Education debate isn't over

The legislature's Education Committee dealt a serious but not fatal blow to the education reform effort by eliminating or watering down key elements of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's plan. The governor now faces the challenge of finding a path to achieve his major goals while providing cover for skittish lawmakers.

We are particularly disappointed that Sen. Andrea Stillman, the Democrat from Waterford and co-chair of the Education Committee, was unwilling to buck the two teacher unions. Gov. Malloy wanted to link teacher evaluations to achieving and maintaining tenure and in some degree to compensation. While leaders of the teacher unions had agreed to an evaluation system, they complained the governor's proposals linking it to tenure and pay lacked adequate protections.

Sen. Stillman, whose district includes New London and its struggling schools, tells us she had held out hope the governor and union leaders would reach a compromise that satisfied the governor's desire for greater accountability and the unions' concerns about assuring fairness. Failing that, and with a deadline to report out of committee, Sen. Stillman and co-chair Rep. Andrew Fleischmann opted for the common refuge of indecisive legislators - they called for a study.

The senator said she sees that as a placeholder, providing an opportunity for the governor to find compromise with the unions. But the committee has made the governor's task more difficult. Had the committee approved the bill with the evaluation/tenure provision intact, the teachers would have been motivated to compromise on the issue, but not now.

Yet the governor still has tools. His reforms are more popular among legislators from the state's large urban centers with their troubled schools. He will need those votes. And the governor has the veto and should not hesitate to use it if this empty shell of a reform plan reaches his desk.

The bill, approved 28-5 by the committee, also reduced the increase in funding Gov. Malloy proposed for the state's 17 charter schools. These schools are largely performing well and deserve funding level with traditional public schools, but teacher unions fear the competition they provide. The committee reduced from 25 to 10 the number of poorly performing schools that the commissioner of education could aggressively intervene in to get them turned around. It also removed the authority the commissioner sought to make major personnel changes in such schools.

There was some good. The substitute bill adds 1,000 poor children to preschool programs, up from the governor's plan of 500. And it better incorporates principals into the evaluation process. Many of the plan's elements survived, but unfortunately not the key ones.

A profile in courage this was not.

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