Just days before Connecticut’s new application for up to $200 million in federal “Race to the Top” (RTTT) funds was due in Washington, D.C., Gov. Rell signed into law a landmark education bill that calls for a wide range of reforms targeted to improve state schools and give our young people a better future.

The new education reform law was a bipartisan accomplishment of the Governor’s administration and the state legislature, as well as the state’s education and business communities. Its wide-ranging reforms are designed to bring much-needed improvements to schools and demonstrate strong support for education reform in Connecticut.

“Today, we put in place standards and requirements that ensure Connecticut’s students will be the best-educated and the best-prepared in the world,” the Governor said at the bill’s signing.

“By having all of the interested parties – educators, unions, parents, students, legislators and others – together at the table, we end up with a far stronger result than any individual effort could produce,” added the Governor. “This is bold, visionary reform – and we are making it happen together.”

Among other things, the new law:

  • Raises the bar on high school graduation standards
  • Removes the cap on high-achieving charter schools
  • Upgrades IT systems to capture data on students’ academic performance
  • Bolsters high school faculties by promoting the alternate route to teacher certification for people with workplace experience
  • Promotes the spread of Advanced Placement courses in schools throughout the state
  • Aims at narrowing the state’s achievement gap with new school accountability standards

That’s the kind of commitment that could help win the RTTT funds. Recently, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that states able to demonstrate a “very strong and serious reform agenda” are likely to win the RTTT competition.

He also wants to see “widespread, deep support” for education reform in the states applying for funds. Applications are due on June 1. Meanwhile, a task force commissioned by Gov. Rell to address Connecticut’s education achievement gap—currently the worst in the nation–is meeting throughout the state to figure out how to narrow it.

The Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement is a volunteer and privately funded commission composed primarily of business leaders and other professionals. The group held public hearings in Hartford and New Haven this week and will meet soon in Bridgeport, Norwich, Willimantic and Waterbury.

CBIA President and CEO John Rathgeber serves on the commission, which is charged with finding out why Connecticut has one of the largest achievement gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers. The commission will make recommendations to the governor, lawmakers, relevant state and local institutions and the public on how to close the gap.

State policymakers, education officials and the business community are determined to help Connecticut schools achieve high levels of performance for all of the state’s young people.