Education Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-929

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING CLOSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP

Vote Date:

3/23/2011

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute to Appropriations

PH Date:

2/23/2011

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Education Committee

REASONS FOR BILL: NEW BILL TITLE AND CONTENT

The original bill was stripped, replaced with LCO No. 5029, AN ACT CONCERNING CLOSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP and incorporates parts of H.B. 6432 and H.B. 6500.

S.B. 929 will create and utilize a task force to address growing concerns about the Achievement Gap in Connecticut by analyzing various student groups. The task force will, no later than January 1, 2012, submit a master plan to the General Assembly that relates what they have learned. The task force will submit annual reports, beginning January 1, 2013 through January 1, 2020, on the implementation of the master plan that will lead to the end of the Achievement Gap in Connecticut. An Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap will also be created, as will other models, curriculums, and resource centers. Local boards of education that meet certain requirements will be allowed to increase the length of school sessions or the length of the school day in order to improve school performance. The bill updates school readiness requirements in order to better prepare Connecticut youth.

Please refer to testimony for H.B. 6432, also entitled AN ACT CONCERNING CLOSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP, and H.B. 6500, AN ACT CONCERNING EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT for testimony relevant to the updated version of S.B. 929. Relevant testimony included in this report will stem from public hearings held on H.B. 6432 and H.B. 6500.

SUBSTITUTE LANGUAGE:

Substitute Language is lengthy and is on file with the Education Committee.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

George A. Coleman, Acting Commissioner of Education, spoke in support and in opposition of the bill. The commissioner spoke in support of Section 12. He said, in his testimony, “[The Connecticut State Department of Education] (CSDE) is already in the process of considering one Educational Testing Services (ETS) exam that would provide candidates with a separate math score.” The CSDE spoke in opposition to Section 13 of the bill. He said that CSDE “already has in place a uniform system that collects detailed expenditures at the school district level that complies with the Federal guidelines on financial accounting for local and state school systems.” He said that Section 13 would have a “significant fiscal impact on every school district” and that timeline outlined was not feasible. To that end, the bill was changed to allow an extra year for implementation. (H.B. 6500)

Commissioner Coleman also submitted testimony both in support and opposition of the bill. The commissioner said, “Section 3 of this bill seeks to require CSDE to develop model curricula in reading and mathematics for grades pre-K to grade four, inclusive. CSDE has concerns with this section given the fiscal implications.” Commissioner Coleman's testimony stated that CDSE is in favor of the creation of the CT School Cultural Resource Center, as proposed in Section 5. Citing multiple reasons why the State Education Resource Center (SERC) is “uniquely positioned to establish the CT Cultural Resource Center,” the commissioner also said, “Given the infrastructure and expertise already in place, the estimated cost of establishing the Center would be fairly low.”

With regard to Section 7, Commissioner Coleman said, “CSDE supports making school readiness spaces available to all eligible children who reside in priority school districts, as well as statewide, as the Achievement Gap does not only exist in priority school districts. As such, the committee should be aware that this subsection has fiscal implications.” The commissioner also spoke to full-day kindergarten, specifically in Ansonia, Bristol, Danbury, Meriden and Norwich – priority school districts not currently offering full-day kindergarten where implementation would increase the cost of education.

“With that said, CSDE supports Raised Bill 6432 [S.B. 929], with the above concerns, which are largely fiscal in nature.” (H.B. 6432)

(Testified/Submitted.)

Elaine Zimmerman, Executive Director, Connecticut Commission on Children, provided testimony in support of the bill with suggestions for improvement. Ms. Zimmerman offered her full support of access to school readiness slots and full-day kindergarten. She suggested that the bill reference core components of quality kindergarten from PA 98-243 such as “transition to school day plans, curriculum, parental involvement, assessment and reading readiness.” Ms. Zimmerman offered reading assessment, training and curriculum ideas in order to encourage literacy and educator progress.

(Submitted.)

Louise H. Feroe, Senior Vice Chancellor, Connecticut State University System, submitted testimony in support of the bill and wrote to highlight ways in which the university system is working to address the achievement gap.

(Submitted.)

Stanley Battle, Interim President, Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), provided testimony in support of the bill. In his testimony, Dr. Battle spoke to the achievement gap, mentioning key elements of SCSU's contributions to assisting struggling students who are working to meet the demands of higher education.

(Submitted.)

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Louis Bach, Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), provided testimony in support of the bill. He said, “CBIA fully supports the requirement that those seeking an elementary-level teaching certificate shall pass an “approved mathematics assessment in order to be eligible for such elementary education endorsement.” Mr. Bach also said that CBIA approved of the development of a uniform system of accounting for school expenditures. “This measure is a key step to reforming school finance.” (H.B. 6500)

Mr. Bach also spoke in support of the bill, specifically the establishment of a State Education Resource Center which he felt could do even more than the bill proposes.

(Submitted/Testified.)

