Connecticut need not look far for model on improving academic performance (by Wendy Lecker)

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Hearst media commentator and fellow pro-public education advocate Wendy Lecker has another great commentary piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate.

Wendy writes:

“High-quality preschool is one of the best investments society can make in our children. It has been proven to improve academic outcomes and reduce the costly incidence of special education and grade retention. It increases high school graduation and reduces contact with the criminal justice system.

While Connecticut’s leaders have paid lip service to the value of high-quality preschool, they have not made a serious effort to address the inequity of preschool access in our state. For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, 98.3 percent of Westport’s kindergarten students attended preschool, nursery school or a Headstart program, compared with only 65 percent of neighboring Bridgeport’s kindergartners.

Last month, the federal government rejected the Malloy Administration‘s application for Race to the Top funds for expanding Connecticut’s preschool because Connecticut did “not present a High Quality Plan” to serve high-needs children.

The truth is, Connecticut would not have had to look very far to find a successful model of high-quality preschool serving high-needs children.

New Jersey’s Abbott preschool program has been recognized nationally as a stellar example of high-quality preschool.

In 1998, in New Jersey’s school funding case, called “Abbott,” the state’s highest court ruled that preschool is an essential component of a constitutionally adequate education and mandated universal full-day preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds in the 31 highest poverty districts in the state.

New Jersey then built a universal preschool program that resulted in strong and persistent gains for children in the Abbott districts. Children who attended the Abbott preschool outperformed those who did not in oral language, conceptual knowledge, math and literacy. Abbott preschool graduates were half as likely to be retained in a grade as those who did not; and children who attended Abbott preschool were much less likely to require special education services.

The way in which New Jersey achieved this system of high-quality preschool provides a lesson beyond just preschool. It is a model for school reform in general.

Following the court’s mandates, New Jersey was required to provide preschool programs that conformed to specific quality standards. In 1999, there was a patchwork of private and public providers already operating in these districts. Many were of sub-standard quality. On the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), a research-based assessment of preschool program quality, less than 15 percent were rated good to excellent and nearly one in four was less than minimal quality. By 2007-08, the vast majority of classrooms were good to excellent, with no “poor” ratings.

New Jersey built a high-quality, diverse delivery preschool system by investing in existing community-based and Headstart programs, and expanding school-based preschool. The state paid to send preschool teachers back to school for additional certification and boosted teacher pay. It developed operational standards that enabled communities to serve the particular needs of their districts’ children; and developmentally appropriate curricula. The state provided technical assistance to providers, for example, in managing finances. Moreover, it invested in facilities and wrap-around services.

New Jersey did not close poor quality preschools. It did not engage in wholesale firing and replacement of staff. It did not impose outside managers unfamiliar with the communities. It did not force a “cookie-cutter” model that ignored the specific needs of each district. It did not replace existing schools with ones that exclude the neediest children.

In other words, New Jersey did not use the “turnaround” methods of reform favored by today’s school reformers.

Mass school closings are a disturbing trend in financially distressed districts across the nation. The closings disproportionately impact African-American and Latino students, seldom improving academic performance. School closures have a destabilizing effect on the entire community, as the schools closed were often anchors of the neighborhood. Often, the new replacement schools fail to serve the district’s most vulnerable children. When they do not close a school, reformers favor replacing a school’s staff, another ineffective strategy. In fact, it was recently revealed that the federal government has poured millions of dollars into “turnaround” efforts like these, which replace and displace rather than rebuild, with very little evidence of a successful return on its investment.

Connecticut’s education policies have been diverted down the wrong road. It is time to put Connecticut back on track. New Jersey’s Abbott program provides an alternate model; one that can be successful not only for preschool but also for K-12 education. While corporate reformers push slash-and-burn techniques that ignore and even destroy local institutions, the Abbott program proves that cultivation of community resources reaps long-lasting benefits — for children and the neighborhoods.”

You can read the full piece: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-N-J-could-offer-a-model-for-Conn-5132350.php

Do I need to stop the car and come back there?

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Let’s just say it wasn’t one of Connecticut Legislature’s finest moments.

As two news stories today make pretty clear, a “he said/he said” situation has put $127 million in early childhood funding in jeopardy.

The CT Mirror’s article is entitled Childcare providers worry their money held hostage by politics, while CTNewsjunkie’ s story is called Did Early Childhood Bill Fall Victim To Sunday Bow Hunting?

