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Keeping the promise of education reform

By JENNIFER ALEXANDER

Publication: The Day

Published April 14. 2013 4:00AM

The progress made by last year's landmark education law must be protected, despite the tough choices legislators face on the state's budget.

Last year's education reform law - which received nearly unanimous support from state legislators before being signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy - aims to close Connecticut's worst-in-the-nation achievement gap and make certain that every child has access to a high-quality public school.

By enacting this education reform law less than one year ago, lawmakers made a promise to our children that, one day, every one of them will have a chance to go to a great public school regardless of race, wealth, or zip code. The law raises standards for educators, provides meaningful ways to improve failing schools, creates more public schools of choice, and changes the way education dollars are spent.

Unfortunately, in December, state legislators cut education funding by $11.4 million. Nearly half of these cuts came from key programs in last year's education reform law.

It's wrong for lawmakers to break their promise to the children of Connecticut.

Thankfully Gov. Malloy's recent biennial budget proposal will maintain progress on key education reforms.

Specifically, the governor's budget proposes investing in:

Turning around failing schools

Created as part of last year's education reform law, the Commissioner's Network aims to turn around up to 25 of Connecticut's chronically low-performing schools, and in turn help thousands of students receive the high-quality education they deserve. Currently, four schools are participating in the Commissioner's Network. Gov. Malloy's proposal would add 17 of our lowest-performing schools to the Network in the next biennium.

Growing school choice

Public, not-for-profit charters in Connecticut are in high-demand. According to the State Department of Education, the number of students on waiting lists for charter schools exceeds the total number of students now enrolled in charter schools.

To meet this growing demand, 27 letters-of-interest were recently submitted to the state Department of Education to launch new schools. Without support from policy makers, our state will continue failing to provide these high-performing options to thousands of children and families who are seeking a high-quality public school.

Gov. Malloy's budget proposal includes funds for the creation of four new state charter schools over the next two years.

Evaluate teachers, principals

The statewide educator evaluation program provides feedback and support necessary to further empower high-performing teachers and principals.

It can make certain that low-performing teachers get the help they need and allows for swift dismissal of those who consistently fail to improve. This system is a fundamental step toward ensuring that all children have access to the best teachers and principals.

Currently, the program is being piloted in 10 sites throughout Connecticut, with full implementation required by the 2014-2015 school year.

The governor's budget proposal includes the resources necessary to effectively implement the educator evaluator system, statewide.

Fund charter schools

Last year's education reform law increased per-pupil funding for charter schools, bringing them closer to equity with the rest of our public school students. December's deficit mitigation plan slashed these necessary funds for charter students by $2 million - $300 per child. The governor's budget proposal restores some of the funding promised to charter school students in last year's education reform law, but unfortunately not all.

Our elected leaders have a responsibility to follow through on all of the promises made to our kids when they passed education reform last year. Cutting these funds now would break those promises. We all owe it to our state's children to ensure they have access to the world-class education they deserve. Protect progress made for our children with last year's education reform law.

Jennifer Alexander is the acting chief executive officer at ConnCAN (Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now).

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