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Education Reform Gets Passed By Senate At 3:45 A.M.

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Governor Dannel Malloy (Courtesy CT-N)

Governor Dannel Malloy (Courtesy CT-N)

By SUSAN HAIGH and SHANNON YOUNG
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut senators on Tuesday morning approved a series of education proposal championed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who just hours earlier had announced an agreement with legislative leaders on plans for changes that include helping low-performing schools and culling ineffective teachers from the classroom.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 28-7 along party lines at about 3:45 a.m. after hours of debate. The plan now moves to the House as lawmakers face a mandated adjournment at midnight Wednesday.

Malloy, a Democrat, announced the compromise late Monday at the state Capitol after weeks of closed-door talks with legislators and months of town hall meetings he held across the state, where Malloy was sometimes at odds with angry teachers.

“I can say with confidence that this bill will allow us to begin fixing what is broken in our public education system,” Malloy told the crowd. “This is a big issue, maybe the biggest that we have tackled, because it involves our children.”

Malloy and the lawmakers said they believe the bill puts Connecticut on a path toward fixing what’s broken in a state with one of the nation’s worst achievement gaps between rich and poor students. It includes about $100 million in new funding _ money that’s included in a budget agreement that was also released Monday. Of those funds, $50 million would be added to the state’s largest education grant, and $39.5 million of that sum would be channeled to the 30 lowest-performing districts in the state.

The bill would create a Commissioner’s Network allowing the state to “provide intensive supports and interventions” needed to turn around 25 low-performing schools over the next three years. It allows each school to create a new committee of teachers, parents and administrators to come up with plans to turn around their schools. Those will be considered by the state education commissioner.

The commissioner will have the authority to develop or modify those plans. Teachers unions had complained that Malloy’s original bill did not provide them with enough input into fixing their schools.

“There were a lot of us who worked very hard to produce a quality bill; there were different points of view to reconcile. That’s natural, that’s inherent, but I think that the process benefited from the intensive dialogue and we ended up with a really high-quality bill,” said Stefan Pryor, the state’s education commissioner. “The bottom line is we all came together.”

But Republican leaders, who did not attend the governor’s news conference, told reporters they did not feel comfortable debating and voting on a nearly 200-page bill they had just received.

“We shouldn’t be voting on a bill without having had an opportunity to read it and review it,” said Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield.

Teachers and some lawmakers have also voiced concerns that Malloy’s original bill would lead to more privatization of troubled schools. According to a synopsis of the bill, “high-performing non-profit school operators” will be allowed to operate “a subset of turnaround schools,” six of the 25.

It would also require annual performance evaluations for principals, administrators and teachers, and links tenure to a teacher’s effectiveness. It also states how ineffective teachers may be terminated and termination hearings must occur within tighter timeframes.

There are more professional development opportunities for teachers under the bill, and excellent teachers can become eligible for a new status as a “distinguished educator.”

The bill also would create 1,000 new early childhood education slots in low-income communities; increase per-pupil funding for charter schools; provide additional funding for agricultural science high schools, magnet and vocational-technical schools; and require the state Department of Education to launch two charter schools focused on English language learners in the coming years.

“While not perfect, this is a very positive step forward for Connecticut’s school children,” said Michael Sharpe, CEO of Jumoke Academy in Hartford and president of the Connecticut Charter School Coalition, in a statement.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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