Here’s the PROBLEM (as reported by CTMirror):    

“The state budget shifts $127 million in funding from various state agencies into a new Office of Early Childhood Education… But the office was never statutorily created because the bill that did so was never approved by the state House of Representatives or Senate.”

According to the CT Mirror, “Early childcare providers are concerned the money they currently receive from the state to care for thousands of children is going to stop flowing in three weeks –- because the state budget legislators approved transfers money to an office that doesn’t exist.”

The article goes on to report, “And officials at the State Department of Education are just as perplexed…’We are trying to figure out what it means,’ Brian Mahoney, the agency’s budget chief, said during an interview Thursday.”

Now that is a problem.

So what happened?

The President Pro Tempore of the Connecticut State Senate, Democrat Donald E. Williams Jr. explained that the Republicans held the early childhood bill “hostage” in order to force the State Senate to approve a bill allowing the bow hunting of deer on Sundays.

As William’s explained, “It was reported to me Republicans were holding it hostage for a completely unrelated and obscure issue: Sunday hunting,”

The Republican Leader of the Connecticut House of Representatives, Lawrence Cafero Jr., told the CT Mirror, “I wasn’t going to stop the early childhood bill…To fingerpoint to my side is an absolute joke.”

Meanwhile, CTNewsjunkie wrote, “Cafero claimed that, ‘you can’t boil the issue down to one bill or another. He said the Democrats wasted time on the last day by trying to sneak language into a bill that moved up the date of when undocumented immigrants could apply for their driver’s licenses. That language was eventually removed, but in the meantime Republicans slowed down debate on the floor…”

But have no fear, Malloy and legislators are already thinking about how to proceed.  As the CTNewsjunkie explained, “Williams said they are currently exploring their options and determining whether they can use an executive order and appropriate the funds through one of the existing state agencies. There’s also the option of returning for a special session, or if Malloy vetoes any legislation, a veto session. But Williams said that would be a last resort.”

Good to know that our elected officials can handle the stresses associated with the last few days of the legislative session.

Here are links to the two articles: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/childcare-providers-worry-their-money-held-hostage-politics and http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/did_early_childhood_bill_fall_victim_to_sunday_bow_hunting/

Jepsen/Malloy Continue to Squander the Opportunity of a Lifetime;

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Sometimes you’re just left shaking your head; wondering what on earth has happened to our “Leaders.”

A few months ago, Attorney General George Jepsen, with the direct approval of Governor Dannel Malloy, filed a legal motion in an attempt ensure that Early Childhood Education was not included in the definition of what the Connecticut Supreme Court called the “adequate education” that is guaranteed in the Connecticut Constitution.

Now, Attorney General Jepsen has filed an unprecedented subpoena seeking tens of thousands of pages of documents belonging to ten of the school districts that brought the now-famous CCJEF vs. Rell lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to define what an “adequate education” meant.

At the very same time that Governor Dannel Malloy says that reforming education in Connecticut includes reducing red-tape and paperwork, his own Attorney General is taking an action that could cost the ten towns as much as a million dollars to find, copy and deliver these documents to Jepsen’s Office.

Dianne Kaplan deVries, the executive director of CCJEF, called the unwarranted attack nothing short of “harassment” of those school districts that had the courage to stand up for Connecticut’s children.  She added “No district could be expected to comply with such an enormously onerous production order.” (Jepsen’s office has ordered them to turn over all records within 30 days).

Speaking for Jepsen, his associate attorney general said that “The Office of the Attorney General is obligated to defend the lawsuit” pointing out that it was school districts that filed the “unprecedented and far-reaching lawsuit against the state, alleging that the state has failed to provide adequate education to school children and seeking court orders dramatically expanding the state’s financial support of local education.”

Of course it was the towns that filed the lawsuit.  Governors Weicker, Rowland and Rell, along with the support of Democratic legislatures, consistently reduced state support for education.  It was the state government that was breaking the law and failing to fulfill its “Constitutional responsibilities”.  The towns did what they had to do in order to force the state to do the right thing.

With a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Attorney General, both of whom have repeatedly said education is a top priority, now is the perfect time to finally settle the case and move forward with building a better and more effective system of education In Connecticut.

