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My Left Nutmeg

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My Left Nutmeg

Dan Malloy's Awkward 'Primary Problem'

by: abg22

Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 14:49:53 PM EST

Dan Malloy has a primary problem. The rules about intervening in local primaries for someone in Malloy's position as the state's top Democrat are very few and very simple. But in the last 18 months Malloy has impressively managed to violate all of them.

The first rule is that: Whenever there's a Democratic incumbent, you endorse the Democratic incumbent (unless you know that person is about to be indicted). The Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus called out Malloy for violating that rule last week, issuing some blistering comments about Malloy's conspicuous failure to endorse incumbent Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra in Segarra's re-election campaign this fall, which everyone agrees will be hotly contested. The rift was surprising because the Latino community -- Connecticut's fastest-growing demographic -- has been one of Malloy's most reliable bases of support, not to mention that Malloy and Segarra are perceived as allies on education reform, economic development and other issues.

Malloy is conflicted about the race because his now-former legal counsel Luke Bronin happens to be one of the candidates who has expressed interest in challenging Segarra. Malloy can't endorse Bronin, who at this point is still a longshot, for fear of alienating Segarra's allies. And presumably Malloy has given Bronin at least some kind of tacit approval to run, so Malloy can't very well turn around and throw his brilliant and ambitious protege under the bus. Awkward!

At this point Malloy's plan appears to be keeping his powder dry as long as possible. If he can, he'd like to stay out of the race completely. The problem is that, as the Hispanic Democratic Caucus has already demonstrated, the cowardly "stay mum" strategy usually appeases no one. It can only get worse for Malloy as the Hartford race gets more heated. Segarra's campaign manager made it clear to the media that the campaign is asking for, and expecting, Malloy's endorsement. And what if Bronin hedges his bets by gathering signatures to run in the general election, in case he loses the primary? Awkward!

Malloy might be able to plausibly claim that he's neutral in the Hartford mayor's race because he has a policy of staying out of local primaries, right? Well, no, because in 2013 he made a serious mess of things intervening in local primary races -- and not just any primaries, but open-seat races in which there was not an incumbent Democrat that Malloy could endorse without blowback.

The second rule of endorsing in local primaries for someone in Malloy's position: In an open-seat race, do not endorse unless you're damn sure that you're picking the winner, and that the followers of your candidate's opponents are not going to be swing voters when your name is on the ballot in the next election. Malloy violated that rule in 2013 by endorsing State Representative William Tong in the Democratic primary for mayor of Stamford. Tong lost the primary to David Martin, who went on to win the general election, demonstrating that Malloy's opinion did not hold much sway even in a city where he was mayor for 14 years. Awkward!

In another 2013 open-seat race, Malloy endorsed Toni Harp in the Democratic primary for mayor of New Haven, having been led to believe that she would destroy her weak opponents. Harp ended up winning a closer-than-expected election, and a lot of Democrats (not to mention independents and Republicans) in New Haven felt that Malloy should probably have minded his own business. Malloy's meddling was enough to make Tom Foley think he could win the endorsement of Harp's opponent Justin Elicker and the votes of Elicker's aggrieved followers in the 2014 governor's race. (It didn't work: Elicker ended up endorsing Malloy, and Malloy cleaned up in New Haven, but many of Elicker's backers still resent the governor to this day.)

So if it is somewhat 'ironic' that Malloy is now under fire for NOT endorsing in a Democratic primary, it's because his actions in 2013 established the expectation that he would endorse in local primaries. If Malloy's non-endorsements now demand as much scrutiny as his endorsements, he has only himself to blame. When it's convenient, Malloy wants to hide behind the usual platitude that he supports "whichever Democrat wins," as he remarked in 2011 when he failed to endorse his old rival John DeStefano in a four-way primary (even though DeStefano was the overwhelming favorite). When it's convenient for Malloy to choose sides in a primary, he does that. There is no larger principle besides political expediency, or political obliviousness.

One might reasonably argue that the governor shouldn't have to give rubberstamp endorsements to other Democratic incumbents just because that's the way the game is usually played. So what if governors are 'supposed' to endorse Democratic incumbents at the local level, and stay out of open-seat races barring exceptional circumstances, and independent-minded Malloy has completely turned that conventional wisdom on its head?

