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Connecticut superintendents claim $100 million education mandate violates state law

The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) say “sweeping mandates” issued by the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) in September requiring all schools buy and implement certain approved reading instructional materials violates state statute.

According to a November 2 letter sent by CAPSS Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz to the CSDE and Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker, the state’s Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success mandated Connecticut’s public schools adopt one of six comprehensive reading curricula/programs and instructional materials for grades K-3 “sold by various national publishers,” at a hefty cost.

“CAPSS conservatively estimates the total cost of such mandates to exceed $100 million in the coming school year,” the organization wrote. “However, CAPSS and the superintendents CAPSS represent, have concluded that these mandates announced in the September 29th Memorandum violate Connecticut law.”

Furthermore, school districts cannot obtain a waiver from the implementation requirement. Rather, they can only delay the implementation until the 2024-2025 school year if they have insufficient financial resources or if their curricula/programs that meet the standards of Edreports.org, a non-profit organization that reviews instructional materials and programs to decide whether they meet expectations.

Edreports is funded by several large corporate foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, according to the organization’s 990s.

The superintendents argue that CSDE’s mandate that school districts use “off the shelf” trademarked instructional materials and denying districts a waiver unless they meet the standards of a private, third party is “inconsistent” with state statute. They also argue that it violates state statute allowing Boards of Education to determine course materials like textbooks.

“The Commissioner does not have the authority to prohibit school districts from seeking waivers,” the letter states. “Further, the law does not provide the Commissioner with the power to condition a district’s application for, or receipt of, a waver on a district’s agreement to purchase ‘off the shelf’ instructional materials.”

Among the problems with the mandate, CAPSS says, is the distinction between curriculum — a model outlining specific skills and goals students are expected to achieve — and instructional materials. They argue the September memorandum requires schools to use specific instructional materials, violating statute and costing school districts a significant amount of money.

“CAPSS members cannot, and will not, blindly follow mandates of the CSDE that overstep and run afoul of Connecticut law,” Rabinowitz wrote.

In 2021, Connecticut created the Center for Literacy Research and Learning Success, which, according to statute, is responsible for implementing statewide reading plan for K-3 students and a curriculum model or program, among other things.

According to the CDSE’s website, there are six curricula/programs selected by the Literacy Center as meeting the state’s expectations and guidelines for “approved use” based on a rubric developed by the CDSE and the Reading Leadership Implementation Council. The website also lists a waiver application for school districts as “coming soon,” and requires them to submit additional information regarding student achievement by race, gender and ethnicity, required by state statute.

CAPSS requested the Center for Literacy and Commissioner Russell-Tucker to comply with state law, rescind the September memorandum, re-start the curriculum review process and establish a working group of superintendents and reading specialists to create a waiver process that complies with state law.

“CAPSS members have long valued their collaborative, productive working relationship with the CSDE,” Rabinowitz wrote. “This relationship has been sorely tested by the actions and edicts set forth in the September 29th Memorandum.”

“We implore the CSDE to reconsider and rescind its September 29th Memorandum (and the subsequent CSDE Waiver Clarification) so that school districts throughout the state and the CSDE can work collaboratively on behalf of the students we all serve on this important issue,” the letter concluded.

The CDSE did not respond to request for comment.

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Marc E. Fitch, Senior Investigative Reporter

Marc E. Fitch

Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels, along with numerous freelance reporting jobs and publications. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University.

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