Instead, George Jepsen (with the support of Governor Malloy) is spending millions of dollars trying to remove early education from the definition of what children are entitled to and is attempting to punish the people trying to ensure that  “education is a “top priority.”

A good summary of this latest fiasco can be found at CTNewsjunkie http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/education_group_calls_state_subpoena_of_schools_harassment/#.TzEDvTalHRI.facebook.

But first, please read the following.  It makes it painfully clear that when it comes to politics and policy there are people out there who say one thing and do another;

In 2005, a coalition of municipal and education leaders came together to confront the greatest challenge of our times, how to develop and fund an education system that provides all children with the knowledge and skills to compete in the decades ahead.  The very future of our economy and our quality of life rests with whether we develop or undermine our state’s greatest natural resource…that being the talents of our citizens and future generations.

It was truly an historic moment and Dan Malloy, the Mayor of Stamford, was there.  Not only was Mayor Malloy one of the founding members but he was “the first mayor to join the effort to join the committee dedicated to equal education for all.”  Today over 100 municipalities have joined the cause.

The foundation upon which this historic effort is built was a lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF).  Known as CCJEF vs. Rell, the coalition sued the state of Connecticut claiming that the state’s approach to funding education failed to provide students with their right to “adequate educational opportunities”.

While the initial court ruled that “students in Connecticut do not have a fundamental right to equal education opportunities under the state constitution,” the Connecticut State Supreme took on the case.

Twenty three months later, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court and determined that the Connecticut State Constitution “guarantees all schoolchildren an adequate education, one that prepares them to participate in democratic institutions, obtain gainful employment, and continue on to higher education.”

Across the state and across the nation the decision was heralded as one of the most important education cases in history.

Back in 2005, when the suit was filed, Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy published a commentary piece in the Hartford Courant that called on the state to immediately increase its level of state funding for education to 50 percent of the total costs associated with funding the state’s primary and secondary schools. (Over the past two decades, the state’s share had dropped from a high of 44 percent to a new low of about 35 percent).

Malloy wrote “The Rowland and Rell administrations have very deliberately and systemically under-funded local education in the state budget as a means of shifting costs to local government. Quite frankly, that’s why we have a property tax crisis in this State. While John Rowland bragged about tax cuts, local government picked up the burden — and the result is a combination of inadequate education and skyrocketing property taxes.”

And Malloy added “Connecticut has a moral obligation to provide every child with an adequate education — regardless of race, income, or geography. We are saying today that Connecticut also has a Constitutional obligation. In the absence of gubernatorial leadership on this issue, the lawsuit filed today calls attention to one of the most significant problems existing in Connecticut today.” (Dan Malloy 2005)

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision, gubernatorial candidate  Dan Malloy said “I began these efforts years ago because I firmly believed that the state was not honoring its constitutional requirement and the funding formula for education in poor and urban communities was not fair to those communities.”  (Dan Malloy 1/23/2010)

A few months later, State Senator Andrew McDonald, who now serves as Malloy’s Legal Counsel called the lawsuit the single greatest hope for change saying “This litigation effort holds the promise of a wholesale redefinition of how education is funded in the state” (Andrew McDonald 5/10/2010)

So here we are in 2012.  Time after time our elected officials and their senior advisers have said this suit was vitally important and now – when they have a real opportunity to make the difference they promised – they are squandering it.

They are squandering the opportunity of a lifetime.

Early Childhood Education: We’re for it – Unless We’re Against it:

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Wait, or is it the other way around?

If there are any legislators out there – now is the time to speak out and make a real difference concerning the future of early childhood education.  Please join Representative Gary Holder-Winfield and Senator Beth Bye who has been very outspoken and Representative State Representative Matthew Ritter, who was the only legislator to sign onto a letter written by the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance.

Last week the federal government, once again, rejected Connecticut’s application for $50 million Race to the Top education funds.  That makes three times that Connecticut has failed to successfully compete with other states for these vital funds.

This time it was Connecticut’s application for the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Funding that was rejected. The federal government was looking for “High-Quality, Accountable Programs; Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children; A Great Early Childhood Education Workforce and Measuring Outcomes and Progress.”

The Department of Education in Washington gave Connecticut a C- for its existing early childhood education programs.  Despite the high hopes, we weren’t even contenders.