So what indeed. Malloy is welcome to be independent-minded, and he is under no obligation to be loyal to other Democratic incumbents, as long as he doesn't expect any loyalty in return. Could an aggrieved and independent-minded mayor rise up to primary the governor if Malloy chooses to run for a third term in 2018? Awkward!

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Common Core (SBAC) Results May Provoke Shock, Officials Urge Families to Stay Objective

by: ctblogger

Thu Jan 22, 2015 at 16:05:15 PM EST

Cross post from Jon Pelto's Wait What?

Teachers, Parents, Public School Advocates, it is probably best to sit down for this one....

That bizarre and disturbing statement was the headline in a piece recently posted by the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) following this week's meeting of a Connecticut State Department of Education Working Group.

Reporting on the event, the CEA explained;

"Details are emerging about how the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) program will affect students, teachers, and communities."

Wait?  "Details are emerging"?

The Common Core Standardized Testing Scam, known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment consortium (SBAC), is actually designed to ensure that about 70 percent of Connecticut students fail. [Governor Malloy - Our children are not stupid, but your system is! and Beware the Coming Common Core Testing Disaster and A system that labels children as failures (another MUST READ by Wendy Lecker]

Not only is the Common Core testing system created to generate the false impression that Connecticut and the nation's public education system is failing, but by tying the Common Core SBAC test results to the new inept, illogical and counter-productive Connecticut Teacher Evaluation System, the incredibly expensive "golden nugget" of the corporate education reform industry aims to denigrate teachers and blow apart what is left of the teaching profession.

But despite this truth, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration remain wedded to the implementation of the Common Core, the Common Core standardized testing program and a teacher evaluation process based on the results of those tests.

As the CEA's January 21 2014 blog post explains,

"Most school districts in Connecticut administered a field test last year, but this year the program will be in high gear with educators administering the tests to students in grades 3-8 and 11 this April/May.


This year, the stakes will be high as students establish a baseline for the test. Jacqueline King, who works for the SBAC program, says the baseline data about Connecticut students' performance on the first-time test has the "potential to shock" students and their families."

The CEA goes on to report that at this week's Working Group Meeting,

"Members of the working group [said they] are concerned about how test results will be messaged to ensure that the public understands that the SBAC program is still a work in progress."

How the test results will be messaged??

That the SBAC program is still a work in progress?

It was Governor Malloy's own Commissioner of Education who joined the other state education chiefs who voted to set the "cut score" so that 70 percent of Connecticut's public school students would be deemed failures.

It was Governor Malloy and his State Department of Education that remain committed to linking the unfair test to the state's new teacher evaluation system.

And it is because Malloy's complete unwillingness to de-couple the Common Core SBAC test results from the teacher evaluation system that teachers across Connecticut are being coerced into teach to the very Common Cores Standardized SBAC test that their students will fail - and those failing scores will be used to "evaluate" the teachers.

The CEA article adds,

"Mark Waxenberg, executive director of CEA, raised a series of concerns at today's meeting, saying that the new testing program is still in "the developmental stages."

The article also noted that Joseph Cirasuolo, who is the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents and one the most vocal supporters of Governor Malloy's Corporate Education Reform Industry initiative, said the results from the Common Core SBAC tests could, "scare the hell out of parents." He apparently added, people "are talking about this as if it has a level of precision that it does not."

"The new testing program is still in "the developmental stage"???

"A level of precision that it does not have"????

These two individuals and everyone else involved in the discussions surrounding the Common Core and Common Core testing debacle know perfectly well that the SBAC test is designed to fail 70 percent of the students and that the SBAC test will be used as a significant factor in determining which Connecticut teachers are deemed to be "good' and which will be deemed "not good."

Instead of raising these "concerns" at a State Department of Education Working Group, the CEA, AFT and the other Connecticut organization purportedly committed to Connecticut's students, teachers and public schools - such as CABE and CAPSS - should be demanding that the Common Core be halted, the Common Core Tests eliminated that Connecticut's teacher evaluation system should be fully de-coupled from the SBAC test or any other standardized tests.

