Election 2014 Caravan of Delights: Conn. Gubernatorial Race

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 28, 2014 3 min read
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As we get closer to the Nov. 4 general election, I will take a look each day at a state election of interest. (If you’ve missed my election reporting from California, Florida, and Georgia, you’ve still got time to catch up!) I’ll look at polling numbers and the candidates’ general positions on K-12 issues, and I’ll also highlight the political and policy environments that are influencing the debate about public schools. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only focus on the Democratic and Republican candidates. Today I’ll look at the race for governor in Connecticut.

It’s a remix tape of the 2010 gubernatorial race in Connecticut, where Republican Tom Foley, a business executive and former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, is trying for a second time to beat Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy. Malloy’s work in education policy got tricky as he ran into political troubles related to the Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluations.

The race has stayed relatively tight for months, with the maximum gap between Foley and Malloy reaching around 5 percentage points so far. Malloy had even taken the lead in recent weeks, according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average. But now the race is a statistical tie, and RCP rates it as a toss-up.

Tom Foley

When it comes to his concrete policy proposals, Foley has a few ideas that will sound familiar to those who follow the Foundation for Excellence in Education and other similar-minded groups.

Foley wants an A-F accountability system for public schools and a requirement that 3rd graders pass a reading test. In addition, the Republican is a fan of “backpack” funding in which state funding would follow students, with the amount of that state grant varying based on student need. He also supports “in-district public school choice,” but stops short of explicitly supporting vouchers specifically for private schools, or tax-credit scholarships.

Foley has also tried to capitalize on dissent in the Constitution State over the common core and aligned assessments. According to the New Haven Register, Foley accused Malloy of meddling improperly in K-12 while speaking to a conference of labor unions in the state:

“I don’t know why the governor would be interfering with those schools who are doing well under local control and mandating things like common core assessments,” he said. “I adhere to the principle ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Let’s go fix the schools that aren’t working and let’s leave alone those that are.”

Dannel Malloy

Early in his tenure, Malloy oversaw dramatic changes to the state’s K-12 policy that included an expanded role for charter schools and a new state-run district for struggling schools. He tried unsuccessfully to include an end to teachers’ contracts as part of that package. But he’s taken a different tack in the months leading up to the general election.

Stefan Pryor, Connecticut’s K-12 commissioner who was appointed by Malloy, announced this past summer that he will step down in January. Some have drawn a connection between Malloy’s attempts to win over teachers’ unions, which disagreed with Pryor on several occasions, and Pryor’s departure just as the governor’s re-election bid got going in earnest.

Unions, in turn, have backed Malloy’s re-election bid. Malloy has also signalled that he wants a new conversation about the role of standardized assessments in state education policy—he wrote an open letter to U.S. Secretrary Arne Duncan saying that the U.S. Department of Education should “reduce the testing burden” on Connecticut students.

Other Delights in the Caravan

In 2013, the state’s Bridgeport district became the focal point for several education policy and politics fights, and it ended with then-Superintendent Paul Vallas departing to become Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate on the Democratic ticket in 2014. If Malloy loses, then he, Pryor, and Vallas—at one time perhaps the three most prominent public officials with power over public schools in Connecticut—will have departed in a 15-month span between late 2013 and the start of 2015.

The 2012 school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown have also become a factor in the race when it comes to campaign spending. Independence USA, a PAC led by former New York City Michael Bloomberg that supports candidates who argue in favor of gun control, has waded in the race to the tune of $1.7 million by running TV ads praising Malloy’s support of new gun-control legislation passed in 2013 after the Newtown shootings.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.