This week, Connecticut Voices for Children, the state’s leading policy think tank, released a report about Connecticut’s early childhood education system.  They found that it “is currently a patchwork of multiple funding streams, controlled by multiple agencies, with varied reporting and eligibility requirements and inconsistent and insufficient data collection.”

The report added that federal and state funding for Early Childhood Education in the state has declined by about 10 percent over the past decade.

Connecticut has once more created a system in which there are the “haves” and “have-nots.”  About 67 percent of white children are in early childhood education programs, compared to 59 percent for African-American children and 51 percent for Latino children.

Also earlier this week, Governor Malloy reiterated his commitment to make 2012 the “year of education.”   Malloy’s spokesman said, “The governor has long recognized the importance of Early Childhood Education, going back to his time as mayor of Stamford where he launched a universal pre-k program…He agrees that our education system needs major reform, which is why we released a set of core principles to legislators earlier this week.”

However, there has been no indication that the Governor or Legislature are planning to come up with additional money, although the Governor did write in the federal grant application’s cover letter that “I am committed to fund one thousand new early childhood education slots targeted to high need children.”

The good news is that there is an increasing recognition among Connecticut’s elected officials that Early Childhood Education is important; that Connecticut is already far behind what other states are doing; and that a major initiative is needed if we hope to close the achievement gap and maintain an educated and capable workforce for our economy.

Yet to be seen is whether our officials will put real money into this effort.

And, at the other end of the scale, is that move by Attorney General George Jepsen, with the strong backing of Governor Malloy, to get the courts to carve out Early Childhood Education from the definition of education.

As a result of the lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the Connecticut Supreme Court not only reiterated that children have a constitutional right to an education, but that Connecticut’s education system must actually work and provide children with the knowledge and skills to succeed.

Then, three months ago, the Attorney General, citing the fact that Connecticut’s Constitution only refers to primary and secondary schools, petitioned the courts to make it clear that when the state government addresses the constitutional provisions associated with funding education, Early Education programs are specifically removed from what needs to be done to fulfill the state’s duty to its children.

Jepsen has responded to criticism by saying;

“My office, on behalf of the state has not questioned the potential benefits of pre-school education or the wisdom of providing such services to Connecticut children as a matter of public policy

Rather, we have filed a motion asking the Court to decide – as a legal, not policy matter – whether the Connecticut constitution’s guarantee of ‘free public elementary and secondary schools” was intended to encompass pre-school services.

Not to raise this important legal issue would be irresponsible and a disservice to the state of Connecticut and its people”

While reasonable people can disagree about exactly what the state Constitution means when it refers to education, there are two critical issues Jepsen overlooks.

First, the one constant that prevails throughout the broader education debate is that without successful Early Childhood Education programs you simply can’t have a successful education system.

Second, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that required Jepsen, with Malloy’s support, to file that motion.  As Dick Blumenthal showed day after day, year after year, the Attorney General’s Office is guided by a combination of both legal and policy issues.  If a future Attorney General wants to strip early childhood education out of the definition of education they can.

But as virtually every politician across the ideological spectrum is calling for a new and profound investment in Early Education, Jepsen has engaged in a separate, unnecessary and harmful effort to exempt state government from having to maintain its early educational programs in the future.

The voters of Connecticut elected George Jepsen over his opponent because they believed he would use his values and beliefs as he worked to uphold the law.  This second and counterproductive effort is not only being spearheaded by a Democratic, but it has the blessing and support of the Democratic Governor.

And perhaps the most amazing piece of all is that only three out of 187 member of the Connecticut General Assembly have stepped forward to officially ask the Attorney General and the Governor to withdraw their motion to carve out Early Childhood Education.

Every Connecticut elected official needs to decide: are you for Early Childhood Education or are you not?

And if they are for Early Childhood Education, they need to have the conviction to ensure that, in Connecticut at least, the notion of “education” includes Early Education programs.

Had we done that over the last couple of decades we might have received that $50 million federal grant.  We didn’t get the grant; but these officials can have an even bigger impact – they can work to make sure Jepsen and Malloy pull back on their anti-early childhood education motion.

Legislators, three of your colleagues have stepped up, now is the time for you to join them and speak out.

George Jepsen: Missing His Legacy Moment;

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George Jepsen (courtesy of CTPost)

You could call it the most important legal issue of the year.

You can certainly call it the biggest action George Jepsen has taken as Connecticut’s Attorney General.  In fact, it may just be Jepsen’s biggest move in his twenty three years or so in elective office.