As if all of this wasn't clear enough, in what is undoubtedly one of the most incredible and shocking comments to come out of the Malloy administration yet, the representative of the State Department of Education told the SDE working group,  "best practice dictates that educators should never make consequential decisions based on a single test score."

OMG, What the____?????

Malloy, with the support of the Connecticut legislature is the one that MANDATED the expensive and wasteful Common Core SBAC tests be given and MANDATED that the Common Core SBAC test scores be used to evaluate teachers.

As the CEA post adds,

"Connecticut's Board of Regents for Higher Education reportedly already has placed SBAC results on its list of multiple measures that colleges and universities can use to evaluate student readiness and placement. SDE officials also envision scenarios where high schools could include SBAC scores on student transcripts (as reportedly has been done in the past with CAPT scores)..."

The real problem is that the Common Core Standards were developed without the proper participation of educators and experts in child development.

Furthermore, as has been widely reported, some of the Common Core standards are developmentally inappropriate and the foundation of the Common Cores Standards are demanding that students immediately perform at a level that is at least two grade levels above what students have been learning.

The Common Core Test (SBAC) also discriminates against English Language Learners and students who require special education services...not to mention, as noted, that the absurd and warped system is actually designed with a pass/fail rate that will ensure that nearly 7 in 10 students fail.

The real problem with the entire situation lies with the Common Core itself and the way in which the Common Core standardized tests have been designed to undermine the stability of public education in America.

The solution is that the leadership of the two major teacher unions, and all of the others committed to public education, should be retreating from their support of the Common Core and its associated testing scheme.

Yet even now, while the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers raise concerns and call for action, their fundamental position of support for the Common Core remains intact.

The National Education Association's website reports that the,

"NEA believes the Common Core State Standards have the potential to provide access to a complete and challenging education for all children. Broad range cooperation in developing these voluntary standards provides educators with more manageable curriculum goals and greater opportunities to use their professional judgment in ways that promote student success."

At the same time, the American Federation of Teachers says,

That if implemented carefully and with the needed supports and resources, these new standards will help improve education for all students.  At last July's  AFT Convention, "AFT members today passed a resolution at the union's national convention reaffirming the AFT's support for the promise and potential of the Common Core State Standards as a way to ensure all children have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century while sharply criticizing the standards' botched implementation. "

But the Common Core Standards are inappropriate, unfair, and discriminatory.  The Common Core standardized tests are inexorably linked to those Common Core Standards, and until we set aside the Common Core and the Common Core testing, our nation's children, teachers and our entire system of public education system will remain the primary target for those who seek to destroy public education for their own financial and political gain.

And when it comes to the relationship between the Common Core, Common Core testing and the teacher evaluation systems, those who are responsible for speaking up for our children, our teachers and our schools simply say enough is enough and corporate education reform initiatives need to be dismissed and real action taken to reduce the barriers to academic success - poverty, language barriers, and unmet special education needs to name a few.

Perhaps the leaders of the CEA, AFT, CABE and CAPSS should also read or re-read the commentary piece published last year by Wendy Lecker, one of the state's leading public education advocates.

Wendy Lecker's piece entitled, "Solution to failed tests is not more tests," first appeared in the Stamford Advocate, and she wrote;

Fact: Connecticut's teacher evaluation plan, because it relies on student standardized test scores, is fundamentally flawed. Student test scores cannot measure a teacher's contribution to student learning. In fact, the president of the Educational Testing Service recently called evaluation systems based on student test scores "bad science."

Rather than admit failure, the Malloy administration is trying futilely to "fix" the fatal flaw. Last week, PEAC, the panel charged with developing Connecticut's teacher evaluation system, working under the direction of Commissioner Stefan Pryor, approved a change which calls for more standardized tests to be included in a teacher's evaluation.

The commissioner's "solution" is to add interim tests to a teacher's rating. Determining what tests will be used, how they will be aligned to the standardized tests, and how all the test scores will be rolled into one "score" for teachers, will likely render this change completely unworkable.

However, there is an even larger issue at play. Will the addition of more tests in a teacher's evaluation help us measure whether a teacher is effective?

According to the Connecticut Supreme Court, Connecticut's public schools must prepare children "to participate in democratic institutions, and to prepare them to attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state's economy, or to progress on to higher education."

