes on Wednesday, February 8. Governor Dannel P. Malloy has indicated that he will propose legislation that is “potent enough to make Connecticut a national leader in narrowing the achievement gap, and comprehensive enough to set the stage for a restoration of Connecticut as a model for creating academic excellence for all.”

CCER’s priorities for the 2012 legislative session include:

  • Teacher and leader employment and retention policies that attract the highest quality professionals and insist upon effectiveness as defined by their ability to demonstrate improvement in student performance, not seniority, as the measure of success defined by redesigned evaluation systems.
  • A system of high-quality academic interventions for every K-12 student who is behind in reading and math, which may include summer school or extended learning time, and a high school graduation assessment to ensure that a high school diploma reflects levels of competence.
  • A state strategy for addressing turnaround schools and districts, which includes specific recommendations for increasing authority, accountability, parental choice and funding that follows the child.
  • A chart of common accounts for accountability of state funds to determine the effective use of funds to improve student performance.
  • A multi-year phase-in process to provide sufficient funding for all low-income three and four year olds to attend a high-quality preschool program.

CCER’s new Executive Director, Rae Ann Knopf, was introduced to the statewide community. A former Deputy Commissioner of Education for the State of Vermont, she joins CCER with extensive experience leading education reform efforts.

During her remarks, Knopf announced that First Niagara Bank has pledged $3 million to support CCER’s education reform initiatives in Connecticut. Following its entry into the Connecticut market in April 2011, First Niagara has established itself as a strong supporter of non-profit groups, business organizations and educational institutions and initiatives in the state.

“In New England, and in every market we serve, First Niagara is committed to supporting organizations that empower local leaders to make a difference in their community, specifically in the areas of mentoring and education,” said Elizabeth Gurney, Executive Director of the First Niagara Foundation. “We are thrilled to announce our support for CCER and look forward to working with everyone here today to improve student outcomes in the State of Connecticut.”

Knopf also introduced the 5 newest members of CCER’s board, which represent various sectors of Connecticut’s business and civic community:

  • Marna Borgstrom, President and CEO of Yale-New Haven Hospital
  • John J. Crawford, President of Strategem, LLC and Lead Independent Director of Webster Financial Group
  • Richard C. Levin, President of Yale University
  • Brian MacLean, President and Chief Operating Office of Travelers
  • James P. Torgerson, President and Chief Executive Officer of The United Illuminating Company

About First Niagara

First Niagara, through its wholly owned subsidiary, First Niagara Bank, N.A., is a multi-state community-oriented bank that currently has $31 billion in assets, $19 billion in deposits, 330 branches and 5,000 employees providing financial services to individuals, families and businesses across Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. For more information, visit www.fnfg.com.