By Kathleen Megan

Published by Courant.com, March 26, 2012

Substitute Measure Kept Evolving; It Delays Tenure Reform, Provides Less Money For Charter Schools, But More Pre-School Slots

In a 28-5 bipartisan vote, the state Education Committee approved a substitute education reform bill Monday evening that significantly changes Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal — delaying any tenure reform until next year, decreasing funding for charter schools and curtailing implementation of a commissioner’s network to turn around low-performing schools.

Rae Ann Knopf, executive director of the Council for Education Reform, said the bill in its revised form is “significantly watered-down… I think we have concerns about whether … what’s in there now would actually have an effect on education for children.”

The substitute bill alters or delays aspects of Malloy’s bill that were most opposed by the teachers’ unions, including a provision that would have linked a new teacher evaluation system to tenure, certification and dismissal. The new bill calls for a study of the evaluation system and asks the commissioner of education to report back on how it’s working in January 2013.

The only aspect of the substitute bill that seems to broaden the reach of Malloy’s bill is the increase in the number of slots for pre-school for children whose families can’t afford it — from 500 to 1,000.

The committee’s co-chairs — Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, and Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford — put the revised bill together over the weekend in a meeting that included representatives of the state’s two teachers’ unions and state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.

The Democratic members of the committee met in caucus for about five hours Monday afternoon before starting the meeting and opening it to the Republican members and the public.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, noting that members on her side of the aisle had not been involved in the negotiations on the revised bill, said that “some of us” consider the revised bill “watered-down” and “stripped of almost all of the governor’s” major reform proposals.

“To say that many of us are extremely disappointed would be an understatement,” Boucher said. She said the education reform effort “seems to be on life support.”

Fleischmann responded: “We do view this bill as groundbreaking and bold.” He mentioned that the substitute bill would increase the number of poor children with access to pre-school and that it would move forward on the new evaluation process of teachers and administrators.

Fleischmann said the substitute bill also would make it easier to dismiss teachers, by replacing the current dismissal standard of “incompetent” with “ineffective.” He also said 10 low-performing schools would be included in an initial commissioner’s network in the fall — a change in the bill made during the day on Monday.

Fast-Changing Target

Some lawmakers’ views of the alternative measure evolved over the day as well. Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, the committee’s vice chairman, said that earlier in the day he opposed the measure but he later decided to support it.

“It’s a beginning,” McCrory said, cautioning that he might not support the final legislation if it did not go far enough to improve educational opportunities for children. “A lot more work needs to be done.”

Boucher opposed the substitute bill but said that, like McCrory, she hoped a reform bill would be passed this session.

“The bill that is before us this evening is better than the bill that was before us this morning,” Fleischmann said.

Early Monday afternoon, while the members of the education committee were reviewing the proposed revisions to the governor’s bill, Fleischmann said: “I would have been thrilled if in the wee hours of Sunday morning we had an agreement that covered all of the areas that had been under discussion… That said, I feel we have a strong bill before us today that takes the best elements that came out of those discussions and incorporates them into the legislation.”

State House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk and Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield held an impromptu press conference after Fleischmann spoke to reporters. They criticized the changes in the bill and the process used to make them.

“We had two members of the legislature, Democratic co-chairmen, in closed-door meetings with lobbyists and special interest groups,” McKinney said. He said they “locked out their own members, locked out Republicanscompletely from the process.”

McKinney said he is disappointed that education seems to have become a partisan issue. “It’s not been partisan before,” he said.

He was critical of the calls for studies and delays on linking teacher evaluation to tenure and on establishing a commissioner’s network to intervene in and improve the state’s lowest-performing schools.

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