Connecticut Education Officials Sparring Over Private Sector’s Role

Connecticut lawmakers have five days left to decide on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education overhaul plan but, the Associated Press reports, they remain at a standstill over plans to give top state officials power to appoint private operators for failing schools.

From the AP:

Malloy’s original, wide-ranging education overhaul bill included a “commissioner’s network” initiative—a contentious proposal among teacher unions and some legislators—that gave the state’s new education commissioner broad authority to step in and operate the struggling schools, bypassing union contracts, as well as the ability “to designate any other entity to operate the commissioner’s network school.”

The union, along with Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., told the AP that the plan would unfairly empower state officials and provide a boon to private companies that could shirk accountability and community feedback. The bill has since been stripped of that language, but Williams told the AP it is still a point of contention and several groups are pushing for the measure to be added.

Stefan Pryor, who was named state education commissioner last summer, is a charter school founder and former board member of Achievement First, the well-regarded network of charter schools in Connecticut and New York. He also hired Jonathan Gyurko, a senior vice president of Leeds Global Partners, which is part of the private equity firm Leeds Equity Partners, to help write the legislation, the AP reports. Those contracts have been the subject of legal scrutiny in the state.

It will be interesting to watch these various groups duke it out over these final few days. A compromise could be found, where, as some local groups have suggested, for-profit school operators are prohibited from the takeovers. (For what it’s worth, Achievement First is a nonprofit charter-management organization.)

Either way, a lot is hanging in the balance for Malloy, a Democrat who has been criticized in the state for his education policy, which also supports eliminating teacher tenure. As my colleague, Christina Samuels, wrote in January, both houses of the Connecticut General Assembly are controlled by Democrats and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents is mostly on board with Malloy’s plan, though most group members are not from lower-performing districts.

We’ll keep an eye on this.

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