The “IT” is the decision by George Jepsen, with the backing of Governor Malloy to carve out early education from the definition of education when it comes to ensuring the our state and local governments meet their Constitutional obligation to provide our children with a quality education.

The latest can be found in a news article today filed by Christine Stuart at CTNewsjunkie http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/early_childhood_advocates_arent_giving_up_their_fight/

The fact is that Connecticut’s educational achievement gap is not only the nations largest but the single greatest threat to Connecticut’s future.  Unless this pattern is altered Connecticut simply won’t have the workforce it needs to survive, let alone prosper by the year 2030.  And parenthetically, for those who care, it will also mean less fulfilling and successful lives for hundreds of thousands of citizens.

Every elected official talks about Connecticut’s stunning achievement gap and virtually every elected officials knows that early childhood education is the single most important step we can take to ensure more successful educational outcomes.

And that, in turn, brings us back to the motion that Attorney General Jepsen filed with theConnecticutcourt to remove early childhood education from the definition of education as defined by the Connecticut State Constitution.

In response to Christine Stuart’s questions, Malloy and Jepsen claimed that the decision to proceed with this legal maneuver is not whether they support early education but whether a constitutionally guaranteed right to an education includes access to early education.

And that, I would submit is exactly the point.

This is not about whether Jepsen and Malloy have been advocates of early childhood education.

Sadly, few elected officials have a real opportunity to make a fundamental difference in the future.  Many have long careers and yet never once have a lasting impact or create a legacy that will make a city, state, nation or the world a better place for generations to come.

This is not about whether the state motion to carve out of early childhood could be successful.  It is about laying the foundation for decades, even generations, to come.  There was nothing – nothing at all – that required Jepsen and Malloy to file this motion.

Malloy’s defense was that although he supported asking the courts to carve out early childhood education from the definition of education “that does not mean we shouldn’t be committed to early childhood education.”

Governor, as hard as this might be to believe, this isn’t about you or your past support for early childhood education.  It’s about what happens after you have completed your tenure.  It is about positioning early childhood education for 2020, 2030, 2040 and beyond.

It is about creating a legacy by making a fundamental difference in our state’s future.

Malloy told Stuart he supports the Connecticut Constitution, but does not believe that early childhood education is part of the definition of education that is guaranteed by the state’s Constitution.  He then added, if the courts decide differently “so be it.”

So be it?

The issue is actually not about whether the Constitution guarantees access to early childhood education.  The issue is about actively trying to remove early education from the long-term definition of what is required to provide children with a quality education.

Of everything that has been said, the single most absurd comment came from Attorney General Jepsen himself when he told CTNewsjunkie “My office, on behalf of the state, has not questioned the potential benefits of pre-school education or the wisdom of providing such services to Connecticut children as a matter of public policy…Rather, we have filed a motion asking the Court to decide – as a legal, not policy matter – whether the Connecticut constitution’s guarantee of “free public elementary and secondary schools” was intended to encompass pre-school services.”

George, if future attorney generals or anti-education advocates wanted to raise that issue they could.

However, this is your legacy moment.

This is where you could have said that you believed that the definition of quality education means a successful education and that, in turn, requires early childhood educational experiences and you won’t be a party to trying to remove that fact from this important legal case.

Adding insult to injury, Mayor Dan Malloy was actually one of the original supporters of this case – a lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding.  It was their successful lawsuit that will provide the foundation for education funding for the next 50 years.

And at the very moment that George Jepson and Dannel Malloy needed to stand up and be counted on this issue, they used their authority to move in exactly the wrong direction.

As State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield of New Haven put it in Stuart’s article, this motion is really saying that the “future of our children in this state is connected to the vagaries of elections.”

It just doesn’t get any clearer than that.

George Jepsen could still withdraw the motion.  If it doesn’t he will have truly failed to capture his legacy moment.

My previous posts on this issue can be found through the following links:

http://jonpelto.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/early-childhood-education-blog-post-part-ii-are-jepsen-and-malloy-wrong-on-this-issue/

http://jonpelto.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/forget-race-to-the-top-connecticut%E2%80%99s-education-policy-takes-a-terrible-tumble/

Early Childhood Education Blog Post (Part II) – Are Jepsen and Malloy wrong on this issue

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Two days ago I posted a blog entitled Forget Race to the Top: Connecticut’s Education Policy Takes a Terrible Tumble in which I took Attorney General George Jepsen and Governor Dannel Malloy to task for seeking to carve out early childhood education from the definition of what Connecticut’s children have a Constitutional right to receive.

