Legislature's biggest job left undone

As the state legislative session grinds toward its May 9th constitutional adjournment deadline, the initiative that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy set as the highest priority, approval of a major education reform package, appears imperiled. The failure to pass sweeping education reform would be the worst legislative defeat the Democratic-controlled legislature has handed the Democratic governor since his election in November 2010. But far more importantly, it would be an opportunity missed.

A coalition of business, civic, boards of education and education advocacy groups have coalesced behind the broad outlines of Gov. Malloy's initiative. There are no assurances the coalition will hold fast for another attempt during future legislative sessions. At the very least, precious time will be lost.

The Democratic leadership has balked at the unprecedented authority the administration seeks to aggressively intervene in the operation of struggling schools. The legislation Gov. Malloy wants passed would create the Commissioner Network, consisting of the state's lowest-performing schools, and provide the education commissioner the power to reassign personnel and make operational changes without renegotiating contracts or going through an arbitration process.

While the Democratic governor is ready to take on what is normally a strong political ally for the party - the teacher unions - the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are not so inclined to throw labor protections under the school bus to facilitate quick action by the administration.

The same ideological impasse is blocking the governor's call to tie teacher performance to tenure and compensation.

We again urge all parties to seek a compromise that will assure teachers protection from arbitrary and rash administrative actions, while giving superintendents greater ability to remove demonstratively under-performing teachers and the state the ability to intervene aggressively in struggling schools. The hardening rhetoric coming from Hartford, however, is making a deal appear less likely.

While the legislature continues to move along other important legislation, the public will not consider this session a success without approval of comprehensive education reform.

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Compromise has led to a minimum wage increase proposal that is far better than that first unveiled by House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan at the start of the session.

The bill passed by the House would raise the $8.25 state minimum wage by 25 cents in each of the next two years. Speaker Donovan had initially called for an increase to $9 this July and $9.75 a year later. Also gone is his call to automatically boost the minimum wage with increases in the consumer price index.

This newspaper opposed those initial proposals. Such a sudden and large increase in the minimum wage would have resulted in less hiring at a time when job creation must be a priority. It also would have weakened teen hiring, already an economic problem area. Connecticut's ability to compete for business with neighboring states, all with lower minimum rates, would have been adversely affected. Tying the minimum wage to the CPI would be inflationary and make it difficult for businesses to formulate business plans.

While we would just as soon have seen the rate left as is until the state economy shows consistent job growth, this is certainly a much improved bill as it moves to the Senate.

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In another half-a-loaf compromise, the Senate appears poised to finally approve Sunday liquor store sales. Unfortunately, gone are provisions that would have reduced price protections and encouraged consumer-friendly competition. Legislators from both parties appear intent on protecting the package store lobby. Maybe in another generation or two that may change.

Still, Sunday sales will generate more business and tax revenue as fewer consumers head across state lines on Sundays. It also would end mandated consumer inconvenience that had no rational basis. The Senate should approve the measure.

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