Legislative Preview: Fight Looms Over Education


, , ,
By Wayne Jebian

Although the Connecticut General Assembly does not officially convene until  February 5th, many elected officials have gone back to work early.  Some of what they have done already has given us a sneak peak at what will be debated inside the Capitol building during the legislative session that ends on May 5th.  The biggest news so far seems to be the (surp)rise from the grave of education reform issues, like remedial education at community colleges, the adaptation of national common core standards and that moldy perennial: Sheff versus O’Neil.
State Representative Jason Rojas, who called for a  pre-session hearing of the Black and Latino Caucus last week, has himself been calling into question the efficacy of educational reforms passed in the wake of the landmark school desegregation case, Sheff versus O’Neill. (Courant Op Ed. http://articles.courant.com/2013-11-22/news/hc-op-rojas-sheff-school-plan-needs-new-look-1124-20131122_1_magnet-schools-east-hartford-public-schools-sheff-desegregation-case). Earlier this year, Rojas also called together a hearing on the effects of housing segregation on school performance.  At that hearing, experts from Brown and NYU described a state with a sharp contrast between its suburbs, “which look like Lake Woebegon, where all the kids are above average,” and the urban centers, which look more like Compton, the southern California city made synonymous with urban ills by late 20th century Gangsta rappers.
“It’s hard to improve the schools when you have concentrated poverty and racial isolation,” Rojas told CTLatinoNews. “Show me an example of a school district with as much concentrated poverty as Hartford, and increasingly East Hartford, that’s able to overcome this. I think it’s pretty close to impossible.”
But by far the most lively moments during the hearing were those that had to do with educational reforms from past sessions, those that need to be changed or eliminated. Wendy Samberg, Director of Instructional Design at Gateway Community College, called for the total repeal of Public Act 12-40. This act, passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Malloy in 2012, greatly limits the number of courses that can be offered to community college students lacking math and English skills. Samberg referred to the passage of this legislation as “a crime.”
Education is not the only issue on the table. Speakers at the hearing took turns in front of the microphone to ask the legislators to support platforms and programs ranging from social enterprise corporations to eliminating the federal Electoral College system. There were advocates of issues of specific interest to Latinos, such as bilingual education and wrongful incarceration. The Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission (LPRAC) brought a veritable shopping list of concerns ranging from Juvenile Justice and Judicial Diversity. And there were issues of equal interest to all constituencies, such as dyslexia and access to adoption records, whose proponents came to enlist the support of any and all legislators to back them.
There was even a representative from the Union of Sheet Metal Workers, Jeremy Zeedyk, who came to suggest improvements in the state’s system of awarding work contracts. He had a proposal, he said, that would “expose who is actually bidding the project. And, ideally, who they are using for subcontractors would be public information and be known at the time of bid rather than months and months down the line.”
Mr Zeedyk was seemingly unaware of the attention that this issue received in the 2013 legislative season (story: http://ctln.local/2013/09/25/ct-contracting-system-not-legally-defensible/).
After the hearing, members of the  Black and Latino Caucus met in New Haven over the weekend to hammer out their list of priorities for the 2014 session. Some of them told CTLatinoNews after the meeting that on their list is revisiting the implementation of Common Core standards, given a high level of concern recently expressed by public school teachers. Community College issues will have their day, too, they said.
Photo: Wayne Jebian for CTLatinoNews.com