The responses I received on the blog and via email were thoughtful and substantive.  Some highlighted the actual Constitutional wording and others pointed out the lack of available funds to pay for added costs of including early childhood education as a Constitutional requirement.

I’d like to respond by urging readers to return, for a moment, to the spring of 1977 when, in the case of Horton v. Meskill, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Connecticut’s system of school financing was unconstitutional.

Connecticut was one of the first states in the country where the courts stepped in to say that a child’s right to an education was so fundamental that state governments must act to ensure that school financing systems “provide a substantially equal educational opportunity.”

Since Connecticut’s school were funded primarily through local property taxes, there were huge disparities between towns when it came to funding schools and the Court said that the funding situation violated the equal access rights that all of Connecticut’s children have a right to.

The Court went on to say that while the legislature must address the school funding issue it made it clear that how it was addressed was a matter for the legislative branch and not the courts.

In the ensuing years the legislature adopted and refined the Guaranteed Tax Base (GTB) school funding formula to try and address the funding disparity issue.

Almost twenty years later, the Supreme Court addressed Connecticut’s school funding system in the case of Sheff v. O’NeillAlthough this case dealt more with segregation, the underlying issue was how best to address the right  Connecticut children had to an education. The Teacher Enhancement Act, the Education Cost Sharing Formula and various desegregation measures were all related to the state’s ongoing duty to provide appropriate educational opportunities.

This extraordinary saga took on added importance in the 2010 case of Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc. v Rell when the Supreme Court ruled that the state actually had a Constitutional obligation to provide students with “an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting… [and] to progress to institutions of higher education, or to attain productive employment and otherwise contribute to the state’s economy.”

As a result of this vital ruling, the legislature must face the fact that not only must it adopt a funding formula that removes disparities in resources but it must ensure that children have access to a quality education that will provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary to be “productive citizens”.

This now brings us to Jepsen and Malloy’s effort to carve out early childhood education from the definition of what type of education students must be provided.

While there are certainly some short-term budget implications of keeping early childhood education within the definition this isn’t about this bi-annual budget, or the next or even the one after that.

State government has been required to address its duty to properly fund its education system since 1977.  Now, 34  years later, the process is still in flux and will be for the next 34 years.

George Jepsen and Dan Malloy have the opportunity to frame that debate for decades to come.  Early childhood education has proven to be one of the most important factors when it comes to later educational success.  While money alone doesn’t make a system successful, it is clear that a successful education system must include an early education component.

The motion to remove early childhood education was neither necessary nor appropriate.

While it is certainly appropriate to look to the wording of the State Constitution, the truth is that if Connecticut has a Constitutional duty to provide children with a quality and successful educational experience, it will need to ensure that children will have access to early childhood education programs.

Jepsen and Malloy would claim that they are the most pro-education elected officials who have ever held their respective offices.

Their legal action undermines those claims because this truly isn’t about what happens during their tenure but how Connecticut develops over the next 50 years.

And thus I return to my conclusion that this was the wrong move, at the wrong time and their motion should be withdrawn before it does permanent damage.

Forget Race to the Top: Connecticut’s Education Policy Takes a Terrible Tumble

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Call it a giant step backwards in the effort to ensure Connecticut’s children receive a quality education.   That would be the effect of a move by Attorney General George Jepsen and Governor Dannel Malloy as they seek to carve out early childhood education from the definition of what Connecticut’s children have a constitutional right to receive.

And no, this isn’t some “education reform” proposal put forward by the Tea Baggers or other anti-government conservatives.

It is a very serious action on the part of Connecticut’s Democratic Attorney General, with the strong support of Connecticut’s Democratic Governor that calls on the state courts to remove early childhood education from the definition of Connecticut’s Constitutional responsibility to provide every child with a quality education.

About a year ago, Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled in the case of Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell that the State Constitution requires that every child have access to a quality education.

Consider it the most important Supreme Court ruling in nearly fifty years.  In fact, it is safe to say it is the most significant court case since Connecticut’s State Constitution was updated and adopted in 1965.

