Closing the achievement gap and raising overall student performance within tight budget constraints are among the top priorities the legislature's education committee set for itself Monday during its first meeting.
"We're going to have some very challenging times," said Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, the committee's vice chairman. "We are going to have to be very creative with how we finance our schools and do business."
Despite the looming $3.5 billion budget deficit, committee co-chairman Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said he opposes delaying the implementation of the high school reforms the legislature approved last year.
The reforms, which call for schools to increase course requirements in math, science and foreign language, among other changes, would not take effect until fall 2014. But many school systems want to begin planning and training teachers and staff in preparation for the changes. Fleischmann estimates the reforms will cost the state about $25 million.
"I'm hopeful we will have the dollars to allow us to move forward," Fleischmann said.
During the meeting, the 30 legislators on the committee each named their top priority. Along with closing the achievement gap and improving Connecticut's educational reputation overall, some said they would work to preserve state funding to towns, bolster help for English language learners and better coordinate early childhood education programs.
Fleischmann said he also expects Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration will introduce some "outside the box ideas" for the committee to tackle in coming months.
The committee outlined 18 concepts it may raise, including bills addressing magnet schools, charter schools, early education and the minimum budget requirement. Already several bills have been proposed that would strengthen laws to cover cyber-bullying in school, delay the in-school suspension requirement and preserve education cost-sharing grants at current funding levels.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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