Thus, we want our children to acquire the skills and knowledge that will enable them to succeed in college and in life. We want teachers who will help our children develop these skills.

Standardized tests have no bearing on college success. Moreover, although standardized tests are supposed to measure cognitive skills, research from MIT has shown that increasing test scores does not increase cognitive skills.

Even more striking is that cognitive skills, while important, are not the most important skills in determining success either in college or in life after college. Research has shown again and again that non-cognitive skills such as self-discipline, taking responsibility, and listening skills are more critical.

A recent comprehensive study by Northwestern Professor Kirabo Jackson found that children with teachers who help them develop non-cognitive skills have much better outcomes than those who have teachers who may help them raise test scores. Jackson found that every standard deviation increase in non-cognitive skills corresponds to a significant decrease in the drop-out risk and increased rates of high school graduation. By contrast, one standard deviation increase in standardized test scores has a very weak, often non-existent, relationship to these outcomes. Test scores also predict less than two percent of the variability in absences and suspensions, and under ten percent of the variability in on-time grade progression, for example.

Increases in non-cognitive abilities are also strongly correlated with other adult outcomes, such as a lower likelihood of arrest, a higher rate of employment and higher earnings. Increased test scores are not.

In short, focusing on non-cognitive abilities, those not measured by test scores, are more important in predicting success in high school and beyond.

Jackson also found that a teacher's supposed effect on test scores is not related to how well that teacher can improve non-cognitive skills.

Moreover, a new statement by the American Statistical Association reminds us that ranking teachers based on test scores does not even work for measuring their effect on cognitive skills.

ASA notes that teachers account for 1-14 percent of the variability in student standardized test scores. The majority of variability in test scores results from "system-level conditions"; meaning everything affecting a student outside the teacher's control: the child's socio-economic status, parental background, language barriers, medical issues, student mobility, etc. Rating systems cannot eliminate the "noise" caused by these other factors.

ASA further states that test scores at best "predict only performance on the test." This conclusion confirms Jackson's results, i.e that tests cannot predict how well a student will succeed in school or life.

In the context of this evidence, what does the PEAC change mean?

By adding more tests of the same skills in the same subjects, PEAC merely added more meaningless "noise." This addition will not give us any better picture of how well a teacher teaches.

Worse still, adding more tests increases the focus on tests, increases the frequency of testing, and distracts us from considering the skills teachers should be helping children develop. And since Connecticut's evaluation system completely ignores these non-cognitive skills, they will be de-emphasized in school.

Meaningful evaluations systems can be developed, but relying on faulty measures is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Connecticut's students, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve better.

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Thursday roundup

by: ctblogger

Thu Jan 22, 2015 at 16:05:08 PM EST

The latest...
  • As someone who travels on I-84 between Danbury and Waterbury, this is welcomed news!
    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday that widening Interstate 84 in both directions through Danbury is critical for economic growth in western Connecticut, as well as easing rush-hour traffic along that heavily congested section of the highway to improve quality of life.

    The I-84 corridor through the western part of the state carries more than 125,000 vehicles on an average weekday, resulting in busy morning and evening peak hours.

    "Congested roads are bad for business and bad for families - and we need to fix them. They make us less attractive for businesses and force us to spend dozens and dozens of hours away from each other. This is all part of the dialogue about whether Connecticut wants to have a best-in-class transportation system," Malloy said.

    "Widening I-84 in Danbury is a common sense solution and part of our long-range vision to rebuild our transportation infrastructure through the middle of this century."

    The Connecticut Department of Transportation is now focusing on widening a five-mile section of the highway between Exits 3 and 8 in Danbury - where significant choke points develop on a daily basis on I-84 in that region of the state.

  • Only in Bridgeport!
    Bridgeport Councilman Richard DeJesus, D-136, whom city Democrats endorsed to run for a state Senate vacancy, is struggling with his own payments.

    DeJesus, according to city records, has since 2002 accumulated an outstanding bill of $139,433 related to a pair of businesses - Genesis Motorworks, a repair shop, and East Coast Auto Parts.

    DeJesus disputed the amount, arguing it was a much lower figure, but did not get into specifics.

    "Either way it doesn't make a difference," he said. "They're taxes that are owed and I'm not proud of that. But I'm working diligently to pay these taxes off."