The Supreme Court sent this landmark case back to the lower court to refine and work out the details related to ensuring every child’s constitutional right to a quality education is protected.

Now, thanks to a blockbuster news story that was published on CTNewsjunkie, we learn that Attorney General George Jepson – with the backing of Governor Dannel Malloy – has submitted a motion demanding the court to carve out early childhood education from the constitutionally mandated rights our children have.

http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/malloy_sends_mixed_message_to_early_childhood_education_advocates/

Why Jepsen and Malloy would take such an incredible step remains a mystery.

While reasonable people throughout the education community and across the political spectrum can and do debate the merit of different educational models, the rather archaic notion that “education” begins with kindergarten was thrown out a long time ago.

As Maggie Adair, executive director of the Early Childhood Alliance told CTNewsjunkie, “Research indicates that one of the most effective strategies for improving educational outcomes and promoting economic development is high-quality early education.”

For decades, study after study, educator after educator have shown that early childhood educational experiences are the key to later educational success.

Malloy, Jepsen and nearly every major Democratic elected official has supported expansion of early childhood educational programs.

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Candidate Dan Malloy repeatedly pledged his support for early childhood education.  At one meeting with child advocates in October 2010 Malloy promised not to cut state subsidies for early childhood programs and as Governor he followed through on that pledge and even issued an executive order to create an Early Childhood Office as a way to strengthen Connecticut’s long-standing bid for “Race to the Top” federal grants.

With these previous actions, it came as a shock that George Jepsen would file a court motion to remove early childhood education from Connecticut’s definition of what Connecticut’s children have a right to.

Equally shocking is that when asked about Jepson’s move, Malloy told CTNewsjunkie “I think he’s right.”

Malloy followed his endorsement of Jepsen’s action by defending his own support for early childhood education programs adding “So the legal position is not necessarily determinative of what we should do as a state when we can do it.”

Come again?

Connecticut’s people just like the Governor and every economist and every policy maker and every educator and every business owner knows that an educated workforce is the key to a successful economy.

Now we hear the Governor saying that early education programs are good when we can afford them but are not necessary or required when it comes to meeting our legal and moral responsibility to provide our children with a quality education

As CTNewsjunkie reports, a number of early education advocates called Malloy’s pronouncement as “illogical”.  To me, that is being overly generous.

Attorney General Jepson’s legal motion claims that children don’t have a fundamental right to an early education because if one reviews the record of Connecticut’s 1965 Constitutional Convention there is “little doubt that preschool or preschool services do not fall within the scope of the Constitutional right.”

To explain their reasoning, the motion goes on to read “It is readily apparent that the text of the constitutional provision at issue makes no reference to preschool or preschool services…In fact, quite to the contrary, the term “schools” is explicitly modified by the terms “free” and “public” — and, most critically, by the terms “elementary” and “secondary.” Obviously, “pre-kindergarten,” “preschool” and “early childhood education” are terms used to describe programs which are decidedly not elementary or secondary education.”

Considering that early education provides better educational outcomes and the fact that hundreds of elementary schools provide Pre-K and early education programs, the Attorney General’s comments are not only bizarre but counter to the policy goals that have been so well articulated by Democratic policymakers for years.

So why would George Jepsen and Dan Malloy take this extraordinary step?

Nothing they have said to date sheds light on that question.

Connecticut’s State Constitution requires that every child has access to a quality education.  Leaving the concept of early childhood education as a part of the definition of what constitutes a quality education does add margin cost over the coming decades but the impact is relatively minimal compared to the far more significant issue of developing a fair and equitable funding mechanism to ensure that all children receive a quality education.

In addition, as we know from earlier education funding lawsuits, it takes years, even decades, to indentify, develop and implement state funding formulas that successfully achieve constitutionally mandated goals.

Even if this Governor wanted another term in office, leaving early childhood education as part of the legal definition of education would have little to no impact.

The true beneficiaries of having a definition of education that includes early childhood education are the generations to come, long after today’s policymakers are gone.

If Connecticut has any chance to develop a competitive 21st Century economy, we will have to develop a successful education system and we can’t achieve that without building off a foundation of successful early childhood programs.

Before the Attorney General continues with this outlandish motion, both he and Malloy owe the people of Connecticut a far more coherent explanation as to why they are taking an action that will undermine our children and our economy.