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Connecticut Starting Over In School Funding Race To The Top


March 05, 2010

An unlikely group of bedfellows, including teachers union leaders, legislators and charter school advocates, said Thursday that they'll work together in the next few months to improve Connecticut's chances to succeed in the second round of funding under the federal Race to the Top grant competition.

The announcement, made at the Legislative Office Building, came just two hours after the Obama administration said it had rejected the state's application for $192 million in the competition for federal school-reform stimulus money.

The government selected 16 finalists including Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island from 41 applications. That group will be winnowed to about five winners.

State Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D- Meriden, said he and state Rep. Andrew M. Fleischmann, D- West Hartford, invited leaders from the state's major education organizations to a series of "summits" to seek common ground on education reform.

"Everyone's ideas and initiatives will be on the table," said Gaffey, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee.

John Yrchik, executive director the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said he was pleased to be invited.

"This is the first time this group of educational leaders has been brought together at the same time in the same room on issues on which there is not uniform agreement," Yrchik said.

The new group also brought in Alex Johnston, the outspoken head of a charter school advocacy group called ConnCAN. Johnston, who had criticized the state's application as weak, was conciliatory Thursday.

"It's far better to have tried and come up short in round one than be starting from scratch right now," Johnston said.

Missing from those invited to the education summit was Gov. M. Jodi Rell, whom Gaffey and Fleischmann criticized for not being more involved in the application process. Rell said she was not invited to Thursday's announcement, but sent her chief legal counsel to show her administration's commitment to the application.

State education officials said they were disappointed but not surprised that they didn't win the money and vowed to streamline and improve the state's application and resubmit it for the second round deadline of June 1.

"The real stakeholders here are the children of Connecticut, and we're going to do everything possible to improve student learning and achievement in Connecticut and obtain those federal dollars," Gaffey said.

State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said many of the finalists already have adopted some of the reforms the Obama administration is requiring, such as increasing enrollment at charter schools and linking teacher pay to student performance.

Massachusetts, for example, has been working since 1993 to implement reforms. McQuillan also said the competition did not reward some of Connecticut's initiatives, such as preschool education and high school reform.

Observers said Connecticut will have a better shot in the second round. By then, legislators hope to have passed several bills to lift enrollment caps on charter schools and open up alternative routes to certification for school principals to better align with the competition's goals.

Connecticut will get a critique of its application from the government by mid-April and will use that to improve its next application.

The states chosen are: Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. The District of Columbia is the other finalist.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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