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Kids Not Testing

by: ctblogger

Wed Jan 21, 2015 at 09:14:19 AM EST

Cross post from Jon Pelto's Wait What?

In an op-ed published in today's CTMirror, Robert Cotto, Jr., a lecturer in educational studies at Trinity College and one of the only elected member of the Hartford Board of Education makes the case for dumping the corporate education reform industry's obsession with standardized testing.

Robert Cotto opens his commentary pieces with;

As the debate over Connecticut's state budget looms, the legislature must consider smart ways of maintaining support for our state's children and families. They must also figure out how to save while doing the least harm.

Reducing the number of standardized tests that kids take could be a way to save more for what matters most in education.

For years, Connecticut required students to take tests in only grades four, six, eight, and ten. In order to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Connecticut began giving tests to all children in grades three through eight and ten. Twice the number of children tested and new tests equaled more money spent. State spending for the tests more than doubled from $5.3 million in 2005 to $13.4 million in 2006.

Recently, the State of Connecticut allocated more than $18 million each year for tests. However, this amount does not reflect the hidden costs of spending on test preparation. With Connecticut's No Child Left Behind waiver, both the amount of testing, consequences, and funds to impose the controversial "Common Core" will likely increase.

Reducing the tests that students take in each subject to only grades four, six, eight, and ten could save millions of dollars. The funds saved could help limit any budget cuts that will affect communities across the state, particularly for the most vulnerable children and families.  Cutting testing in this way could also result in yearly savings of up to $9.5 million. That's half of current state spending to administer the tests.

At best, the evidence is mixed regarding the impact of spending more on testing and ratcheting up punishments.

And Cotto adds;

Children best develop their abilities, talents, and interests when their schools, parents, educators, and communities support them together. In school, this would mean focusing on quality teaching and leadership, building on children's academic strengths and interests, developing balanced and culturally relevant curriculum, confronting racial and economic isolation, and standardizing fairness in resources and support.

Outside of schools, this means supporting the well-being of children and families. In places likes Finland, the investment in children and families health and well-being, in addition to fairness in school resources and quality, has resulted in educational equity and shared prosperity. Instead of building up our system of testing, we must build up our system of support for communities.

Helping kids inside and outside of school. That's a winning strategy.

With limited testing, there could be more time and funds for supporting kids' academic progress and development. Time not used for testing could go towards building on children's academic strengths and talents. Funds saved could mitigate cuts to schools, like the disappearing library, and supports for communities' economic progress, health, and well-being.

With less testing, we can focus on support for students and develop better methods to assess the goals of public education. Maybe we can save even more as we recognize that public education will be better with more attention to learning and support for communities, but limited testing every two or three grades."

Take the time to read his entire piece at:  http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-smar...

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Tuesday roundup

by: ctblogger

Tue Jan 20, 2015 at 09:53:54 AM EST

Reading material...
  • Only in Bridgeport!
    State Democrats will consider Tuesday whether last week's endorsement of a candidate to replace state Sen. Andres Ayala was tainted by a conflict of interest.

    A special dispute-resolution panel of the state Democratic Party is to meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at its Hartford offices to consider a complaint filed by candidate Ed Gomes.

    Gomes, an ex-state senator who was vying for the 23rd Senate District endorsement against Councilman Richard DeJesus, contends the person who ran the meeting and cast the tie-breaking vote for DeJesus should have recused himself because it was later revealed he is the latter's real estate attorney.

  • More Bridgeport madness...
    A jury reached a split verdict Friday in former state Sen. Ernie Newton's corruption trial, finding him guilty of illegal campaign practices, not guilty of witness tampering, and reaching no verdict on two larceny charges.

    Newton, a Democrat who previously resigned from his office and served time in federal prison for accepting a bribe, has been on trial facing charges he broke campaign finance laws in an effort to recapture his old seat.

    After less than six hours of deliberation, a six-person jury declared an impasse Friday on the most serious of the charges facing Newton - two first-degree larceny counts stemming from Newton's receipt of an $80,000 public campaign finance grant in 2012. The state claimed he obtained the money fraudulently by misrepresenting his qualifying contributions.

    Judge Julia D. Dewey declared a mistrial on the two larceny counts. Prosecutors would not immediately say whether they will attempt to retry those counts.

