Last year, with the General Assembly's overwhelming support, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was able to enact the most meaningful education reform law our state has ever seen.
Now, the progress championed by Gov. Malloy and supported by legislators may be in jeopardy, a sacrificial lamb of dire economic times. The governor and legislature offered schools an unprecedented opportunity last year, when they created the Commissioner's Network, instituted the state's first-ever comprehensive system of teacher and principal evaluation and provided public charter schools substantial funding increases.
Each one of those reforms is a pillar of the legislation passed by an overwhelming majority of lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Malloy. Unfortunately, each one of these key reforms weathered severe cuts during last month's deficit mitigation plan.
The Commissioner's Network provides a rare opportunity to turn around the state's lowest-performing schools, institutions that have been failing year after year and educate tens of thousands of Connecticut's most vulnerable students. Four schools are currently part of the network, and the education reform law calls for adding up to 25 of Connecticut's most challenged schools to the network.
December's deficit mitigation plan cut one-third of the budget for the Commissioner's Network. Further cuts, or failure to fully fund and implement the Commissioner's Network, would be devastating to students who are stuck at those schools, for whom the Network offered real hope for a better education and, ultimately, a better future.
Hartford's Milner School, one of the four schools taking part in the Commissioner's Network, partnered with successful charter Jumoke Academy, to share support services and bring Jumoke's community-based model to Milner.
Under the new structure, Milner leaders were able to implement key changes, including extending the school year by 25 days, changing staffing and improving instruction and school culture — a plan that would not be possible without the Commissioner's Network.
In last year's education reform effort, Gov. Malloy and the legislature provided a per-pupil increase for charter schools, an important first step toward closing the disparities between how students at public schools of choice and traditional public schools are funded by the state. December's deficit mitigation slashed $2 million — $300 per pupil — from that increase in devastating mid-year cuts that forced many schools to make difficult decisions.
Times are tough and every program is on the chopping block, but schools of choice can take no more reductions, the results of which would be catastrophic for students who are thriving there.
A new system of teacher and principal evaluation, another cornerstone of last year's legislation, provided a way to identify and support the state's best teachers, while at the same time offering feedback, professional development and training for those educators who need it, and a swift process for removal of educators who consistently fail to improve.
That performance evaluation framework — a foundational reform — took a big hit during December's deficit mitigation, with a cut of up to $1 million. Further cuts or efforts to scale back this program will severely limit our statewide efforts to ensure great teachers and school leaders for every child.
Protecting these key education reforms is essential if Connecticut lawmakers are serious about the future of our education: nothing less than our children's future is at stake, as well as the legacy of Gov. Malloy, the legislature and Connecticut.
State leaders, Gov. Malloy and the legislators were viewed as heroes last year when supporting education reform legislation.
With the release of his budget last week, Gov. Malloy proved that he is willing to protect the progress made with last year's landmark education law aimed at closing our worst-in-the-nation achievement gap and moving Connecticut toward a future where every child has access to a quality public education.
Now, legislators will make tough decisions regarding the state budget. We urge them to remember the promises they made to our children with last year's school legislation. If we are serious about investing in our children, we cannot afford to dial back our efforts to ensure a high-quality public education for every child. Our students are counting on us.
Jennifer Alexander is the acting CEO for the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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