The General Assembly’s Education Committee met for the first time during the 2017 legislative session this afternoon. While, it’s bit early to tell what will happen this session, even at this juncture, there are already important education issues on the table.
Here’s a quick rundown of a few education bills to watch in upcoming session:
This bill was introduced by Majority leader State Senators Bob Duff (D-25), who has come out strong in support of the state legislature taking action on the recommendations laid out by Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s groundbreaking ruling in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding suit.
“We want to use this as a moment of positive change,” said Sen. Duff to the Hartford Courant in September. “This could be our clarion moment for education reform.”
As of yet, there is no specific recommendation being considered, though a similar House Bill was proposed by State Rep. Stephen Harding (R-107). These two bills are an indication that, at least, some members of the education committee will be taking the issue of school finance seriously. Which is, of course, good news for anyone who wants to see greater funding equity.
The governor also indicated that this will be a priority for him during the 2017 session. During his State Of The State address, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy indicated that in his 2017-2018 budget proposal, which is expected to be announced in February, he’ll be proposing a new education funding formula.
For more on school finance reform & the CCJEF trial here’s Education Connecticut’s past coverage:
This isn’t the first time a bill removing the state mastery exam data from teachers evaluations was proposed. Last year, the state legislature nearly passed Senate Bill 380, which would have done the same thing. Instead, the legislature and State Board of Education gave the Performance Evaluation Advisory Committee (PEAC), a council of stakeholder set up in 2012 to evaluation educator evaluations, another year. PEAC will be giving their final report to the legislature soon.
In the past few years, the state’s two largest teacher’s union, the Connecticut Education Association and AFT Connecticut, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying efforts to remove the requirement.
This year, if recent events at Performance Evaluation Advisory Committee meetings are any indication (i.e.union reps. and other members openly yelled in each other’s faces over the matter), it’s likely that efforts will be even more ramped up this year.
As of yet, the state’s evaluation system has never coupled student state mastery exams scores to teacher evaluations. The deadline for coupling this data has been pushed back for at least three years now.
For more on teacher evaluations here’s Education Connecticut’s past coverage on the issue:
3.) Senate Bill 15: An Act Requiring Municipal Approval Of A School Closure
Propose by State Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-8), this bill, if passed, could have a huge impact on a few districts, including Hartford. Depending on what side of the school closure debate you fall, this could either be good or bad news.
As the proposed bill stands now, SB15 would require that “prior to a local board of education closing a school under their jurisdiction” the board would have to hold a referendum vote within the city or town the school resides in. This could further halt the work of Equity 2020, a committee begun by former Hartford Superintendent of Schools Beth Schiavino-Narvaez. Equity 2020 purpose was to come up with a facilities master plan, potentially consolidating Hartford Public Schools. Right now, the committee is on hold until the district finds a new superintendent.
Putting school closures to referendum may seem the more democratic route (and, it is), but it’s also the more politicized route. If a vote is required, that means special interest groups could potentially spend boatloads of money to keep low-performing and/or low-enrollment schools open.
For more on Hartford Public Schools here’s past coverage:
4.) House Bill 5031: An Act Concerning Unfunded Mandates On Schools and Municipalities
This one seems like it could be a can of worms. This bill, if passed, would require the state to fund all state mandates. On the surface, this is great, especially considering the state’s budget situation. However, the term “unfunded mandates” can mean a lot of things.
An unfunded mandate is a program or procedure required by law, that does not bring money to the local district. That means anything from state mastery exams (which is usually a partially funded mandate) to the requirement of having a school nurse, blood-borne pathogen training or graduate rate reporting, could all count under this bill.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, considering the broad range of mandates imposed by the state. There’s a similar bill on the table, introduced by Rep. Harding, which proposes the establishment of a task force to examine unfunded mandates.