With time running short, the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus tried Thursday to nudge forward some of the education reforms that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says are needed to turn around troubled urban schools.
But the caucus, which includes 22 of the General Assembly’s 187 members, offered a mixed message at a press conference, embracing some reforms, while opposing or offering no opinion on areas most strongly fought by teacher unions.
Also undercutting the presentation was the absence of two key caucus members, Sen. Toni Harp and Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven, the co-chairwomen of the Appropriations Committee negotiating a final bill.
Still, the long-delayed statement by these Democratic legislators whose constituents could be most affected by the governor’s struggling reform effort was applauded by the Malloy administration as a positive step.
“You can’t have total agreement on everything, but there is a lot of common ground there,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser. “The more people that are supporting reform, the easier it is to get to an agreement.”
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield of New Haven, chairman of the caucus, said the goal was to publicly show that the urban minority legislators want some reforms to go forward.
“The visual of the caucus moving in this direction is important in this matter,” he said.
The General Assembly’s annual session ends at midnight Wednesday.
Last week, Malloy told reporters he was meeting with legislators from the lowest-performing districts in an effort to earn their support for his controversial education reform plans.
On Thursday, 15 members of the caucus, whose members all are Democrats, rendered their collective decision: They would not support using the new teacher evaluations to make certain decisions.
“We did not go as far as to link them to certification, pay and tenure. No,” Holder-Winfield said.
“We have varying opinions on this in our caucus,” said Rep. Kelvin Roldan of Hartford, who works in the central office of Hartford public schools.
A second caucus member, Rep. Douglas McCrory of Hartford, is a vice principal of an interdistrict school in Hartford dedicated to integrating the region’s schools.
The caucus also said any changes in the state’s 25 lowest performing schools would need to be negotiated with the teachers’ unions. Malloy has said he does not want to require union approval or to have to wait for teacher union contracts to expire to get involved in these schools. His proposal gave the education commissioner broad authority to make certain changes without requiring union support.
“The positions of the caucus is not to abrogate any contracts,” said Holder-Winfield.
“It’s a process,” Roldan said.
The caucus does recommend allowing charter schools to be one of the models used to turnaround these 25 lowest performing schools. An analysis of the Democratic leadership’s most recent bill by the Office of Legislative Research seemed to have excluded charters from plans to turn around these schools.
“Let’s not exclude charter schools. In some communities charter schools have done a wonderful job,” Holder-Winfield said, mentioning the charter schools in New Haven.
The caucus did have a proposal of their own for reforming education, but it was largely scaled back in committee because of cost concerns. The original bill would have implemented a statewide early literacy program, annual assessment and would have held back students in third grade if they couldn’t read. The bill that made it out of committee into the summary of the Democratic leadership’s most recent education bill included a 10-school pilot and the development of an annual assessment by 2014.