    Meanwhile, the jury found Newton guilty of three lesser counts that he engaged in illegal campaign practices by having three campaign workers claim that they had donated to his campaign when they had not. The charges are felonies that carry up to five years in prison. The jury reached no verdict on two other counts of illegal practices.

    Newton will remain free on a promise to appear in court for further proceedings. Dewey declined to increase his bond Friday, deeming him not a flight risk.

  • PELTO: "State employee layoffs coming to UConn"
    According to high-ranking UConn administrators, who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about retaliation, a series of layoff notices will be going out soon to state employees at the University of Connecticut, including unionized employees.

    Despite a 6.5 percent increase in tuition and fees that have already been approved for next year, inadequate state support will mean that a significant number of UConn employees will be receiving layoff notices, the first time there have been a substantive number of layoffs at the University in at least 20 years.

    The UConn administrators report that the initial round of layoffs will be hitting the School of Law, the School of Social Work and at other major programs at UConn.


    The disturbing news of impending layoffs comes on the heels of the decision by Governor Malloy's political appointees on the UConn Board of Trustees to dramatically increase UConn President Susan Herbst's salary and compensation package.

    Voting at a special board meeting on December 29, 2014, the UConn Trustees approved a new compensation package that will push President Herbst's  salary to $831,000 by 2019.  Herbst's new contract increases her salary by 5 percent each year and provides that the UConn Board of Trustees or a committee shall review her salary annually and may increase, but not decrease her compensation package.  In addition, Herbst will receive an $80,000-a-year "deferred compensation" payment, along with a $38,000 "supplemental retirement benefit."  The new contract also promises her a $40,000 performance bonus each year and guarantees her two "retention bonuses" totaling $200,000, one in 2016 and one in 2019.

  • CTNJ: "More Elected Officials Sign FOI Pledge"
    Only about 10 percent of 360 candidates took the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information's pledge prior to the 2014 election, but at least 23 more have signed the pledge since November.

    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman are the most recent elected officials to sign the pledge, which asks officials to oppose weakening the state's public document disclosure law and to require public hearings for any attempts to change the law.

    Prior to the election, 37 candidates signed the two-part pledge from the nonprofit organization. The organization re-issued the pledge on Jan. 8, the day after the start of the legislative session, and were able to get 10 more elected officials to sign the pledge. In total, 23 incumbents have signed since November. That includes 19 Democrats and four Republicans.

    State legislators who represent Danbury, East Hartford, Manchester, Middletown, New Haven, Norwalk, Torrington, and Waterbury all signed the pledge this month.

  • Put her in jail already!
    A federal judge on Sunday indefinitely postponed the sentencing for a former congressional candidate involved in a campaign finance scandal that led to the second conviction of former Gov. John G. Rowland.

    U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton postponed the sentencing of Lisa Wilson-Foley until the court can sort through the claims "raised in the filings for United States v. Rowland."

    The issue is whether the U.S. attorney's office disclosed all the information it should have to Rowland's defense team before the September trial. Rowland's attorney raised the issue of disclosure after reading the brief filed by Wilson-Foley's attorneys on Dec. 29. Rowland's attorneys used the information in Wilson-Foley's sentencing memo to successfully postpone the former governor's sentencing, which also has yet to be rescheduled.

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Malloy hands Charter Schools even more taxpayer funds

by: ctblogger

Thu Jan 15, 2015 at 10:48:57 AM EST

Cross post from Jon Pelto's Wait What?

Despite the controversies surrounding Connecticut's charter school industry and the growing level of state debt, Governor Dannel Malloy's Connecticut Bond Commission, with the support of the Republican members of that Commission, allocated an additional $5 million earlier this week to, "assist charter schools with capital expenses."

Adding to the cost to taxpayers is the fact that Malloy is using the state's already over-extended credit card to make these generous payments.  The technique will dramatically increase the long-term cost for taxpayers since the total burden will now include the $5 million in grants PLUS the associated interest and expenses related to borrowing the money.

The latest $5 million in construction grant funds for charter schools comes on top of $20 million that the Bond Commission has already handed out to Connecticut's charter schools.

Not surprisingly, heading the list of beneficiaries is Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company that was co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy's (now former) Commissioner of Education.

