Don't blame the schools, blame lack of parenting
As an apology for some terrible public schools, the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently repealed the law making it a crime for parents to send their children to a school outside their regular district without permission. Such violations now will be handled only administratively by school systems themselves, not by police and courts.
As Connecticut has pursued racial and economic class integration with regional "magnet" schools, efforts to enforce the remaining residency restrictions have been a bit ironic, though of course some restrictions remain necessary to prevent anarchy. Decriminalization of district jumping was inspired by a few prosecutions, particularly one in 2011 of a Bridgeport woman who put her kindergartner in school in Norwalk.
Since Bridgeport's schools are the worst in the state, the education lobby and the political left predictably are citing the decriminalization of district jumping as an admission that Connecticut still doesn't spend enough on education. Bridgeport spends about $13,000 per year per pupil, Norwalk $16,000. But then Avon spends no more than Bridgeport does and its schools perform well.
That's because Connecticut's education problem has never been spending but demographics. People don't send their children to schools farther from home to take advantage of higher spending or the specialization of "magnet" schools, which do less integrating than cherry picking, and lack of spending is not the main reason schools become terrible. No, people move their kids to get them away from the neglected kids who drag schools down, kids who enter even kindergarten three grades behind, and schools are made terrible mainly by terrible students.
Most kids in Avon have two parents at home. Most kids in Bridgeport don't, and some, like the kid whose going to school in Norwalk was prosecuted, don't really have even one parent, that kid's parent having been a drug dealer whose desire to send her child away from the streets she was making meaner may have been as much a business decision as an educational one.
Of course this does not diminish the public interest in remediating the consequences of childbearing outside marriage. But that is less a problem of education policy than social welfare policy. What passes for remediation in Connecticut means assigning to each fatherless kid, more or less in succession, tutors, social workers, the state Department of Children and Families, the state Office of the Child Advocate, police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, prison guards, and parole officers, whereupon the process renews with the police. While this provides good careers for the remediators, it does little for the kids and society - and for every kid thus remediated, several more fatherless kids present themselves for remediation.
The only true remediation here and the only one Connecticut could ever afford is parents. True remediation might begin by asking: Which public policies cause parents to disappear, and which policies could help bring them back? Those questions are key not just to education but to the social disintegration engulfing Connecticut generally. Parents have not been and won't be brought back by spending more on schools, though the governor boasted this week of his continuing to increase education spending. He offered no comment on the three murders and two non-fatal shootings that had happened in Hartford in the previous 48 hours.
For 36 years Connecticut has been hugely increasing education spending, ever since the state Supreme Court's decision in Horton v. Meskill in 1977, continuing with the court's decision in Sheff v. O'Neill in 1996, without improving education or living conditions. The results announced this week from the latest standardized tests of Connecticut students were again mediocre. Education in Connecticut has become just the pious evasion of relevance.
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