Phil Tegeler: The “Year of Education” and Sheff
Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy entered this past Legislative Session with an ambitious education reform agenda. It was designed in part to give Connecticut an edge in competitive funding applications to the U.S. Department of Education, and also to help qualify Connecticut for a “waiver” of certain requirements of the federal “No Child Left Behind” law. The Sheff Movement coalition was generally supportive of the governor’s proposals, because they provided additional funding and support for poor districts and early childhood education. However, we raised concerns from the beginning of the session that incentives and requirements for school integration were missing from the bill (see the 2012 “Sheff Movement legislative agenda” – www.sheffmovement.org.
By the end of the Session, some parts of the original bill had been watered down by the legislature, but several key elements remained in the final version of Senate Bill 24 that was signed by the Governor in early May. Some of the most important provisions of the final bill included:
- allocation of 1,000 new preschool slots for low income children in the “school readiness program”;
- implementation of a new process to permit the state to intervene in failing schools, by establishing a “Commissioner’s Network” of schools to receive special funding and support, with community and parent advisory groups to guide the school turnaround process at individual schools;
- introduction of a pilot program to enhance literacy for young students;
- establishment of new evaluations for teachers to increase accountability and make the process for obtaining tenure more rigorous; and
- allocation of a majority of new ECS funding to 30 of the lowest-performing districts in the state. The bill was accompanied by approval of an additional $25 million in state general obligation bonds for capital investments in “high-quality school models” and $16 million in bonds targeted to low-performing schools in targeted local and regional school districts.
Although there was little in the bill to directly support school integration, regional magnet schools are prominently identified as one of the models that can be used for “turnaround schools,” and the charter school provisions of the bill leave in place diversity requirements for new charter schools (though they do not strengthen the requirements for diversity when existing charter schools expand).
Overall, we are pleased that the Governor’s budget continues to support the expansion of Sheff programs in the Hartford region. We are also hopeful that over time, the Governor and State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will see the benefits of combining the proven education benefits of school integration with other aspects of the statewide school reform agenda. We hope to start this discussion again in the next Legislative Session.