Although the amount of money was relatively small, Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly made a big deal this year trying to persuade towns, schools, teachers, parents and the general public that they were increasing funding for Connecticut’s under-funded public schools.
While about $50 million was added to Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing Formula for distribution to the state’s local public schools, the vast majority of those funds were targeted to a select group of the 30 poorest towns that are called “Alliance Districts” under Malloy’s education reform initiative. These are the towns with the greatest poverty and have the largest number of students who face language barriers or need special education services.
But there was a huge catch. Rather than give the towns flexibility to spend the money where it was needed most, in order for Alliance Districts to receive their funds, they were required to submit detailed “Year 2 Alliance District Plans” by Friday, June 28, at 5 p.m.
The promise was that the State Department of Education would quickly review those plans and release the funds so that towns could ramp-up their programs in time for the beginning of the school year.
But here we are, five weeks later, the new school year begins in just weeks and towns have not heard whether or when they will get any of the promised new money.
Without the funds, people can’t be hired, programs can’t be started and children won’t be getting the additional academic services they need.
The fundamental problem is that Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, has decimated the capabilities of the State Department of Education and has turned over much of the day to day operation of the agency to high-priced consultants who don’t know Connecticut, don’t have the expertise to do the jobs they’ve been assigned and are sucking scarce taxpayer dollars away from vital services.
Just this spring Stefan Pryor and his inner circle of advisors let go seven key experts in the State Department of Education who were helping Alliance Districts to develop and implement effective programs to improve academic performance. Then, to make matters even worse, Pryor transferred the three key people who worked on improving English as a Second Language programs, provided technical support for towns so that they could do a better job developing culturally appropriate programing and also removed the staff expert in-charge of developing programs to reduce bullying and improve school climate.
Instead of relying on the dedicated, Connecticut based experts; Pryor hired an out-of-state company for nearly a million dollars. That company, in turn, sent in five people with virtually no educational experience what-so-ever.
Now, with Year 2 Alliance District plans filed, the chickens are coming home to roost.
Thirty plans need to be reviewed and approved before the towns can get the money they were promised but Commissioner Pryor is either unwilling or unable to get the job done in a timely, efficient and effective way.
Left twisting in the wind —- the students, teachers and taxpayers of Ansonia, Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Derby, East Hartford, East Haven, East Windsor, Hamden, Hartford, Killingly, Manchester, Meriden, Middletown, Naugatuck, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Putnam, Stamford, Vernon, Waterbury, West Haven, Winchester, Windham, Windsor and Windsor Locks.
While Pryor’s operation has put together “teams” to review the plans, the majority of team members lack the experience necessary to get the job done right.
Although a few remaining Department of Education professional staff have been assigned to help with the review process, the bulk of the work is being done by the out-of-state consultants from Mass Insight.
One Mass Insight consultant’s real world experience was working with a major charter school chain and another worked for the corporate funded reform organization called New Visions for Public Schools. A third worked for yet another corporate funded education reform entity called BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life.) None of them have any experience working in Connecticut.
Of course, there is also the Mass Insight “project manager” whose experience was working in a non-classroom, management position for Commissioner Pryor’s charter school management company, Achievement First. Inc. This is not the first consultant to have direct ties to the company Pryor set up and helped manage before coming Malloy’s commissioner of education.
Perhaps the most incredible development of all is that teams reviewing the Year 2 Alliance District Plans include Pryor’s two law school interns, who despite no experience at all, are helping to play a pivotal role in allocating tens of millions in taxpayer funds.
Thirty board of educations…
Thirty school superintendents…
Hundreds of schools…
And tens of thousands of students are all waiting for the Commissioner of Education and his operation to get their act together so students can actually access the programs and services they were promised.
Such incompetence would never, ever be deemed acceptable in any other setting.
It is sad and unsettling commentary that with only weeks to go until the new school year begins, the Malloy administration can’t even tell Connecticut towns and school districts how much money they will be getting this year.