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Connecticut Passes Ed. Package: Bloop Single or Home Run?

UPDATED

A few days ago I told you about how public opinion was not on Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's side when it came to education issues. Now that Connecticut legislators have cast their final votes about Malloy's sweeping education proposals, it looks as though the Democratic governor won some changes to public schools, but lost other controversial battles with teachers unions.

Per the Associated Press, Malloy can count as victories new annual performance evaluations for principals and teachers, requirements that teacher tenure be linked to "effectiveness," additional charter schools, and more funding for magnet and struggling schools. Former District of Columbia schools chief Michelle Rhee called these new laws a "meaningful first step" to improving the state's education system.

In a May 8 statement on his website, Malloy said, "Once again, against the backdrop of Washington, D.C.—a place paralyzed by partisan bickering—Democrats and Republicans in Connecticut have come together to take on an issue of tremendous importance."

But the Connecticut Education Association trumpeted its success in batting aside other proposals from Malloy that would have negated existing union contracts and allowed for greater privatization of schools. "We're really the only state that has stopped this. I don't know of anybody who has stopped this. It's amazing, it really is," said CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine. Malloy had faced intense and very public opposition from unions on major pieces of his education initiative.

It's interesting that Malloy took a whack at Washington in his press release, since Connecticut is one of 26 states seeking a waiver from provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act. Opinion was split on whether that waiver application would be asphyxiated if Malloy's legislation did not pass. Malloy's office argued, naturally enough, that the waiver would be jeopardized if the governor's proposals fell flat. The legislative package lawmakers passed would satisfy in part some of the concerns the U.S. Department of Education expressed in its correspondence with Connecticut about the state's waiver proposal.

Perhaps the surest sign that Malloy's victory was only a partial one was Rhee's promise that her advocacy organization, StudentsFirst (which spent about $800,000 in the state on advertising and lobbying to support Malloy's proposals), will be back.

UPDATE

In an interview, Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said he believed the approved legislation has put to rest the concerns expressed by Washington officials with the state's NCLB waiver application.

"I believe that each point has been satisfied," he said.

Pryor argued that because of the vigorous public discussions surrounding Malloy's proposals, "in certain ways this is in fact a better bill" and that legislators and others involved "helped to polish those rough edges." He said despite comments from the teachers unions that they had helped defeat Malloy's controversial initiatives that would have reduced their influence, "The core components of the governor's bill were realized in the final legislation."

Pryor chose to highlight the "Commissioner's Network" that would provide intense support and oversight of 25 low-performing schools in the state, as well as the 1,000 new slots for children from low-income backgrounds in early-childhood education programs.

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