Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was greeted at his parking space this morning by advocates holding signs demanding affordable health care, but today’s State of the State address will have one sharp focus: establishing Connecticut and Malloy as a player in education reform.

Over the past weeks, the Malloy administration has carefully built to today’s speech, sharing details on other changes in education policy, but conspicuously leaving until today his thoughts on the politically charged issue of teacher tenure.

Teachers union leaders are bracing for details.

“We know there are going to be a ton of changes, the specifics we don’t know,” said Sharon Palmer, the president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “We’ve got 13 weeks to get it done.”

The administration has indicated that its foray in tenure changes will come as a pilot program in 25 troubled schools, but the unions are likely to view any proposed tenure reforms broadly, as a template for eventual widespread changes.

The schools the Malloy administration decides to intervene in are expected to pilot a new teacher tenure system, or “career ladder,” linked to the new evaluation system set to be approved Friday by the State Board of Education.


A greeting for the governor.

Current career ladders are often based on how long a teacher has worked for a district.

The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union reports almost one in five district use seniority as the lone measure when districts make layoff decisions. An additional 52 percent of the districts use seniority as one of the primary factors.

Under this pilot and the new evaluation system, students’ performance would largely be the yardstick.

Whether teacher tenure will be addressed on a statewide basis remains to be seen.

The administration has proposed creating a “master teacher” certification status, which will be tied to the teacher evaluation process based largely on student performance. Currently certification is largely tied to completion of continuing education coursework.

It is unclear if Connecticut will follow the lead of Rhode Island and Louisiana and require that only teachers with a good evaluation be allowed to continue to teach and certification be renewed.

Palmer said teachers are open to change, but teachers going to the 25 schools that will be treated as laboratories are taking a risk.

“What we don’t want to see, if it doesn’t work, we don’t want them to lose their jobs,” Palmer said. “We’ll see what the language looks like.”

On the eve of his second State of the State address, Malloy refused to go off-message Tuesday, even if the topic was a favorable poll from a surprising source: a conservative think tank that often criticizes the Democratic governor.

“I don’t want to talk about polls,” Malloy said. “We don’t comment on polls.”

Not even a poll that shows him with a majority approving his job as governor? In poll speak, Malloy finally is above water: 51 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove of his 13 eventful months as Connecticut’s 88th governor.

This morning, his office issued a press release saying he will ask state legislators today to send an additional $50 million to local school districts, a move that school advocates say will close a small portion of what the state actually owes them.

But even that was an effort to address a perennial budget issue: what will town aid look like?

All the steps leading to today’s speech were intended to produce coverage focused on Malloy’s education reforms.

The poll commissioned by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy showed a net improvement of 19 percentage points from the end of his first session in June, when his approve/disapprove numbers were 42 percent to 56 percent.

He essentially is back where he was a year ago, when Yankee had him at 50 percent to 46 percent.

“I will say this, that we have traversed a tremendous amount of territory in the last 13 months, going from a state where we had the largest per-capita deficit in the nation to a point where we establish our means and live within them,” Malloy said Tuesday.

Malloy intends to reinforce that message today.

He seldom falters when it comes to message discipline. It was a trait on display Tuesday during a press conference explaining another of his planned education reforms, and it will be evident today in his State of the State.

He waved off questions Tuesday about House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan’s call for boosting the minimum wage by $1.50 in two steps, which could give Connecticut the highest minimum wage in the nation.

“I’m just trying not to be dragged into every conversation that is out there,” Malloy said.

He has abandoned thoughts of proposing a major expansion of legalized gambling, an idea that was met with legislative opposition as he floated several trial balloons.

Malloy told reporters Dec. 28 that the Connecticut Lottery was exploring Keno, an electronic drawing game that other states allow in bars, restaurants and Keno parlors. “I think the Lottery wants to look at Keno,” Malloy said then. “It certainly has to be one of the things on the table.”

On the eve of his speech, it was off the table — a potential distraction gone.

His State of the State will reinforce the story he has told time and again: Dannel P. Malloy, the first Democratic governor in 20 years, has stabilized the state’s finances by managing for the long term.

“I have said this from day one: I manage for long-term results, hoping there is a short-term byproduct, and we’re going to continue to manage on a long-term basis,” Malloy said.

He intends to defend the difficult fiscal choices made in his first year, then pivot to the priority he set last summer: education reform. His discussion of fiscal policy may take longer than anticipated in the summer.

Despite a $1.5 billion tax increase, the state’s finances hover somewhere between deficit and surplus. Based on recent revenue estimates, Malloy will have to be diligent to end the year in the black.

Malloy said the continued fiscal challenges have not forced him to curtail his ambitions for education reform. On Tuesday, he folded his arms and smiled when his education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, talked about making Connecticut a national player in education.

“Education reform, a package will be adopted this year,” Malloy said. “The full impact of that package will not be understood for years, several years, to come. We manage for long-term results, not short-term results.”

It is a message Malloy has repeated since taking the oath of office 13 months ago. It was one he repeated three times Tuesday.

“I didn’t manage for short-term results when I was the mayor for 14 years. I’m not going to switch and manage for short-term results as governor,” Malloy said. “I’m going to do what I think is the right thing to do, whether it’s popular or not, to try to move the state forward.”

According to the Yankee Institute, it is popular in his second February as governor with precisely 51 percent of voters.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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