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Say this for Gov. Dannel Malloy, love his policies or hate them, he has largely gotten what he wants in his first year and a half in office. He pushed through the largest tax increase in state history after inheriting a $3 billion-plus disaster of a state budget; he was able to wring desperately needed concessions out of the state employee unions (after first failing); he instituted the “First Five” job-creation program; and won hard-fought approval for the Jackson Labs economic development project.. However, when it comes to meaningful education reform in Connecticut, the governor may very well have met his match in the teachers’ unions and their obsequious legislators who are waiting to respond, “How high?” to the unions’ “Jump!”
Malloy should veto anything short of significant reform. The governor himself has said now is a unique opportunity to bring about important change. What came out of the educational committee is a shell of a bill designed to permit legislators and the unions to claim they “voted for education reform” when in fact, they will have done nothing of the sort.
The ironic thing about the education reform battle is that most legislators care far more about the interests of the teachers than they do of the children. The achievement gap in Connecticut is embarrassing and the only way to address it is bold reforms, not the “nibble around the edges” approach currently being considered.
Yes, The Shad is off the reservation on this one. Nearly all the lawmakers I worked closely with in the state legislature have no appetite to take on the monolithic teachers’ lobby and its far-left, supposed “citizens’” action group accomplices. One thing and one thing only should guide public policy as it pertains to education in Connecticut—the achievement of all students in every public school in the state. The governor at least has his priorities straight. But he is up against an unmovable force in those who want to maintain the status quo as much as possible. Sometimes legislators have to do the right thing instead of doing the expedient thing in an election year.
The governor didn’t do himself any favors when rolling out his reform proposal. He was slapping the teachers around before anyone had a chance to even read his plan. “[I]n today’s system, basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.” Not exactly a page out of Dale Carnegie. Dissing the teachers out of the gate only distracts from the task at hand. Those initial comments were a major tactical mistake. However, we need to get past the arrogance that sometimes raises its ugly head in this administration and keep our eyes on the ball.
The students that would benefit most from Malloy’s plan are those stuck in failing schools. Recently, the Black and Puerto Rican caucus came out closer to Malloy’s bill than the joke of a bill the Education Committee passed out.
Anytime there is a controversial reform effort, there will be widespread misinformation or worse, purposeful disinformation. Patrick Riccards, chief executive office of the reform group ConnCAN, has been refreshingly blunt on the effort to kill reform. “The teachers unions are spreading lies about the Commissioner’s Network, saying that these schools would ban collective bargaining and could be run by for-profit companies – both of which are patently false” Riccards wrote. “They are undertaking a massive effort to prevent the Commissioner’s Network from moving forward. There are thousands of students stuck in failing schools right now, and it’s up to the legislature to ensure that our state and school leaders have the means and the flexibility to transform these schools.”
Indeed, the teachers unions are pulling out all the stops to protect in their efforts to protect themselves from accountability.
Most disappointing are the legislators who refuse to stand up to the unions to the detriment of the students trapped in failing schools. One would think it would be the Democrats who would go to the wall to help minority students in urban schools. In the case of education reform, Democratic lawmakers’ instinct is to not rock the union vote in an election year. My former boss, Senate President Don Williams said last week that he was concerned the governor’s bill or anything close to it would “enrich private vendors.” It might. But The Shad doesn’t care if someone makes money. I care about simply lifting students out of pathetic, failing schools.
In full disclosure, The Shad has no tadpoles in Connecticut public schools. However, even people who don’t have children have a vested interested in a well-educated, well-prepared workforce. The gutted education reform bill will not produce such a work force.