Education front and center in gubernatorial debate
MIDDLETOWN -- Candidates for governor sparred over education issues Tuesday night, with Republican Tom Foley of Greenwich proposing a statewide test before high schoolers could obtain their diplomas.
Foley, a private investor, told about 200 people in a candidates' forum here that the tenure system of job security for veteran teachers has a "corrosive" effect on education.
"I think we need to have better standards, a more-rigorous curricula," said the Harvard-educated businessman. "We need more charter schools, more magnet schools" and the ability of pupils to transfer from failing schools.
"I will support school choice for parents," he said. "I will support money following the child. I will support rigorously measuring the performance of kids, schools and teachers. This is a war and we are losing it."
Foley tried to portray Democrat Dannel Malloy, the former longtime Stamford mayor, as too cozy with teacher unions and supportive of binding arbitration that is proving costly.
"I am not a career politician," he said. "I have not spent 14 years and longer serving in public office. I have a passion about fixing our broken schools." If elected, Foley said jobs and education will be his top priorities.
"The next governor has an opportunity to take us in a new direction, but only if he is willing to fight the inertia and special interests supporting the status quo and resisting substantive reform," Foley said.
"If serving on the Board of Education and serving on the Board of Finance makes you a career politician, so be it," Malloy said. "But let me tell you, I didn't start this race for governor running for the United States Senate. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to change education in this state."
Malloy detailed a personal story in which he overcame physical and learning disabilities to graduate with honors from Boston College.
"With the help of great teachers and a public system, and for a few years in a Catholic system, I was able to overcome those difficulties and build a foundation of knowledge so that when my skills caught up late in high school and early in college I was able to succeed," Malloy said.
"You need to understand that I would not be here today but for the great teachers, social workers, physical therapists that were allotted and allowed to me, so that I might succeed and overcome the predictions that were made to my parents," Malloy said.
Malloy, a former prosecutor and defense attorney, promised he would push for greater accountability and a new system for determining how much money makes it into classrooms.
He said would support universal pre-kindergarten programs across the state to make children better prepared, as he did in Stamford.
Malloy praised recent legislation that gives concerned parents the power to reconstitute low-achieving schools.
Foley called the state legislation a start in the right direction, but more than a third of kids in Stamford schools are working below grade average.
"To prepare students for the workplace we must regain strength in our math and science curricula and we must reduce dropout rates, particularly in our inner cities," Foley said. "If we succeed at these, it may be the biggest single gift we give future Connecticut generations."
The event, sponsored by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, included Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh, the Independent candidate for governor, who stood between Foley and Malloy on the gymnasium stage.
Marsh, a former Republican who changed parties, was the only one of the three opposed to the federal Race to the Top legislation. He said education has to be a top state priority.
"The key is to graduate with skills necessary to reach the next level," Marsh told a crowd of about 200 in Macdonough Elementary School.