Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Conn. House approves education overhaul bill 149-0

HARTFORD -- Connecticut lawmakers have given final legislative approval to a wide-ranging bill that attempts to overhaul the state's public education and attempt to close one of the nation's largest achievement gaps between rich and poor.

The House of Representatives passed the bill Tuesday night on a 149-to--0 vote, erupting in cheers. It now moves to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy desk. The Democratic governor first pushed for legislation, which includes everything from targeted help and resources for failing schools and changes to state teacher tenure rules.

Initially, teachers' unions clashed with Malloy over the bill. But eventually, a compromise between the legislature and the governor was reached late on Monday night.

Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, the co-chairman of the Education Committee, called the bill "a giant leap that is long overdue."

Connecticut's teachers' unions had expressed relief on Tuesday after the Senate passed a compromise education overhaul bill that leaders said is a marked improvement from legislation first proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a plan the unions believed was akin to reforms offered by Republican governors in other states.

Officials from the state's two major unions credited their members with fighting off some of Malloy's original proposals, such as allowing the state's commissioner to take over a school, negate existing union contracts and allow greater privatization of struggling schools.

"We're really the only state that has stopped this. I don't know of anybody who has stopped this. It's amazing, it really is," said Mary Luftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. "It's different because it's done by maintaining teachers' rights, being extremely collaborative and it's research-based reform -- all of which we have been advocating for from the beginning."

The legislation was expected to pass the House of Representatives on Tuesday evening.

"I feel like we should have been doing this for a long time," said Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, of the overhaul efforts. "It wasn't until the state got embarrassed that the state decided to do something about this. It just baffles me the way we've operated."

Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said the bill finally puts the state on the right path.

"No longer are we going to accept chronically underperforming schools," he said. "That is a good day for the state of Connecticut."

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