The Education Debate

March 8, 2012

As parents, we know the value of a good education for our children. Many of us play a direct role in the education of our children by joining a Parent-Teacher Association, serving on the Board of Education, or simply by reading to our children or helping with homework. Ultimately, we want to give our children the best tools to succeed in life. This means we must ensure that our children get the best education possible.

At the start of this year’s legislative session, the Governor made it clear that education reform would be a major priority in Hartford. In recent years, student performance has stagnated and the achievement gap between the highest and lowest performing students remains the worst in the nation. Senate Bill 24, An Act Concerning Educational Competitiveness, was introduced in the Education Committee and quickly discussed at two public hearings on February 21st and 22nd. Nearly 120 people testified before the committee, and over 400 submitted written testimony. It is clear that many people have strong feelings about the reforms proposed in this bill.

As with most legislation that we discuss at the General Assembly, the devil is always in the details. You may not be familiar with the fine points of this reform package, so I will share some of them with you here. It is important to keep in mind that these proposals are bound to change before they come to a final vote in the House and Senate. The Governor proposed the following six principles.

The first principle is expanding families’ access to early childhood education. This would include the creation of 500 additional seats in pre-school programs throughout the state for children from low-income families. It would also create a ranking system for these programs and increase training opportunities for the early childhood workforce.

The second principle is increased state support and intervention in low-performing schools. Chronically underperforming schools would be required to join the Commissioner’s Network, which would provide state leadership, resources for implementing new strategies, increased compensation for skilled teachers, greater community involvement and extended school hours.

The third principle is expanding availability of high-quality school models. Students would have more opportunities to attend different types of schools, including magnet schools, charters schools, agricultural science schools, and vocational technical schools.

The fourth principle is removing red tape and other barriers to success. The State Department of Education would consolidate the number of data forms it requires schools to complete, including the elimination of one-third of the 35 forms currently used. A new task force would also be formed to identify and review potentially burdensome regulations or mandates.

The fifth principle is developing the very best teachers and principals. The teacher certification process would be simplified with three levels, including initial, professional and master educator certificates, focused on performance rather than time in the classroom. Teacher tenure would also be based on evaluations of student achievement. Under this proposal, teachers could achieve tenure in three years instead of the current four year system.

The sixth principle is delivering more resources to districts that embrace reform, including state assistance to local schools through the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) program. There would be $50 million in new ECS grants, with a majority going to the lowest-performing schools that make clear plans for reform.

There is certainly a lot to consider when reviewing this education reform package. Over the next few weeks, I will be meeting with teachers, administrators, and other educational professionals to gather information on what changes could benefit our children the most. In addition, I would also like to know what you think about the education reforms being proposed. During this time of economic hardship, I believe we must keep in mind the cost and not just throw money at the problem because the state simply cannot continue to spend more than it can afford.

On the other hand, our children are our future and if there is a better way to improve the quality of education in our state, it is worthy of discussion. Our state and its economy depend on it. You can learn more about this bill by visiting the General Assembly website at and searching for S.B. 24. If you have any comment about education reform, please feel free to share your thoughts or concerns with me by emailing [email protected] or by calling 1-800-842-1421.