Jul 15, 2014
10:06 AMConnecticut Politics
Connecticut's Gubernatorial Race Will Be Influenced by Education, Teachers
Gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Pelto addresses the audience at the Connecticut Working Families State Forum on June 21 in Wallingford.
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For the Democratic party, the full-throttled support of teachers’ unions in Connecticut is a given rule—like “I before E, except after C.” But now, when topics such as Common Core, teacher evaluations, charter schools and the “achievement gap” are added, Gov. Dan Malloy risks becoming that “after C” exception.
Malloy must claw his way to a second term. He is tied with Republican candidate Tom Foley in the most recent (May 9) Quinnipiac University poll of this year’s governor’s race. He barely beat Foley in the 2010 governor’s race, and now faces a challenge from his left flank as former Mansfield state representative Jonathan Pelto is running as a third-party candidate focused almost entirely on the education issue.
The balance could be tipped this year if some of the people who were excited to elect Malloy in 2010 fail to work with as much fervor for him again—or even choose to sit out the election due to his connection to education-reform issues.
Malloy’s relationship with teachers has been occasionally tense and pockmarked with terse exchanges. He’s haunted, for example, by a comment he made to the General Assembly in February 2012. Advocating for tenure reform, Malloy said for teachers to earn tenure, “the only thing you have to do is show up for four years.”
Before that, Malloy appointed Stefan Pryor as the state education commissioner. Pryor, a cofounder of Amistad Academy charter school, has taken heat from teachers’ unions which point out that he has never worked in a capacity as a teacher and lacks teaching credentials. Malloy, like many governors, initially supported all aspects of the federal Common Core public education standards and new teacher evaluation systems based on them. He has since softened his stance on these issues as it became clear that he might lose reelection without the support of teachers. Malloy also supported the installation of known urban-education reformer Paul Vallas as Bridgeport’s superintendent, and then the re-installation of Vallas after a judge’s initial ruling that he did not meet the criteria to be superintendent. Malloy’s backing of Vallas created further friction with the unions. Vallas has since left the district to run for lieutenant governor of Illinois.
The governor’s pivoting is obvious to educators.
“He’s sort of pulled back toward the middle—he was very much toward the side,” says Fran Rabinowitz, the interim superintendent of Bridgeport public schools.
In addition to delaying certain aspects of Common Core, Malloy has sought to give teachers a tax break on their pensions and has maintained state funding for local public schools.
“We do have a respect for each other,” says Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), the state’s biggest teachers’ union. “His door is open to us, and over this past year we’ve been able to iron out some of the legislation that may have been well-intentioned and implemented badly.”
Malloy says the state is making progress in education, something teachers appreciate.
“I think that the teachers are very bright people and very hard working people, and are happy that graduation rates are going up four years in a row, and we have (sent) hundreds of millions of dollars to districts, in effect preventing wholesale or large-scale layoffs of individuals. We’ve done things very differently than in other states,” he says. “Nobody wants the teachers to do better than the teachers, so we’ve been trying to find the right match of services, of training. We’re doing so much more than other states but sometimes that doesn’t get out over the roar … of those who don’t, for whatever reason, support it.”