Dianne Kaplan deVries, Project Director, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF), spoke in support of the bill. Ms. deVries said that CCJEF “strongly supports an updated and uniform system of accounting for school revenues and expenditures…the aim of such accounting improvements should be to provide better information to policymakers but also to enhance budget transparency for the public.”

(Testified.)

Jennifer Alexander, Director of Research and Policy, ConnCAN, spoke in support of Section 13 of the bill while offering some minor suggestions for change. Ms. Alexander said that “widely varying district accounting practices make it nearly impossible to compare budgets and spending across districts.” She proposed changes in existing reporting requirements, the inclusion of perspectives and expertise from school finance and business managers from multiple school systems, auditing, and suggested that districts be held accountable for complying with the new system once it is in place. “It's time to take a more comprehensive approach and replace our broken school funding system with a long-term, sustainable student-based school funding system that consistently funds all students based on their learning needs at the public school they attend.”

(Testified.)

Shana Kennedy-Salchow, Co-Executive Director, Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement, submitted testimony in support of the bill. With regard to Section 13, Ms. Kennedy-Salchow's testimony said, “During the Commission, we tried desperately to understand how schools were funded and what the money actually went for. None of the information we needed was available at the school level and the information at the district level varied so much and had such broad categories, it was nearly useless.” (H.B. 6500)

Ms. Kennedy-Salchow also testified in support of other sections of the bill, offering suggestions for improvement based on her experience with the commission. She suggested the alignment of developed model curricula to the Common Core Standards and recommended “adding in language to require the bottom 5% of schools to submit their curricula for review to the SBE to ensure they align with the new curricula.” With regard to the establishment of a State Education Resource Center, Ms. Kennedy-Salchow said “there is no accountability included and no mention of a focus on the lowest 5% of schools which need aggressive turnaround strategies if we are going to get serious about closing the achievement gap.” Again referring to Section 5, she supported providing grant funds but requested more focus on accountability.

Section 6, which would allow the extension of the school session or school day, Ms. Kennedy-Salchow suggested should not only be encouraged but required in priority school districts. (H.B. 6432)

(Submitted/Testified.)

Sherese A. Ward, Government Relations and Policy Director, Connecticut Black Alliance for Educational Options (CT BAEO), spoke in support of the bill. Ms. Ward spoke specifically to Sections 5 and 6. Ms. Ward welcomed the creation of a Cultural Resource Center and supported the concept of lengthening the school day if necessary “as a means of improving student outcomes.” Additionally, she praised the creation of a task force to study the achievement gap and hoped coordinated efforts would lead to closure.

(Testified.)

Frank Sykes, Legislative Analyst, African-American Affairs Commission (AAAC), provided testimony in support of the bill, citing the rate of school failure for African-American students and the need to address the achievement gap.

(Submitted.)

Mary Loftus Levine, Director of Policy and Professional Practice, Connecticut Educational Association (CEA), spoke in support of the bill and offered several suggestions on behalf of CEA. Ms. Levine said that the CEA supports the creation of an Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap, as discussed in Section 2. She asked that educators be considered as members of the task force. Ms. Levine also supported Section 2 of the bill. In her testimony Ms. Levine said, “Many ideas in this bill are already happening; for example, district identification, plans, programs and reporting go on regularly through the Connecticut Accountability and Learning Initiative (CALI).” She also referenced Section 6 but suggested that instead of lengthening the school day, that services be offered before and after school and that “wrap around services” be offered instead.

(Testified.)

Eduardo V. Genao, Director, Greater Hartford Regional School Choice Office, submitted testimony in support of the bill. Mr. Genao wrote in strong support of “the idea of developing a model curriculum in reading and mathematics for pre-K to grade four.” He also wrote to support the capability of local boards to increase the number of hours in the educational day. He fully endorsed “the idea of establishing an educator reciprocity program to permit certified teachers in other states with similar certification requirements to teach here in Connecticut without major obstacles.” Mr. Genao also said that he supported giving priority school district students the ability to attend prekindergarten and kindergarten. He did suggest that funding for these programs be made available to these districts as a means of support.

(Submitted.)

Maggie Adair, Deputy Director, Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS), provided testimony in support of the bill. Ms. Adair wrote particularly of Section 3, in support of the development of model curricula for mathematics and reading for prekindergarten to grade four. She suggested that the bill “could be strengthened by placing even greater focus on early reading, enhanced reading assessment tools and teacher training,” and provided tools for attaining that focus.

(Submitted.)

Wendy Lecker, Co-President, Stamford Parent Teacher Council, provided testimony in support of the bill. Ms. Lecker applauded the creation of a resource center and the creation of an Interagency Council. She did have several questions. Her concern about the definition of “achievement gap” has been addressed in substitute language, Section 4. She asked if a psychometrician was consulted regarding the end date of 2020 for the elimination of the test score gap. Along with many others, Ms. Lecker worried that municipalities could not afford to meet the proposed accountability reporting requirements.

(Submitted.)

