Candidate Name: Andy Fleischmann
Office Sought: State Representative
Home Address: 25 Sherwood Road, W. Hartford, CT 06117
Best Phone number for contact: 860.525.5437 ext. 111
Preferred email for contact:
Past and/or current elective office: State Representative, 18th Assembly District
Occupation: President & CEO, Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters
- Why are you running for elected office and what are your three top priorities for education once elected?
I am running for office because, as Connecticut continues to face major challenges, I want to promote a progressive agenda that ensures we strengthen our economy in ways that are good for working people. That means ensuring continued strong primary, secondary and higher education and career training; protecting and improving quality of life; and strengthening our metro areas, so that young people want to come here to live and work.
My top three priorities in education are: 1) Reducing the academic achievement gap between Connecticut students and those in the other nations with whom we compete with like Germany, Finland, Singapore; 2) Reducing the achievement gap between socio-economic and racial groups here in Connecticut; and 3) Continuing expansion of access to pre-school in our state – until we achieve universal pre-k access.
- Do you believe that the public education system in America is broken and in need of reform? Do you believe that the public education system in West Hartford is broken or in need of reform?
No – the system isn’t broken. In West Hartford, schools educate children from diverse socio-economic, ethnic and racial backgrounds – and deliver consistently impressive results – a great example of what public schools can achieve.
More broadly, in Connecticut and nationally, our society has a high degree of socio-economic segregation, and this had led to unacceptable disparities between the performance of schools serving “haves” and “have nots.” If re-elected, I will continue to do all I can to ensure that we provide the additional resources and tools to underperforming schools, so we can continue narrowing the academic achievement gap in our state – as we have done for the past few years now.
- ECS Funding
The state of Connecticut provides funding to towns through the ECS grant (Education Cost Sharing) to help towns deal with poverty. For years, some towns such as West Hartford, have been receiving far less than they should and some have been receiving more. By some estimates, West Hartford is the most underfunded town in the state, receiving approximately 30 million dollars per year less than we should.
A recently compiled list of the most underfunded and overfunded towns in the state shows West Hartford as 67% underfunded. Only two other towns are more underfunded percentage-wise. In terms of dollars, West Hartford is shorted $36,876,796.00 (per year). The list of towns is included in this mailing and can be found at this URL:
The ECS issue received a lot of attention in April of 2015 at the capitol when Senator Bye proposed a bill (SB 816) that would require that towns receive at least half of what they are supposed to be receiving. Although the bill did not pass, Senator Bye was able to secure a few million more dollars for West Hartford. With an annual Board of Education budget of around 140 million dollars, this was a significant step in the right direction.
Most recently, on September 7th of this year, the verdict in the CCJEF vs. Rell case was rendered. Superior court judge Thomas Moukawsher called for sweeping changes in the way education is funded in this state. He also called for a linkage between student test scores and teacher salary, and for changes in teacher and administrator evaluation. He also made reference to West Hartford as being one of the “rich towns” that is receiving more than it is due.
If you are seeking a state office representing West Hartford, how would you move forward into such an uncertain and dramatic educational/political environment?
For the past few years, I have worked closely with Beth Bye and other colleagues to bring state funding for schools districts more in line with what the Education Cost Sharing formula is supposed to provide. If reelected, I will continue these efforts. In addition, I will fight to get the formula properly funded – so that communities like ours and so many others receive the support that they deserve.
What would be your priority or first steps in dealing with this issue?
Make sure that state allocations of education funds reflect the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, which has been underfunded for too long.
Over the past few years, the state has made progress in bringing district funding more in line with what the formula requires – which is why the percentages by which certain districts were overfunded, and by which our town was underfunded, have been dropping significantly. Keeping that good trend going is the right first step in dealing with this issue.
How would you deal with the misperception that West Hartford is a “wealthy” town? How would you help people like Judge Moukawsher understand that the image projected by Blue Back Square does not match the reality found in our student population (20% and steadily rising on free and reduced lunch, 12% students with disabilities, high numbers of English language learners) and in old school buildings (many over 50 years old)?
Any time I have the opportunity to speak about education funding, I make sure people understand that inner-ring suburbs like ours do not line up with old perceptions. I tell folks that a quarter of our children receive free or reduced price lunch, that children come from homes with more than 60 world languages, that our student body is racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse, and that we educate a higher percentage of children on the autism spectrum than almost any district in the state. Among policy-makers, it’s now much better understood that districts like ours and East Hartford and Hamden and West Haven are different from the perceptions of a generation ago. And I’ll keep doing all I can to increase that awareness.
