Monthly Archives: August 2010

Business leaders target the ‘tragedy’ of education achievement gap

If the chronic problem of lagging academic achievement among poor children has perplexed educators for years, can a group of business leaders find a solution? A state commission made up mainly of top business officials will issue recommendations in October that could shape Connecticut’s policy to address what the group described Monday as an educational tragedy. Of the 50 states, Connecticut has the largest achievement gap separating low-income children from their more well-to-do classmates on U.S. Department of Education tests of reading and mathematics. The gap separating minority and white students also is among the largest in the nation. “This situation affects not just the children themselves, which is a tragedy….It affects all of us. Continue Reading →

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State Congressmen still anxious as Iraq combat ends

WASHINGTON-As President Barack Obama prepares to mark the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq with an Oval Office speech this evening, Connecticut lawmakers say they are still deeply anxious about the conflict and the U.S. role there. Today marks an official change in mission in the seven-year war, which roiled domestic and international politics, has cost more than $700 billion dollars, and claimed the lives of about 4,400 U.S. troops, including more than three dozen from Connecticut. But even with the last U.S. troops assigned to combat roles decamped from Iraq and the remaining 50,000 serving in an advisory capacity, there are no victory parades or celebratory rallies in the works. At best, Connecticut lawmakers said, they are relieved to see the U.S. role wind down. And at worst, they are jittery about what will happen without American forces in place. Continue Reading →

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Towns fear a sharp decline in state education assistance

Though state government’s impending fiscal woes are well-documented, a new report shows local schools also face a financial hit 10 months from now that could reverse efforts to increase education assistance. In a briefing to candidates for state office, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities also noted that non-education programs have dwindled to to what CCM regards as dangerously low levels. But despite town leaders’ pleas to be spared, gubernatorial candidates and key lawmakers declined to offer that assurance Monday, pledging only to consider options to mitigate the fiscal pain. “The state is going to have to supplant an unprecedented amount of money” in the next two-year budget cycle, CCM Executive Director James Finley said Monday. “The biggest fear for the cities and towns is that the state is not going to honor its funding commitment.” Continue Reading →

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State agency questions changes to HUSKY health program

Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposal earlier this year to end the use of managed care in the state’s HUSKY insurance program was seen as a win on several fronts. Patient advocates said it would improve access to health care, and legislators figured anticipated savings of $76 millon into this year’s budget. But two months into the budget year, the agency in charge of HUSKY has not made the change, and has raised questions about the benefits and savings to be achieved. The uncertain status of the HUSKY change was among the reasons for a projected $144 million in cost overruns in the state Department of Social Services this fiscal year, the largest part of the $171.7 million in cost overruns projected for the state in the budget forecast released earlier the month. The change, authorized as part of this year’s budget adjustments, centers on moving HUSKY and the Charter Oak Health Plan from managed care to a model in which insurance companies play a more limited role. Continue Reading →

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State recanvass law inadequate for close elections

You may have heard or read about post-election recounts after the recent primary. The reports were incorrect. There were no recounts. Connecticut law calls for something else, a recanvass. The current recanvass law and procedures are inadequate to assure that the every vote is counted accurately and the correct winner certified. Continue Reading →

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CSU presidents’ salaries rank high among ‘peer’ universities

Despite losing a portion of their recent pay raise, the presidents at Connecticut State University’s four campuses still earn salaries that compare favorably with those of chief executives at many similar institutions. Some university trustees had expressed concern that CSU could lose its competitive edge for attracting top administrators after complying with Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s request last month to rescind an extra salary boost. However, a survey by The Mirror found that the presidents at CSU’s four campuses have higher base salaries than all but a handful of leaders at 34 colleges and universities that CSU lists as its “peer institutions.” Three of CSU’s campus presidents receive annual base salaries of $299,460, and a fourth receives $294,460, compared with an average of $245,530 for presidents and chancellors at CSU’s peers. The salaries of CSU’s top administrators, including presidents, drew increased scrutiny when Rell called a recent round of raises “excessive” and “intolerable,” citing the state’s deepening budget crisis. Continue Reading →

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Dodd forswears a lobbying career

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Dodd says he still doesn’t know what he’ll do come January 2011, when, for the first time in 36 years, he will no longer be a member of Congress. But he has ruled out one option. “No lobbying, no lobbying,” Dodd said in a recent interview. That Dodd would forgo a trip through Washington’s “revolving door,” using his policy and political expertise–and a thick Rolodex–to launch a new career in the influence industry, may come as a surprise. For one thing, more than 300 former House and Senate members have chosen that well-worn, lucrative path, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics. Continue Reading →

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A weak economy trumps the culture wars

The muted reaction to a former Republican national chairman coming out of the closet is a reminder that the culture wars can’t compete with a stagnant economy. “At this point in the election cycle, people have a lot more important things to worry about than Ken Mehlman’s sexual orientation,” said Chris Healy, the Connecticut Republican chairman. As a top GOP strategist who managed George W. Bush’s campaign, Mehlman once epitomized the power of gay marriage as a wedge issue — something that gay activists and politicians won’t forget. “By all accounts, he was one of the engineers of the culture wars with Karl Rove,” said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, who recently married his long-time partner. “He set back a social agenda for a large slice of the American population.” Continue Reading →