Margie Gillis, President, Literacy How, Inc. and Research Affiliate, Haskins Laboratories, submitted testimony in support of the bill. Ms. Gillis wrote in support of the bill while offering multiple suggestions for improvement. She noted that while “reading is mentioned in the bill, it is not highlighted as key to closing the achievement gap.” Ms. Gillis also suggested that “the proposed bill contain specific language for the monitoring and accountability of Continuing Education Units (CEUs),” and said, “Since CEUs are the currency of the practicing teacher's professional development experience, it is imperative that the State Board of Education, along with Local Education Agencies, work collaboratively to ensure that teachers are provided with the highest quality opportunities to expand their knowledge of evidence-based practices and content. If student outcomes do not show improvement with the current CEU offerings, the State Board of Education should increase the 90 hour requirement to as many as 150 hours.” In addition, Ms. Gillis “recommended that the state revise its current reading assessment requirement from the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) to a technology-based measure that can be administered, scored, and analyzed for instructional purposes quickly and efficiently.”

(Submitted.)

Eric Arzubi, Co-Chair, Children's Committee, Keep the Promise Coalition (KTP), provided testimony in support of the bill but asked, along with Alicia Woodsby, that mental health professionals be included as members of the task force and the Interagency Council. In addition, Mr. Arzubi suggested that the Task Force look “outside of Connecticut to examine current best practices from around the country.”

(Submitted.)

Joan Barbuto, Co-Chair, Connecticut Coalition for Child Development Education, spoke in support of the bill and offered suggestions for improvement. Ms. Barbuto said, “The Task Force proposed in this bill should be directed to include in the plan a deliberate nexus regarding the K-12 education system and an understanding and commitment to supporting the critical role that parents and communities play in the care and education of the young children.” In addition, citing “The Cabinet Report, Ready by Five: Five by Nine,” Ms. Barbuto said the problem was not necessarily an achievement gap but a preparation gap. She listed several recommendations in her testimony including the addition of members of the Early Childhood Education Cabinet and Commission on Children to the Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap and “the development of curriculum on child development for middle and high school children as well as reading and math.” She made suggestions regarding task force and council involvement with implementing the new recommendations and recommended that school districts be required “to work with community stakeholders to improve parenting support and parenting skills in a coordinated system.”

(Testified.)

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Dianne Kaplan deVries, Project Director, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, spoke in opposition to the bill. While Ms. deVries spoke in support of Section 13, she also said, “such accounting improvements invite misinterpretation, flawed apples-to-oranges comparisons that fuel partisan purposes, and other data misuses.” She added, in her testimony, “Another unfortunate implication of proposed accounting system improvements will be the additional workload of already thinly staffed school budget offices, and in that regard, this would be still another unfunded mandate.”

(Testified.)

Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Inc. (CABE), submitted testimony in opposition to the bill. “CABE is concerned that the requirements in [section 13] for a union system, of accounting for school expenditures will interfere with local budgeting practices and make it difficult for districts to make comparisons with previous years.” CABE submitted additional testimony against the requirement that all priority school districts make school readiness spaces available for all eligible children and provide full-day kindergarten to all children in the district citing “serious cost implications both in terms of staffing and facilities.” CABE was supportive of many of the other provisions discussed in the bill as brought forward through H.B. 6432.

(Submitted.)

The League of Women Voters of Connecticut submitted testimony that leaned toward opposition. While the League supports the idea eliminating the achievement gap, they offered several concerns about the bill. With regard to the creation of a task force, the League suggested that representatives from various school systems be included. Questions were raised about the resources necessary to develop reading and math curricula for students in K-4 or for the establishment of a Cultural Resource Center. With regard to Section 13, The League of Women Voters of Connecticut said, “The additional accountability reporting requirements placed on districts with achievement gaps are supported by no additional funding. What constitutes a reportable achievement gap should be more precisely defined.” Additionally, the League questioned the financial ability of districts to provide universal school readiness spaces and full-day kindergarten.

(Submitted.)

Roch J. Girard, President, Connecticut Federation of School Administrators (CFSA), provided testimony in opposition to the bill. While he lauded the intent of the bill, he asked that a larger variety of stakeholders be represented on the task force to address the achievement gap. Mr. Girard asked if the State Department of Education had the staff required to meet the responsibilities listed in the bill and wondered if the State Board of Education had the resources needed to establish a State Education Resource Center. “The bill calls for the dissemination of grant moneys in establishing the new curricula, training, support for textbooks, etc. but, will the resources be there to get the job done? Though we support the concept promoted in this bill, the bottom line once again come[s] down to personnel, resources, and money. Given the fiscal hole we are in, I question the viability and sustainability inherent in this bill.”

(Submitted.)

Alicia Woodsby, Public Policy Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-CT), submitted testimony in opposition to the bill, offering only suggestions for improvement. “…we urge the inclusion of mental health as a critical component in addressing our state's education crisis and closing the biggest achievement gap in the country…We urge the Committee to have a clearly designated role for mental health, mental health professionals, and families impacted by mental health issues on both the task forces and Interagency Council outlined in this legislation.”

(Submitted.)

Reported by: Sarah L. Hamby, Assistant Clerk

Date: 3/29/2011