Monday, February 26, 2007

My Response To Governor Rell's Hartford Courant Editorial OR:

Yup - It Takes A School To Bankrupt A Village.
Governor Rell's editorial in the Courant today, explaining her tax hike, was really an insult to the taxpayers in this state. She talks about this bipartisan commission that she charged with the task of identifying better ways to distribute state funds for local education.

Governor Rell basically told them to go find ways to fix the morass of Education Cost Sharing calculations, which has become a bastardization of what was originally intended with regard to fair Education Cost Sharing. Rell's "commission" came out with their unsurprising recommendations in December: Tax and Spend.

So who exactly served on this commission? Mostly educrats and politicians who have a stake at getting more money into the education pie! People like the education commissioner and elected officials who have had their campaigns funded by teacher unions! Where were representatives of taxpayer groups on this commission? Where were people who represented independent think tanks who have studies to prove that throwing more money into education doesn't "fix" the problem of the so-called "achievement gap"? Where were experts from other states who have done a better job at spending less money and getting better results? No - the folks on this commission were the same old gang that just wants more and more and more out of CT taxpayers' pockets.

The ECS formula was enacted in 1988 to take effect on July 1, 1989. It was to be phased in over four years and be fully implemented in FY 1993-94. Since 1988, the General Assembly has adjusted the ECS formula or ECS grants in EVERY session. Most of the changes served to reduce the state's costs and, given fiscal constraints, to reallocate available state aid to different kinds of towns. Political pressures have caused lawmakers to tinker with the original formula so that one legislator's district could get more money than another's - and it basically favors large cities.

Legislators over the years have added caps, and adjustments and all kinds of calculations such that this formula is so unwieldy that no town ever seems to get it's fair share. The current Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula is horribly broken and needs to be scrapped, not given more money! A better and fairer means of providing money to municipalities, as well as satisfy Horton vs. Meskill, needs to be created and implemented. The proof is in that we not only have ECS, but an array of other grants and programs. It is a patchwork of inconsistent funding. We need to do a better job of identifying which education programs work and which don’t. We should reward schools that are improving, and drop funding for programs that don’t produce results.

Looking at my own town of West Hartford, that has been shorted $46 million dollars of ECS funding in the past 10 years alone! For every dollar that West Hartford sends to the state in taxes we receive twelve cents back, as compared to other municipalities that receive about $3.60 back! West Hartford ranks 144th out of 169 towns in education funding, and we only receive 76% of our total ECS entitlement; And they call this fair? Kids in Hartford schools cost $13,000 per pupil and you are telling us this is not enough? You are telling us that more money is going to fix their abysmal results? Surely you are joking!

I believe that the money we are currently throwing at education is quite sufficient if we would stop wasting it on inefficient programs and other expenditures. How about we get rid of the unions and binding arbitration that is choking our school systems? How about we get the school psychologists, school based health centers, specialists, and other non-teaching staff out of the schools and get back to focusing on teaching reading, writing and arithmetic to our children. How about we stop spending precious tax dollars on artificial turf and air conditioning for public schools, and instead spend them on academic programs designed to make our kids #1 again? How about we forget the 12 pages of unfunded state mandates on our school systems and let them have local control to do the things that they need to do in the best way they can determine to do them?

Why is nowhere to be found a plan to pare down costs, and make programs more efficient and effective?

Apparently Governor Rell and her "Commission" just want to make the pie bigger, and continue the "Robin Hood plan" of wealth redistribution, taking obscene amounts of money from the suburbs and give it to the cities who continue to waste it on ineffective programs.

Predictably, Rell, liberals and progressives believe that the only way to tackle our "education funding problems" is to have government raise taxes to fund massive expansions of early childhood programs and mandatory preschool, and redistributing wealth from rich to poor. They believe that society's ills can be fixed by government.