While the City of Bridgeport's public education budget faced additional cuts this school year, Achievement First Inc.'s charter school in Bridgeport will be getting a free $850,000 in public funds to construct a new cafeteria, classrooms and gymnasium space.

And in the small world department;

One of the two principals at Achievement First - Bridgeport is Katherine Baker, who is married to Morgan Barth, the Director of the State Department of Education's Turnaround Office.

Morgan Barth, a former long-time employee of Achievement First Inc., was recruited by Commissioner Pryor in 2013 to leave Achievement First and join him at the State Department of Education.  Before joining Pryor at the State Department, Barth served as the other principal at Achievement First Bridgeport. Barth also has the dubious distinction of having illegally taught and worked for Achievement First Inc. from 2004 until 2010.

Making the whole situation even more "complex," in addition to running Pryor's "turnaround" operation, Morgan Barth also heads up the State Department of Education's "Charter School Accountability" program.

When Commissioner Pryor announced Barth's appointment he wrote, "Mr. Barth will serve as the Division Director for Turnaround in the Turnaround Office.  He will guide all of the work of the division.  Mr. Barth brings a wealth of experience as an educator and school leader - particularly in school environments that are in need of intensive intervention.  Before coming to the SDE, he led improvement efforts at two of the lowest performing schools in the Achievement First Network, first at Elm City College Prep and most recently at Achievement First Bridgeport's middle school.  At Elm City, he taught fifth and sixth grade reading for four years before becoming the principal and taught fourth grade in Arkansas before coming to Connecticut in 2004." Barth was a TFA teacher in Arkansas].

But what Pryor did not explain was that Barth was unable to acquire certification under Connecticut's teacher and administrator certification law, meaning that despite repeated warnings from the State Department of Education's Certification Division, Achievement First, Inc. allowed Barth to teach and serve as an administrator from 2004 to 2010, despite his total lack of certification to work in a Connecticut public school.

Luckily for Barth, and thanks in part to a $100,000-a-year lobbying contract with one of Connecticut's most influential lobbying firms, Achievement First, Inc. (and its associated organizations ConnCAN and ConnAD) were able to convince the Connecticut General Assembly to pass a law in 2010 that exempted Connecticut's charter schools from Connecticut's mandatory teacher and administrator certification requirements.

As a result of that law, starting on July 1, 2010, Connecticut's charter schools could have up to 30% of their staff be uncertified.  The law was particularly important for Achievement First Bridgeport since they had in excess of 36 percent of their staff uncertified at the time.

The law meant that while Barth worked illegally from 2004 to 2010, he could legally serve as Achievement First Bridgeport's principal until he joined Pryor at the State Department of Education.

How Barth got away with teaching illegally for six years remains somewhat of mystery, although it may have helped him that he is related to Richard Barth, the head of the massive KIPP charter school chain, who in turn, is married to Wendy Koop, the founder of Teach For America.

In any case, back to this week's State Bond Commission meeting.

The $5 million in grant funds were allocated to a total of five charter schools.  At least three of the charter schools will be using the taxpayer money to pay down debt on buildings that these private charter school companies own.

No... you read that correctly...

Malloy and his administration, in this case with the support of the Republican members of the Bond Commission, are borrowing money to give to privately owned, but publicly funded charter school companies so that they can pay down mortgages on buildings that they own and will be able to keep even if they decide to close their charter schools.

The cost to taxpayers for this corporate welfare program will be the $5 million plus interest, while the benefit to the private charter school company will be less debt and lower debt payments, therefore giving them the ability to keep (or use) more of the taxpayer funding they get from their annual charter school operating grant that they also receive from the state.

According to the State Department of Education, Charter Schools may request up to $850,000 from this particular charter school grant program.

While the primary purpose of the program is to help charter schools, "Finance school building projects, including the construction, purchase, extension, replacement, renovation or major alteration of a building to be used for public school purposes," the law does allow charter school companies to seek grants to, "Repay debt incurred for school building projects, including paying outstanding principal on loans which have been incurred for school building projects."

Now, next time you hear the Malloy administration talk about charter school accountability, you'll know a bit more of the back story.

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Sen. Chris Murphy
by: Jake Blount - May 31


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