We’ve been here – multiple times. Gov. Jodi Rell’s budget plan increases to 50% the funds given to municipalities by the state, largely for education. It is, in a word, warmed over DeStefano, the Democrat candidate who ran against Rell for governor. Rell prevailed in that contest because most voters thought she would be a less high maintenance governor than her Democrat counterpart.
It is doubtful whether there is one legislator at the capitol, with the possible exception of Edith Prague, who sincerely believes there is a direct correlation between money spent on education, most of which is consumed in salaries, and the quality of education.
If there were such a correlation, urban students in Hartford would be outpacing students in the suburbs, and the performance of students from the Amistad Academy, an “Achievement First” college preparatory school in New Haven, would not exceed that of public schools that draw from the same pool of students. By every measure of academic excellence, the Amistad students outperform their pedagogical counterparts in public schools -- even in toney New Canaan. The myth that more money produces more educated scholars persists because legislators at the beck and call of powerful and resourceful teacher unions lack the intestinal fortitude to do what has to be done to improve the educational product, especially in urban pedagogical environments.
Non-performing urban public schools should have been closed down long ago; that measure at least would have saved the state and municipalities some money. The Rell budget plan finances failure; it maintains non-performing public schools and adds to the mix money – lots of new money – that will finance both failing public schools and a smattering of magnet schools.
In addition, the Rell plan will finance with new tax money – lots of new money -- earlier schooling, which ought never to be confused with earlier education. The difference between schooling and education is the difference between the educational product offered in non-performing urban schools and that offered in the Amistad Academy. Pre-pre-kindergarten classes are pedagogical holding pens for the children of parents many of whom must hold down multiple jobs or work longer hours to meet their own private budget obligations -- which will be increased by the Rell budget.
Moments after Rell unveiled her budget plan, Greenwich Republican William Nickerson said he needed to take a pill. Some Democrats were more ebullient and described the two-year, $35.8 billion budget plan as “historic” and “brilliant.” The sinking of the Lusitania, it may be recalled, also was “historic,” and it is not at all surprising that a plan which borrows heavily from “Big Idea” Democrats would be described by them as “brilliant.”
The powerful Speaker of the state House of Representatives, Jim Amman, was not among those throwing rose petals at Rell’s feet.
Scratching his head, Amman pondered, “The big question here right now is: Do we really need all that revenue?” Raising the state income tax by $3.4 billion over five years may seem to some more fiscally conservative Democrats a tad excessive. The additional spending proposed by Rell would break the constitutionally mandated spending cap and increase the state income tax by 10%, not the brightest of strategies at a time when businesses and young people are fleeing the state.
Ordinarily, one could count on Republicans to be guided by perceptions that low tax states serve as magnets for new business, but in the Rell plan one sees the lead Republican in Connecticut jumping the ideological barricades, with a flash of petticoats, in a crude attempt to be more Democratic than the Democrats.
Some southern states are laying plans to eliminate state income taxes, and the legislature in Utah is on the point of passing, by one slender vote, a voucher system for their public schools. Under such a system, parents are given vouchers representing the amount taxpayers shell out for education per child to purchase education in schools of their choice. A voucher system in Connecticut undoubtedly would result in more Amistad Academies and fewer non-performing public schools, which would be definanced by empowered consumers. The “historic” voucher system sprang from the fertile and “brilliant” brain of noted conservative economist Milton Friedman. The Iowa voucher plan will, over a period of time, separate the pedagogical chaff from the wheat and encourage education rather than schooling.
No such luck here.