- Charter Schools
Regarding charter schools in general, there are obviously a lot of differences of opinion. Some praise the fact that they provide motivated students and families a way out of school systems that are low performing. Others are concerned that the selection process that charter schools use to accept students leads to a “brain drain” on the public schools, further segregation, and invalid comparisons between charters and public schools. Some are concerned about the qualifications of charter school leaders and the ability to closely track any money that flows from the state to these organizations. What insights about the charter school movement would you bring to the table as an elected office holder?
Charter school advocates came to our state saying that they would be “laboratories for change” that could “do more with less.” So I find recent arguments that they are underfunded to be contrary to the claims that led to their establishment.
Our state has a mix of charter schools – some with outstanding results, some average, some poor. This reflects every study I’ve read, which show that, on average, charter schools give the same educational results as public schools. So the notion that bringing more charter schools to Connecticut will ipso facto bring great improvements does not make sense to me, given the data.
- Charter School Funding
What is your position on charter school funding? Do you feel that the number of charter schools in the state should increase, decrease, or stay the same?
Given the state’s budget constraints, I’m opposed to any increase in the number of state charter schools.
- Money Follows the Child
State and local Charter schools in Connecticut clearly have a unique role to play. First conceived as laboratories for reform, there have been lessons learned. The most current research shows that Connecticut state charter school performance is generally parallel to that of all public schools – some are successful and some need improvement. However, since state charter schools continue to be selective in their student populations and spend significantly more per pupil than regular public schools, investment in strong neighborhood public schools that serve all children should be the ultimate goal.
In recent years there have been legislative proposals by advocates of wholesale state charter school expansion to implement a new school funding scheme that would divert money from local neighborhood schools to state charter schools. One such scheme is referred to as “money follows the child.” In 2012, for example, there was a proposal to divert $1,000 for every child who attended a state charter school from the local education budget to the state charter budget. This proposal was soundly defeated, as municipalities, particularly those with the tightest budgets, were unwilling to lose dollars from their already underfunded education budgets.
Proposals such as “money follows the child” would redirect local tax dollars outside the district, and thus risk doing irreversible harm to students in classrooms already starved for adequate resources. Proposals which exacerbate already inequitable funding simply run contrary to the state’s obligation to equalize education funding based on each town’s ability to pay.
WHEA opposes proposals that promote so-called “money follows the child” schemes designed to redistribute funding from local neighborhood schools and school districts to state charter schools.
What is your position?
“Money follows the child” proposals I’ve been shown have been unfair to public schools and unworkable, and I have consistently opposed them. Only if a district with a large number of charter schools – like New Haven – came to the Assembly with a proposal that both public school and charter advocates supported as fair and workable would I consider a pilot program (for that school district).
- Collective Bargaining
The right to be a union member is a fundamental employment protection under state and federal laws. America’s labor unions have led the fight for working families, winning protections such as the 8-hour day and the 40-hour week, overtime rights, and access to healthcare and retirement security. Today, the fight continues both to retain these vital rights, and to ensure safe and healthy workplaces. For teachers, collective bargaining allows their voices, ideas, and advocacy for students to be heard without fear of reprisal.
WHEA opposes proposals to weaken or eliminate collective bargaining rights for teachers and all other public employees. WHEA also opposes any unilateral moves by any elected officials attempting to infringe on teacher’s rights as bargained.
Will you as an elected official, support the right of public employees to collectively bargain? Will you support all negotiated agreements and arbitration decisions? Will you protect the funds that teachers have contributed to Connecticut’s teacher retirement fund and oppose any efforts to move that money into a general state fund?
I support public employees’ collective bargaining rights, and will continue to support negotiated agreements and arbitrated decisions. I will oppose any efforts to pull dollars from the teachers’ retirement fund into the state’s General Fund – as any such a maneuver would be contrary to good faith efforts to properly fund the teachers’ retirement system, and contrary to the long-term interests of teachers and the state.
- Please share with us any other issues or positions that you think may be relevant or of interest to the WHEA.
I’m a product of West Hartford’s public schools, having attended Bugbee, King Philip and Hall High School. My children now attend West Hartford public schools. So I know the incredible work that our teachers do in West Hartford, and am a fan and strong supporter of West Hartford’s teachers. Earlier this year, CEA gave me its endorsement, and I’d be proud to be endorsed by WHEA as well.
Last but not least: I’ve worked closely with teachers to reduce the number of hours spent on standardized tests, increase the safety and security of student data, promote the use of green cleaning products in schools, ban the use of pesticides on school grounds, and ensure teacher input into key questions like performance evaluation of teachers and administrators. If reelected, I hope to continue collaborating with teachers on these and many other important issues.
- Would you be opposed to WHEA posting your responses on our website? If you prefer that we not do that, we will respect your wishes.