HARTFORD, May 10 – Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) introduced legislation on the House floor last night to provide mandate relief to high-performing schools in Connecticut. She introduced the proposal as an amendment to HB 6358, AN ACT UNLEASHING INNOVATION IN CONNECTICUT SCHOOLS. Her amendment, which gained full bipartisan support, passed unanimously in the House. Once amended, the underlying bill passed subsequently as well.
The legislation focuses on one of the original six objectives set by Governor Malloy and accepted as a bipartisan framework for the 2012 education reform bill. When he first articulated these objectives in December 2011, one of them included administrative and mandate relief for high-performing schools: “Unleash innovation by removing red tape and other barriers to success, especially in high-performing schools and districts”.
This objective, which up until now had still not been addressed either by legislation or by other means, was the focus of Rep. Lavielle’s proposal. Her amendment requires the appointment of a task force that must deliver by October 1, 2013 a list of concrete recommendations for mandates and routine requirements from which high-performing schools can choose to be relieved. Implementing the amendment entails no state spending and may help school districts save money.
“I have fought hard for this legislation because all of our towns are under pressure from escalating costs in their education budgets, and our teachers are overburdened with administrative tasks,” said Rep. Lavielle, a member of the General Assembly’s Education Committee. “Mandate relief can help high-performing school districts save money by operating more efficiently and free up resources to pursue real innovation in learning that can benefit all Connecticut school districts. Not addressing this issue would be dismissive of our state’s greatest educational accomplishments, and I am extremely grateful that all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have chosen to support the outstanding work and continuing improvement of our most successful schools.”
This is not the first time that Rep. Lavielle has proposed mandate relief legislation. During the 2012 session, she introduced the same concept in the only amendment to the education reform bill (SB 458, now PA 12-116) that was called in either the House or the Senate. That amendment was voted down along party lines on the grounds that the executive branch was to appoint a Red Tape Task Force to explore and recommend mandate relief options. That task force did in fact submit a report with a limited number of recommendations earlier this year. These were included in an early version of HB 6358, but they fell short of the Education Committee’s expectations and were struck from the bill, which did not address mandate relief at all when it was passed out of committee to the House floor. Rep. Lavielle felt strongly, however, that the issue must be treated as a top priority. Her amendment requires the formation of a new task force that is accountable to the legislature and that must deliver firm recommendations early enough to be acted upon in the 2014 session.
While the gap in student achievement between Connecticut’s highest and lowest performing schools is the largest in the country, many Connecticut school districts have much to be proud of and to share in the area of teaching and learning innovation. In the recent ranking of the nation’s high schools published by U.S. News & World Report, Connecticut is distinguished with 11 Gold Medal schools*, 24 Silver Medal schools, and 4 Bronze Medal schools.
“We must close the achievement gap from the bottom up, not from the top down,” said Rep. Lavielle. “Even as we work hard to raise the performance of our lowest performing schools, I believe we must support and encourage excellence by giving our best schools the freedom to keep doing what they do so well. Many superintendents and Board of Education members from high-performing districts agree that one way we can do this is by providing them substantial education mandate relief. Despite its initial objectives, last year’s education reform bill left open the question of how to make sure that our best schools can foster continuous improvement.
“Consistently high-performing districts have demonstrated that they have what it takes to provide students a fruitful learning experience, to develop excellent teachers, and to maintain high standards,” continued Rep. Lavielle. “But it’s essential that they be able to continue improving all the time. While their state funding is not likely to increase, mandate relief will help the professionals at these schools spend available education dollars more efficiently and devote more time and resources to educating students.”
State Representative Gail Lavielle represents Wilton, Norwalk, and Westport. She is Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s Commerce Committee, and a member of the Appropriations, Education, and Higher Education Committees.
* Gold Medal schools in the 143rd district’s towns are Wilton High School and Westport’s Staples High School