Mandate relief for schools gets boost from Lavielle

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) has been appointed to a new task force formed to provide mandate relief to high-performing school districts in order to help them save taxpayer money, allocate valuable resources efficiently, and continuously improve learning. The task force was created by a law passed during this year’s legislative session.

“This was something that I had tried to do back in 2012,” Ms. Lavielle, a member of both the education and higher education committees, said. “It was delightful that it passed so unanimously.”

Ms. Lavielle authored and introduced the section of the law that created the task force as an amendment when it came to the House floor. It was signed into law on June 6.

The new law requires the appointment of a task force that must deliver a list of concrete recommendations for mandates and routine requirements from which high-performing school districts may choose to be relieved. The list is due by Oct. 1. Implementing the amendment entails no state spending and may help school districts save money.

In its definition of high-performing districts, the law includes both those with consistently strong performance and those that have demonstrated rapid, significant progress, with results and progress measured by the state’s District Performance Index.

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 ranking of the nation’s high schools published earlier this year by U.S. News & World Report, Connecticut is distinguished with 11 Gold Medal schools, 24 Silver Medal schools, and four Bronze Medal schools. Gold Medal schools in the 143rd District are Wilton High School and Westport’s Staples High School.

“In the process sometimes what happens is that it ends up imposing a lot on all schools,” Ms. Lavielle said. “There are a lot of districts that are doing very well and will continue to do well. They should not have to suffer to bring the lowest-performing schools up to speed.

“We must close the achievement gap from the bottom up, not from the top down. Even as we work to raise the performance of our lowest-performing schools, we must support and encourage excellence by giving our best schools the freedom to keep doing what they do so well.

“I introduced this legislation because so many superintendents, teachers, and Board of Education members have told me that providing substantial mandate relief to successful schools is an effective way to make this happen.”

The legislation introduced by Ms. Lavielle focuses on one of the original six objectives set by Gov. Dannel 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.

“Our towns and cities are under constant pressure from escalating costs in their education budgets, and our teachers are overburdened with administrative tasks,” Ms. Lavielle said. “Mandate relief can help high-performing school districts like Wilton and Staples save money by operating more efficiently and free up resources to devote more time to educating students and to pursue real innovation in learning that will ultimately benefit every Connecticut school district. Not addressing this issue would be dismissive of our state’s greatest educational accomplishments.”

A Red Tape Task Force formed by the governor last year to define mandate relief options did submit a report with a limited number of recommendations. These were included in the governor’s initial version, but they fell short of the Education Committee’s expectations and were struck from the bill in substitute language that did not address mandate relief at all when it was passed out of committee in March to the House floor.

“The school budgets are always under strain,” Ms. Lavielle said. “They continually go up. The teachers are spending more time on administrative duties. We need to make sure the teachers are spending as much time as possible teaching, which saves money.

“This allows districts to keep improving, as opposed to constraining them with requirements that don’t concern them. We can make sure good schools can be good, but that great schools don’t have to suffer.”

A chairperson for the task force has not been named. Looking forward to it, Ms. Lavielle expressed a strong passion for getting information.

“I am hoping to have a formal way to collect data from teachers, administrators, unions, parents, and maybe even some students,” she said.