With more than 25% new members to the General Assembly, two new Education Committee Co-chairs, an anticipated new Education Commissioner, a new budget secretary, and a new Governor, some old ideas might now be new again and ready for action.
Many more new faces are likely to enter state policy-making on education this year. Besides the anticipated appointment of a new Education Commissioner, six of the eleven members of the State Board of Education (SBE) terms will expire on March 1. This is significant, not only because it is a majority of the membership, but also because the SBE recommends a candidate(s) to the Governor for Education Commissioner. A new Governor can quickly and dramatically re-orient the direction of state education policy, not only by appointing a Commissioner, but also by re-shaping the SBE.
Choosing new board members is another opportunity to expand the diversity of voices on state education policy. Beyond the traditional Hartford-based stakeholder viewpoints of superintendents and the association of boards of education, other perspectives might include younger parents, people of color, and those with a focus on workforce development. Another interesting aspect to these six appointments is that all the members cannot be of the same political party; the law requires minority representation.
Although the Governor directly appoints most of his cabinet, that’s not the case for Education Commissioner. In Connecticut, the SBE recommends a candidate(s) for Education Commissioner to the Governor, and then the Governor makes his selection and sends the nomination to the General Assembly for approval. The current SBE is anticipated to launch a search committee for a new Commissioner at its February 6th board meeting. Newly appointed board members will join this search process in progress. For the sake of collaboration between the SBE and the Governor, the Governor’s COO will also join the SBE for its search process.
To date the Governor has not nominated any new Board members to fill the six openings, and there is still speculation about who the next Educator Commissioner will be.
Facing ever-increasing budget constraints over the next decade, Connecticut will be under pressure to find efficiencies in its education aid. While state government has shrunk significantly over the last eight years, municipal government and school district administrations have not. With multiple bills regarding school district consolidation, like SB 457, up for discussion, the state faces an opportunity to thoughtfully consider how to reduce expenses in school district back offices, instead and keeping the funding focus on student outcomes and teacher support. District consolidation could involve the combining of administrative functions such as IT, HR, finance, after school services and procurement including school transportation (ie. not bus routes but provider contracts). There is a growing consensus that finding economic efficiencies will be the new way forward in Connecticut. School district consolidation is an important place to start this conversation, and it’s our collective responsibility to keep improving student opportunities and outcomes at the forefront.
The 2018 legislative session was remarkable for the broad-based collaboration that moved substantive policy to improve minority teacher recruitment and retention in Connecticut’s public schools. That effort was a first step. In 2019, there is more work to do to advance putting teachers of color in the front of classrooms statewide. Initially, we think these five ideas make a lot of sense:
Set an annual standard of 2% improvement in minority teacher hiring for districts (SB 462). This makes the state’s existing 10% goal over 5 years more tangible and actionable for district leaders.
Establish a diversity indicator that compares teacher and student demographics at the district level.
Review racial gaps in college completion in Connecticut’s teaching colleges.
Examine the effectiveness of the forgotten Office of Higher Education’s incentive program for those entering teaching careers; and
Create incentives for teachers to work and live in high-needs communities (HB 6412).
Legislation is still being drafted and public hearings have yet to be scheduled; however, a growing coalition of advocates have high hopes that significant strides can finally be made on this front.