By Ben Velderman
HARTFORD, Conn. – Efforts to revamp Connecticut’s ineffective public education system are at risk of becoming a farce.
Before the current legislative session began in February, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy outlined a series of bold education initiatives, and promised Connecticut’s families the forthcoming reforms would be “the most far-reaching in our state’s history.”
The crux of Malloy’s proposals was to free public education from the death grip of the teacher unions.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday, which found Connecticut’s Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams Jr. addressing 1,000 teachers at a union rally at the state capitol.
“We cannot fix schools without listening to the people who teach our children,” Williams told the appreciative audience, according to the Connecticut Mirror.
Williams went on to praise Education Committee members, who have taken Malloy’s reform bill and watered it down so thoroughly that it is virtually unrecognizable. (Ironically, Williams has been described as “one of the governor’s most important legislative allies.”)
Shortly after the union rally on Tuesday, leading Democratic lawmakers watered down the reforms even further.
The twice-revised bill now requires the teacher unions “to agree to reopen negotiations on contracts” before the state can proceed with plans to improve troubled “turnaround” schools.
Malloy’s original proposal would have given the state a great deal of power to alter the staff at failing schools, despite union objections. Now efforts to fix these schools will have to meet with union approval.
“Matters in an approved school turnaround plan that conflict with the existing union contract will be negotiated with the appropriate union under the Teachers Negotiation Act and the bill,” reads the new revision, according to the Mirror. “Issues at an impasse will go to an expedited arbitration process.”
Welcome back to the bad old days.
Democratic lawmakers have been joined at the hip with Big Labor for decades, so it’s no surprise their weak stomachs are no match for the strong medicine Malloy is prescribing.
Presumably, state Republicans would be natural allies for the education reformers. But the Republicans are in the minority in both the Senate and the House (where they are outnumbered nearly two-to-one), and have been frozen out of negotiations.
The unions are driving both the Democratic Party and the legislative process.
If Malloy’s initiatives fail, it will be an unmistakable message for Connecticut families that the Nutmeg State’s schools exist primarily to serve the financial and tenure demands of the teacher unions. If the people of the state choose to accept the status quo (and polls show majorities backing the teachers unions), it will be their children who will have to keep suffering the consequences.