Gov. Dannel P. Malloy
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

As Gov. Dannel P. Malloy attempts to push his controversial education reforms through the legislature, he’s taking up a new talking point: Failure means the state’s chances of being relieved from the dictates of the federal No Child Left Behind law are at risk.

“These are obligations which I doubt we’ll escape unless there is an effective reform package,” Malloy told reporters.

So, what are the state’s chances at landing a waiver and relief from this law if the legislature doesn’t pass his bill?

It depends on who you ask.

Democratic leadership believes they can modify the bill and not jeopardize the state’s waiver.

“We would still be conformant with the requirement of the NCLB waiver,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams, D-Brooklyn.

Without a waiver, schools could face a list of repercussions if 100 percent of their students are not proficient in reading and math in three school years. Almost half of the schools in the state this year failed to reach the NCLB benchmarks.

In fact, the state’s 158-page waiver application leaves out the most controversial sections of Malloy’s education overhaul. There is no mention of how the existing union contracts would be affected by the state’s intervention in the 25 lowest-performing schools. It also offers no description of a statewide plan to link new teacher evaluations to pay, certification or gaining tenure.

But that hasn’t stopped the administration from pointing to an April 17 letter from a top U.S. Department of Education official as proof that the waiver is dependent on passage of the governor’s education proposals.

“It’s clear our federal colleagues are observing this legislative session,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said during an interview.

But the letter creates more questions than it answers as to whether the federal reviewers are on board with certain controversial components that the Malloy administration has proposed in his bill.

The two-page letter outlines “concerns” identified by the peer reviewers and provides a list of 19 specific follow-up questions for the state to answer by May 1. One of those concerns is whether the promises made in the waiver can happen if Malloy’s bill doesn’t become law.

Mary Loftus Levine, the leader of the state’s largest teachers’ union, said in a statement that she expects that those concerns relate to Malloy’s plans for limiting union contracts.

“By running roughshod over teachers’ collective bargaining rights, it is clear today that the governor’s proposal would jeopardize our waiver application,” she said in the statement.

What is included in the state’s waiver application is an explanation of how the state will identify the lowest-performing schools and what models could be implemented to improve these schools. However, it does not mention how that impacts existing union contracts. A lengthy explanation of the new evaluation system, and how it was developed, was also incldued.

Many components of Malloy’s education bill are included in the waiver application, many things that made it into the Education Committee substitute bill of his reforms.

While the state department decided to release the letter from the U.S. eduation department, the peer reviewers’ notes attached to that letter that outlined their “concerns” with the state’s request was not available. The state’s response that was due Tuesday was also not available.

Daren Briscoe, a department spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the department does not plan to release the “routine back-and-forth communication” surrounding waiver requests.

“We recognize that some of these letters have been made available… I think if they’re using this in a political way, then that’s unfortunate,” he said.

The state is expected to find out if it won a waiver in the coming weeks.

If the state is denied a waiver — either because Malloy’s plans stalled or the federal reviewers don’t approve — the state can reapply during the next round in September.

“I’m not focused on that possibility. My goal is to succeed in this round,” Pryor said.

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Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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