There is no doubt the largest Connecticut’s largest teachers union wields considerable influence in the General Assembly. In fact, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) has a number of “yes” legislators deeply in its pocket. With that kind of sway, the union is pressuring lawmakers to override Gov. Dannel Malloy’s courageous veto of a bill that would dictate to him and future governors exactly what qualifications an education commissioner must have. It’s a noxious power play by the union, one that should be resisted in the name of diversity, executive independence and good government.
Malloy’s tenuous relationship with education labor is due in large part to his refusal to knuckle under to the union’s wishes, most notably with respect to charter schools. The CEA had major problems with Malloy’s former commissioner Stephon Pryor, a charter school advocate who had the audacity to put the kids first. The CEA was simply doing its job—safeguarding the status quo for teachers including the antiquated seniority rules and methods of teacher evaluation.
(Malloy ended up extending a peace offering of sorts to labor when Pryor announced in August of last year that he would not seek another term. The governor clearly didn’t want any unnecessary animosity between the teacher unions and himself before the upcoming election.)
It’s against this backdrop that the CEA pushed through a bill spelling out what qualifications any education commissioner must have. It’s an assault on a governor’s prerogative to choose who he wants as his top education person. In practical terms, it ties a governor’s hands should he want to name someone who would represent more diversity.
It’s a classic standoff: The CEA has the teachers as its top priority. Malloy has the kids’ interests in mind. Who should prevail? That’s for everyone to decide for themselves but the CEA’s power play to dictate the commissioner’s background and experience is out of bounds.
There’s no doubt it will take some political backbone on the part of legislators—particularly Democrats—to do the right thing here. Yes, unions provide major funding and foot soldiers come election season. Hence, its remarkable influence. But at the end of the day, that shouldn’t win out over what’s best for education in the state.
If the unions—or anyone else—objects to a governor’s selection, they are free to voice their concerns during the confirmation process. That’s exactly what the process is for, to vet a nominee’s qualifications and fitness for the position. But that process is not good enough for the CEA. It wants to set the terms, their terms, ahead of time.
The legislature needs to find some political courage to sustain the governor’s veto.