Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley says in his latest TV ad that he has “a plan for making every school in Connecticut great,” a promise that could fall short on two measures: His only published plan is an outline of five bullet points, one of which would strip failing schools of money, potentially hastening their demise.
In an interview Monday night, Foley said he was comfortable with the level of detail behind his sweeping promise of education reform made in a 30-second TV spot released earlier in the day and in a section of “A Plan for Restoring Pride and Prosperity in Connecticut” that his campaign distributed a month ago.
Foley has based his second run for governor on broad principles that would guide him if elected, ignoring challenges by his opponent, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, to be specific on issues ranging from budgeting to gun control to regulatory reform. Foley said his approach to education is no different: He has told voters where he wants to go.
“I don’t have a complete budget prepared yet either,” Foley said. “I think we’ve let people know enough about what I would do on education reform.”
An element of his “Pride and Prosperity” plan is an endorsement of the controversial policy “money follows the child,” which Foley acknowledges would result in less money for failing schools every time they lose students to a charter schools within their districts. He suggested that time for some of those failing schools was running short.
“I think people realize there is a pretty good chance I’ll be your next governor. If you are in an under-performing school, you can start fixing it today,” Foley said lightly, adding in a more serious tone that the time for action likely has passed for some. “You can’t expect parents to leave kids in under-performing schools or the state to subsidize those schools not performing well.”
Foley said he objects to current state policy under which a charter school gets funding based on students it accepts, but schools that lose the students still get their share of per-pupil funding. Foley said he objects to funding the previous school as though the student were still there.
He had no answer when asked how a failing school would improve if it lost money every time a student left for a charter school.
“I never heard that question,” he said.
Foley declined to identity any one dominant influence on his approach to education, though he admires former Republican governors who have made education reform a priority, starting with William Weld of Massachusetts.
“I’ve been involved with education reform efforts in the state for over 15 years. I am a big admirer of Gov. Weld in Massachusetts, Gov. [Jeb] Bush in Florida, Mitch Daniels in Indiana. There are a lot of different people. There’s not one person. I am totally focused on outcomes. I’m for what works for children.”
The governors he cited offer limited insight into what Foley might attempt.
Daniels signed an ambitious school voucher law, something Foley said he does not endorse. Daniels also initiated an A to F system of grading school quality, which Foley would like to implement in Connecticut. Weld won passage in 1993 of a law that enabled the establishment of charter schools and pegged state funding to accountability standards. Bush still backs the Common Core curriculum standards, which Foley says he opposes.
The education section on Foley’s “Pride and Prosperity” plan is laid out verbatim in the following bullet points, including one that calls for school choice, at least within the same district:
- Make sure no child is trapped in a bad school—it is not fair. The American promise of fairness and opportunity is not there if a child cannot get a decent education. Parents with children in underperforming schools should be able to choose among other in-district public schools.
- Implement “money follows the child,” including a variable grant amount based on a student’s need.
- Provide more support for teachers who are the most important factor in educational outcomes.
- Improve transparency and introduce an A‐F school grading system to give educators and parents the information they need to make sure every child is given a good education.
- Ensure that no one slips through the cracks by requiring that third graders pass a reading test before being allowed to go on to fourth grade and that high school students pass a regents-style exam before graduating.
In his new commercial, Foley sounds like he considers education the most important issue in Connecticut.
“Is there anything more important than a child’s education?” he asks in the ad. “Over 100,000 Connecticut children are in underperforming schools. Fairness and opportunity are promises America makes to everyone. It isn’t fair when a child is not in a good school. And there won’t be much opportunity when they get out.
“I have a plan for making every school in Connecticut great. Let’s make things fair for everyone, so everyone can be the absolute best they can be.”