Gov. Dannel P. Malloy held a private meeting Thursday afternoon with municipal leaders from the 30 communities that comprise the proposed alliance districts -- including Hamden -- that stand to benefit the most monetarily from the governor's ambitious in an effort to drum up support for his reform package.
Under the proposal, which Malloy first outlined in his State of the State address back in February and has tried to make the chief issue of the current legislative session, Connecticut public school districts would receive an additional $50 million through the state's Education Cost Sharing grant, the largest source of state aid for most public schools, in exchange for outlining some type of "reform strategies" outlined by Malloy.
The alliance districts, the state's 30 lowest performing school districts, are in line to receive the bulk of that additional aid, about $39.5 million worth if Malloy's reform proposal were to be approved by the Legislature and implemented by the local school districts.
The alliance districts, Malloy noted, are primarily composed of larger urban districts, such as Hartford, New Haven, New London, Danbury, Manchester, Middletown, Meriden and Hamden. Malloy said the districts alone make up about 40 percent of all public school students in Connecticut and almost 40 percent of all teachers as well.
"I asked them to come here to have a discussion about what we're trying to do, which is to turn around educational achievement in the state of Connecticut," Malloy said in a press conference after the meeting. "Understanding that working with these 30 communities allows us to reach 41 percent of all students in the state and 37 to 38 percent of all teachers."
In order for schools to qualify for the funding increase, they must agree to some type of reform proposal outlined by Malloy, which include changes to the way teachers are evaluated and retained, tiered district interventions for schools based on school-level student performance, increasing the time of the school day and implementing plans to ensure reading mastery for kindergarten through third grade students.
Malloy's proposal has come under criticism from the state's teacher unions, largely because of the changes it asks for in the teacher evaluation process, and the Legislature's Education Committee approved a reform package in late March that Malloy has been highly critical of. Malloy reiterated Thursday that he would not sign the bill if it were approved by the General Assembly.
"I answered that question right out of the box," Malloy said. "In its current form, this is not a bill that I can support, but I anticipate that we will get to a bill that I can."
Malloy said he engaged in a "meaningful discussion" with the municipal leaders on Thursday.
"My colleagues - since I was a mayor for 14 years - raised very reasonable questions about will this be sustained and what does it mean on a long-term basis," Malloy said. "…This is the down payment on educational reform. It can also be viewed as representing changes in the ECS formula that will in fact allow us to concentrate on that 41 percent of students that are served by these districts."
Malloy said he stressed to the municipal leaders that any increase in state funding was "in the lurch" until an education bill that he could support was agreed on and passed, and that none of the alliance districts should be "depending on this money."
Malloy said that he asked the municipal leaders to go back to their towns and districts and lobby their state legislators to pass a reform package that made meaningful changes to education policy in Connecticut and that municipal leaders from both political parties left the meeting pledging to do so.
"We're in the process where we need to make substantial headway if we're to have any meaningful education reform package that I can support," Malloy said. "We are talking to everyone, and we'll continue that process through May 9, which I hope will lead to legislation that we can support."
The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn for the year May 9.