Have you stopped to ponder why the national Asian graduation rate higher than the rate for whites? Is it because more Asians are enrolled in preschool programs than whites? Do they receive better government programs than blacks? Perhaps the reason that so many winners of academic competitions have eastern Indian, Chinese, and Korean family names, is that staying in school, learning English, getting a job, and delaying pregnancy are high priorities in those cultures. It wasn't because government threw more money at them.

Here's some cold hard facts that this Commission should have considered, and most likely did not (thanks to Yankee Institute's FISCAL FOCUS, August 25, 2005, Government-School Spending in Connecticut -ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS ):
In recent decades, spending on Connecticut’s K-12 government-school system has exceeded both enrollment growth and increases in the Consumer Price Index.

Adjusted to the purchasing power of today’s dollars, the state spent $3.43 billion on elementary and secondary education in 1981. Twenty years later, that figure had more than doubled, to $7.15 billion.

Enrollment growth was less than 10 percent.

Connecticut spends more, per pupil, on is K-12 government-school system than 45 other states. Only New Jersey ($10,235), New York ($10,002), Vermont ($9,915), and Wyoming ($9,439) rank higher than Connecticut ($9,188.)

The Nutmeg State’s effort to “equalize” K-12 education spending is commonly referred to as the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) program. In the current fiscal year, it will spend approximately $1.6 billion.

Connecticut’s large cities receive, on average, $5,980 per pupil in ECS funding. Suburban towns receive $1,381 per pupil. Over half of large cities’ government-school spending is paid by state taxpayers. For suburban towns, the figure is less than 15 percent.

Teachers in Connecticut earn an average salary of $57,337, the highest among the states.

School-construction costs represent a substantial portion of the state’s highest-in-the-nation bonded indebtedness. In 2002, 46 percent of Connecticut’s general-obligation bonding was devoted to school construction.

The high-school dropout rate for Connecticut’s class of 2001 was approximately 30 percent.

Connecticut’s average combined SAT score is only slightly higher than the national average. Between 1988 and 2003, the state’s average combined SAT score was essentially flat, rising by 1.48 percent.

GOVERNMENT COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES - Connecticut’s government colleges and universities cost 50 percent more to run, per pupil, than the national average. Among states, only Delaware’s system is more expensive.

Connecticut’s state-funded higher education system will spend over $2.3 billion in the current fiscal year. This does not include debt payments for the system’s building projects.

In 1999-2000, the most recent school year for which data are available, tuition and fees accounted for 18.8 percent of current-fund revenue for the state’s colleges and universities.

According to Connecticut Higher Education Commissioner Valerie F. Lewis, “fewer than half the students who start with us end up with a degree.” Over 60 percent of the Connecticut State University system’s freshmen do not earn their degrees within six years.

Almost 30 percent of the University of Connecticut’s students do not graduate in six years.

Talk about inefficiencies! And all Governor Rell wants to do is throw more money into this pit? If we are losing ground it is not because of a lack of funding!

But now let's take a look at the taxation side -

Connecticut's General Fund, has had a surplus in the past 3 years!
2004 $565 million surplus
2005 $777 million surplus
2006 $940 million surplus

CT residents are being overtaxed as it is ! And this is a result of what higher taxes has brought to our state:(Forbes, 8/16/06, The Best States For Business)

With 50 being the worst:
Connecticut ranks 43rd in the list of the Cost of Doing Business
Connecticut ranks 43rd in the list of Regulatory Environment for Business
Connecticut ranks 28th in Economic Climate (bottom half)
Connecticut ranks 23rd in growth prospects

So Governor Rell... can you please rethink this ? Would you perhaps consider putting together a commission of people who do not have a direct interest in obtaining more money for schools and instead put some people together who can look at this objectively? Can you please hear the voices of your citizens and business people who are suffering under the yoke of taxation? 3.4 billion more is NOT going to fix this problem, it will only line the pockets of administrators and expand their employment rolls. If you truly want to do what is best for the state and our future, then cut taxes and demand that schools streamline their operations and produce results.