Published in the Hartford Courant
Reported by Jenny Wilson
Education became a dominant theme in the governor’s race this week, as Democrats launched an attack against Republican candidate Tom Foley for education proposals they say would slash funding from schools that need it the most.
At the core of Foley’s education plan is in-district school choice and “money follows the child” — two policies that, combined, will result in students leaving low-performing schools and then those schools being stripped of per-pupil funding. Foley has proposed implementing an A-through-F grading system for schools that would allow parents, whom he has described as “the best decision-makers” to choose where they want to send their children.
Malloy’s campaign points to the governor’s investment in low-performing schools and cites figures that show progress in education — like higher test scores and graduation rates, and a narrowing of the achievement gap. At a press conference Wednesday, allies of the governor said Malloy continued to support education, even as federal recovery funding vanished.
Campaigns released dueling television ads about education this week, with Foley promoting his plan and Malloy touting his record. Recent polling shows that despite some bumps this year — both in the areas of charter school management and the rollout of the Common Core State Standards initiative — Malloy still leads in polls on education. A Quinnipiac University survey released earlier this month found that 46 percent of respondents thought Malloy would do a better job on education policy than Foley, compared with 40 percent who said the former U.S. ambassador was better-equipped to handle the issue.
Throughout the campaign, Foley has criticized the governor’s approach to education, and described it at an event earlier this summer as “heavy-handed” and “arrogant,” saying he tried to fix areas where schools were not broken. He defended his education policy proposal at a press conference Wednesday.
“What I’m hoping is … the marketplace starts to exert pressure on schools,” Foley said. “Right away schools are on notice that if I’m governor, I’m going to make sure that this gets passed and implemented — so they should start being better schools right away.”
The Greenwich Republican said he drew on his business experience to formulate his approach to schools, admitting that his policy would result in schools being reconstituted.
“Institutions that aren’t performing lose — that’s kind of the way the private sector works, and it ought to be the way the school works, too.”
Foley said he was not worried about over-migration to high-performing schools because while the grading system was intended to be objective, “a lot of parents won’t agree.” Most parents are inclined to think that the school their children attend is a good school, Foley said.
The Malloy campaign — which has attacked Foley for making business decisions that hurt middle class workers at the Bibb Co. in Georgia, a company Foley owned that later filed for bankruptcy — countered that “you can’t leave our children’s education to the whims of the free market.”
Malloy campaign spokesman Mark Bergman said Foley would “treat public schools and public school teachers just like he treated mills and workers in the private sector — closing them down and putting them out of work when he decides they have failed and are inconvenient for him.”
The Malloy ad released this week praised the governor, saying he “faced the Great Recession as others did not, refusing to cut education and instead taking the hard route, making tough choices so we can invest millions more in our local schools.”
According to the governor’s office, nearly $260 million has been invested in the Alliance district program, which directs investment to Connecticut’s lowest-performing districts. Forty percent of Connecticut students attend school in a low-performing district.
“Tom Foley proposes to slash dollars to schools that need it the most,” said state Rep. Andy Fleischmann, who said the A-through-F grading system would “stigmatize schools and communities while failing to address their challenges.”
Connecticut House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz said Democratic policies have proven results. At the press conference, the lawmakers cited this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress test, also known as NAEP, which showed a narrowed achievement gap in 12th grade.
“All of the work that we’ve been doing is starting to bear fruit, and the achievement gap is starting to close… that’s something to be celebrated, not attacked,” Fleischmann said.
But Foley did not hesitate in attacking that claim. He said NAEP measures achievement in 12 categories, and that, because the achievement gap had narrowed in only some of them, “we’re not doing better and we’re not making progress.”