Immediate action needed on education reform

Governor Malloy showed significant leadership during his budget address yesterday by calling for change in two critical areas where Connecticut desperately needs it: giving districts flexibility to ensure that only the best teachers remain in classrooms and overhauling the school finance system. Governor Malloy signaled his commitment to public education as the key not only to unlocking the future economic success and sustainability of our state, but also to turning around the gripping poverty that still predetermines the chances for far too many of our kids.

What we are hoping to see over the next few days, however, is an immediate action plan with a clear, detailed path for ensuring these reforms are addressed this year.

First, on school staffing and teacher layoffs: There is simply no time to delay action to provide immediate relief from the travesty of “last-in, first-out” layoffs. Connecticut districts will see thousands of teacher layoffs this spring, as we have already begun to hear about in headlines across the state. There is no rational justification for keeping this foolish policy in place.

Make no mistake: If quality-blind layoffs proceed without intervention, the result will be devastating for students, and will cause us to lay off more teachers than we need to because the least senior teachers are also the least expensive. The governor has a number of options for preventing layoffs from going forward this way, and we eagerly await the details of his plan for ensuring that districts see relief from this policy this year, before layoff notices go out this spring.

On school finance reform: The governor was commendably clear that our school funding system is broken and must be fixed. His proposed timeline for action, however, which starts after this legislative session is over and includes another year of study, is not fast enough.

The problem has already been studied at length by a broad-based committee of stakeholders, which was appointed last year by the State Board of Education. This committee spent the past year studying, deliberating over, and discussing the funding system, and identified the weaknesses in the current formulation. The committee reached majority agreement on a set of design principles to form the basis of a new school finance plan that could remedy these flaws. Translating these design principles into a new funding system will require intensive debate and engagement by all parties concerned – and this debate needs to begin right away with the consideration of specific legislative proposals in current legislative session.

ConnCAN’s 2010 Voter Survey shows that nearly all voters (91 percent) agree that “Connecticut needs a simple, transparent, and fair state funding system that funds students based on their needs, regardless of what public school they attend.” And 89 percent support ending layoffs based solely on seniority. Connecticut voters are ready for these changes, and the governor has communicated that he is too. The need for urgent action on both issues this year is clear. Connecticut’s students are relying on our leaders to get smart this year.

Alex Johnston is chief executive of ConnCAN

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