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Despite grim forecasts, Larson stays upbeat

WASHINGTON — The polls are grim, the economic news is bad, and voters are irked. But U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, is casting himself as a traveling pep squad, a counter to the “bed-wetters who are wringing their hands and saying all is lost” for Democrats this November. As the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, Larson has spent part of Congress’ August break crisscrossing the country to campaign and raise money for the most vulnerable House Democrats. John Larson faces a tough forecast for 2010. (CT Mirror)
After hitting five competitive Congressional districts, from Illinois to New Mexico, Larson said he doesn’t think a national wave of voter angst will sweep his party out of power, a result that could cost him his leadership job as chairman of the Democratic Caucus. Continue Reading →

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Stem cells, law and politics at Yale

NEW HAVEN — Science and politics met awkwardly Thursday afternoon at a Yale forum on stem cell research promoted by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s campaign for U.S. Senate. Blumenthal told scientists and research advocates that he would do whatever he could as attorney general and a potential senator to reverse a judge’s ruling that halts federally funded embryonic stem-cell research. “It needlessly and irresponsibly injected politics into science, and cut off federal funding for one of the most promising fields of medical advancement,” Blumenthal said. Richard Blumenthal, Haifan Lin listen to Laura Grabel at Yale. (Mark Pazniokas)

Mindful that a tax-exempt university cannot promote a political candidate, Yale’s general counsel monitored the forum to ensure that Blumenthal focused on public policy, not his campaign. Continue Reading →

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Politicians rush to defense of sub base

GROTON — The Pentagon has yet to begin another review of potential base closures, but politicians already are making an election-year rush to defend the Groton sub base from even the first hints of a threat. Five years after the sub base was saved after an initial closure recommendation, politicians in both parties are acknowledging the political power of standing up to even the idea that the Pentagon might take away thousands of jobs from an economically hard-hit region. “We simply cannot let this happen,” Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley said Thursday during at a press conference at a park in Groton overlooking the Nautilus, the first atomic submarine. His Democratic opponent, Dan Malloy, sent emails to reporters before the conference, preemptively accusing Foley of politicizing the base. Tom Foley, Rob Simmons and Janet Peckinpaugh
“Our effort can’t be politicized or it risks losing credibility; we need to present a united, bipartisan front,” Malloy said. Continue Reading →

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State’s teacher evaluation plans too weak, federal reviewers say

The weakness of a plan to link teacher evaluations to student performance was a key factor in Connecticut’s failure to qualify for millions of dollars in federal school aid, according to a government report released Wednesday. The proposed evaluation system lacks detail, won’t be ready for years, and fails to include adequate provisions for rewarding successful teachers or removing ineffective ones, said reviewers for the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top school reform competition. “They were not satisfied [the plan] was aggressive enough,” said state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan. The plan for revamping teacher and principal evaluations was one of several areas where McQuillan believes Connecticut’s approach differed sharply from the strategies espoused by Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion effort to spur school reform. Those differences, including a divergence of views on how to turn around low-performing schools, hurt Connecticut’s chances in the high-stakes competition, McQuillan said. Continue Reading →

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A Democrat borrows from Shays’ old playbook

WASHINGTON — Chris Shays is not on the ballot in Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District this year, but one of the candidates in the race is channeling the former Republican congressman’s persona. It’s the Democrat who ousted Shays two years ago, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes. He is adopting his vanquished predecessor’s sales pitch, proclaiming himself as New England’s new maverick in Congress. Himes’ campaign has released a TV ad that portrays him as a moderate and the winner of the Aug. 10 Republican primary, state Sen. Dan Debicella of Shelton, as an extremist. Continue Reading →

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Republicans, Independents back ballot initiatives

An unlikely coalition of Independent, Green and Republican party candidates are trying to revive a proposal rejected by voters two years ago: allow ballot initiatives. In a press conference Wednesday, they presented a survey conducted by Pulse Opinion Research that found 65 percent of the 500 state voters surveyed favor allowing ballot initiatives, with 14 percent opposed and 20 percent are not sure. “This is an idea, a concept, that is supported all across the political spectrum, by every income group, by every group no matter how you want to slice it up. And it seems to me that it’s time for our elected officials to recognize that,” said Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge Foundation. Two years ago, voters rejected calling for a constitutional convention — a move that could have allowed the state’s constitution to be amended to allow ballot initiatives. Continue Reading →

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Malloy gets his $6 million, while Foley to resume TV ads

Democrat Dan Malloy had the biggest fundraising day in Connecticut history Tuesday as he collected $6 million in public financing for his campaign for governor. But it is Republican Tom Foley who is poised to ramp up spending with a resumption of television advertising this week, an effort to close Malloy’s double-digit lead in the latest poll. Foley, a wealthy businessman who loaned his campaign $3 million before the Aug. 10 primary, reported having only $32,587 cash on hand in his pre-primary disclosure. “I don’t think anybody now can say Dan Malloy is at a spending disadvantage,” Foley said. Continue Reading →

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