In just about every newspaper or online article you read there is a story about education budgets and the sad reality of teacher layoffs. The other day, in one of the state's leading newspapers the headline read, `Flat Budget Would Require 65 Layoffs.' Our own district towns are looking at hundreds of possible reductions in staff. This is not the kind of news any town wants to face, but this is the environment that many communities are living in.

The Education Committee at the state capitol has spent the last several months dealing with issues of fairness in Education. Here are the top seven pieces of legislation we were able to act upon that you should know about.

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- Senate Bill # 1138, An Act Concerning Bullying and Cyber-bulling, tackles the issue of school safety and tries to help foster a safer school climate by strengthening and expanding Connecticut's school bullying laws.

- Senate Bill # 930, An Act Concerning School Entrance Age, would limit the practice commonly known as "redshirting," when parents decide to hold a child from entering kindergarten until the age of seven. Under the bill, all children must attend kindergarten by the age of six, unless they require special services.

- Senate Bill # 6385, An Act Implementing The Budget Recommendations Of The Governor Concerning Education. This legislation would maintain education funding at the current levels and relax the requirement that a district must spend the same or more that the previous year.

- Senate Bill # 1104, An Act Concerning Charter Schools, would allow the Commissioner of Education to waive the requirement that teachers in charter schools hold certification, when the charter school can demonstrate the effectiveness for any uncertified teacher, but only for 15% of teachers and administrators. This limits options and the pool of professionals for these experimental laboratory charter schools that, by all accounts, should not have further restrictions placed on them. More work needs to be done to improve this proposal.

- Senate Bill # 1038, An Act Concerning Special Education, would require additional communication of information regarding individualized education programs to parents and guardians by adding another meeting prior to the actual special education meeting. This could be considered by some as an additional mandate. There is also a provision to improve the quality of education for teachers in the implementation of individualized education programs.

- Senate Bill # 1106, An Act Concerning a New Department of Early Childhood Education would create a department that will be responsible for all state early childhood education and child care programs and services. This would be an expansion of state government by creating a new agency at a time when state government needs to consolidate and reduce spending. This legislation would also allow family child care providers, who are subsidized by the state, to join a union and collectively bargain. (An idea I opposed and it appears the governor may oppose as well)

Of the seven pieces of legislation, I was successful in amending Senate Bill # 1160, An Act Concerning School Transportation, the Development of a Model Teacher Performance Evaluation System, Teacher Tenure Laws and Cooperative Arrangements.

When considering a new model for teacher elevations I added "student growth and development" as one of the factors to consider in teacher evaluations, which had been a glaring omission in the bill. This omission lost Connecticut millions of federal dollars in Race to the Top.

I was not successful, however, in amendments to remove the "last in first out" provisions in teacher layoffs. Nearly 80 percent of schools are required to use seniority as the only criteria for layoffs. I believe that although seniority should be an important factor in layoffs, it should not be the only factor.

New teachers who out perform their peers, along with veteran teachers, should not be laid off simply because they haven't logged more years on the job. District leaders should be looking at factors like dedication, years of service, accomplishments, performance reviews, content knowledge, comprehension of changing material and most importantly, student growth and development. I also suggested that teacher peer reviews could be used. `Smart layoff' measures could help make our state more competitive in future federal education funding as well.

These bills are now making their way through the legislative process and could be voted on before schools get out in June. It is my hope that my fellow lawmakers consider improvements to these measures in order to promote what is best for our students and Connecticut's future.

Always feel free to contact my office with questions and concerns. call 1-800-842-1421 or email www.toni.boucher@cga.ct.gov.