By KATHLEEN MEGAN on April 22, 2013

Advocates for education reform say the budget put forward by the General Assembly’s appropriations committee last week slashes key elements of the state’s school improvement efforts.

“These cuts decimate essential reforms our kids need to be prepared for 21st century jobs,” said Jennifer Alexander, acting chief executive for the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCAN.

When legislators passed education reform law last year, Alexander said, “They made promises to the kids of Connecticut for access to great teachers and principals and great schools. The budget out of appropriations breaks those promises.

Rae Ann Knopf, executive director for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, said the appropriations committee’s proposal would be “a serious setback. … We worked really hard last year. We passed these reforms. … They need continued funding.”

The advocates point to key areas in the committee’s proposal that chop funding for turning around failing schools, for the establishment of new public charter schools, and for a statewide teacher and principal evaluation program.

The proposal would cut more than $10 million over the next two years in the budget for the “commissioner’s network” of failing schools — schools targeted for turnaround. Currently, the network has four schools. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy planned to add 17 schools over the next two years; the appropriation’s proposal cuts the number of additional schools to eight.

The appropriation’s budget would also cut funding for new charter schools by more than $10 million over the next two years. Malloy had intended to fund four state charters and five local charters over the next two years; the appropriations proposal eliminates funding for state charter schools.

The appropriation’s proposal would also chop funding for “talent development” in education by 73 percent, or more than $26 million, over the next two years. Included in the talent development line item are funds for the state’s teacher and principal evaluation program which is slated to be rolled out statewide in the fall.

“This slashes the funding necessary to implement the statewide teacher and principal evaluation program,” Alexander said. She said the program was designed to “make sure teachers get the support and feedback they need.”

Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford and co-chairman of the legislature’s education committee and co-chairman of appropriations’ subcommittee on education, said he is supporting “this initial budget put forward, but I am hopeful the final budget will include more dollars for key education reform initiatives.”

Over the next few weeks, legislative and administration leaders will convene to hammer out the final form of the budget before it is delivered to the General Assembly for a vote.

“It’s my sense right now, that it’s still in progress,” Knopf said of the budget. Knopf said she is hopeful that legislators will fashion a budget that better supports education.

“But there is risk that that won’t happen,” said Knopf. “It’s our job to make sure people stay focused on that.”

In a statement released last week, Malloy’s budget director, Ben Barnes said “the need to continue key bipartisan education reforms” is one of the “problems” that will need to be addressed in the appropriation’s proposal.

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