Legislature approves education reform bill
Hartford — A final version of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's education reform bill passed the state Senate in the predawn hours Tuesday and cleared the House by late evening.
The legislation reflects a compromise between the Malloy administration and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly.
The deal was announced at 10 p.m. Monday in a live televised address by the governor, but full details of what exactly made it in the bill weren't unveiled until after midnight.
The new bill contained many similarities to the initial proposal Malloy laid out in his February State of the State address, but also key differences.
It retained some of the bigger changes made to the governor's plan by the General Assembly's Education Committee.
"Everybody knew when the bill came out of committee that there was more work to do," said state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, the committee's co-chairman who remained an active participant in the bill-writing process. "I think we really filled in the blanks, and I think we filled it in with substance."
Also included in the bill are new early elementary reading skills initiatives championed by the legislature's Black and Latino Caucus.
"That is important, because if a kid is not reading by the end of third grade, he's lost," said state Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London.
The 185-page bill passed the Senate 28-7 in a 3:45 a.m. vote Tuesday. All southeast Connecticut senators present voted for it.
The House picked up the bill in mid-afternoon and at 9:33 p.m. members gave final approval with a 149-0 vote.
The state's two teachers' unions — the Connecticut Education Association and AFT Connecticut — had strongly opposed sections in Malloy's original bill concerning teacher tenure and a new turnaround program for low-performing schools.
They were pleased by the education committee's revisions, which untied a teacher's job certification from a new system of annual performance evaluations. But Malloy then threatened to veto the bill unless the evaluations were somehow tied to teachers' employment status.
The unions and the Malloy administration said they were pleased with the tenure provisions in the final bill.
"I think it's a good compromise bill," said Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut and a former teacher at Waterford's Clark Lane Middle School. "There's parts I like, parts I don't like, but we're ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
The new performance evaluations for teachers and administrators will be piloted in eight to 10 districts this fall before rolling out statewide in the 2013-14 school year. The evaluations will be linked to professional development, and underperformers would get teaching skills assistance. But teachers who fail to improve would lose their jobs.
Teachers currently gain tenure after working four years in the same district. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said that under the compromise bill, teachers must demonstrate "effective practice."
"The tenure policy of the state has now evolved so that there's a new standard for entry into tenure, which is effective practice — the first time that's ever been a matter of law," Pryor said. "We think these are historic changes that will benefit the teaching profession and the schools of our state."
On the money side, the bill calls for $100 million in new state funding for public schools, including the $50 million promised boost for municipalities' Education Cost Sharing grants in the fiscal year starting July 1. Malloy initially proposed $128 million.
The bill increases per-pupil funding for state charter schools, from the current $9,400 level to $10,500 for the 2012-13 school year; $11,000 for 2013-14; and $11,500 for 2014-15.
What else does the education reform bill do?
• Creates 1,000 new early childhood education slots in needy and low-performing districts, or double the number Malloy first proposed.
• Increases the annual state grant for each student attending an agricultural science and technology school, to $1,750 from $1,355.
• Designates 30 low-performing districts, including New London and Norwich schools, as “Alliance Districts” subject to conditional state funding for a five-year period. These districts would not receive any increase in state funding until they implement a plan for improvement.
• Tasks Pryor with creating an intensive reading instruction program to improve literacy for pupils in kindergarten through third grade. The state also must develop assessments to identify pupils who need reading help.
• Requires public schools to include at least 20 minutes of physical exercise in each school day for pupils in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.
•n Establishes a “Commissioner's Network” turnaround program for the 25 lowest performing districts. The reform plan for each school could include lengthening the school day or school year. In contrast to the governor's initial proposal, the program sets limits on the number of not-for-profit school management firms that could take over schools, and union contracts must remain intact during the turnaround process.
• Empowers Pryor to reconstitute local school boards in low-performing districts, suspending the electoral process.
• Begins a study into issues related to small school districts with enrollments under 1,000, including the potential benefits, or lack thereof, of consolidation.
• Creates a new measurement called “SPI” to gauge how schools perform on state mastery tests. Students would be divided into five groups: below basic, basic, proficient, goal and advanced, and schools would be divided into five ranked categories. The state could impose certain requirements on the low category schools, including plans for summer schools, tutors or a longer school year.
• Creates a new “distinguished educator” designation for teachers, requiring at least five years of teaching experience, a master's degree and adherence to performance requirements.
• Establishes a new teacher evaluation model with four levels: exemplary, proficient, developing and below standard.
• Adds a new funding incentive for large school districts to increase enrollment of out-of-district students under the Open Choice program.
• Requires at least 10 new “family resource centers” and 20 new or expanded school-based health clinics in the state's 30 lowest-performing districts.
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