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    Sunday, March 26, 2023

    Where school money goes isn’t a mystery

    For a long time Connecticut has been spending billions of dollars each year on elementary and high school education, and now that the annual cost exceeds $9 billion, the leaders of the Democratic majority in the state Senate announced last week that their top priority of the new legislative session will be to discover just how all this school money is being spent.

    Better late than never, but the outlines of spending on elementary and high school education in Connecticut are not and have never been so mysterious. Most of the money goes for compensation of school personnel. So does most of the extra money that is appropriated by state government each year in the name of aid to local education.

    This may be why Connecticut's airwaves are frequently full, as they are now, of television and radio commercials sponsored by the state's largest teacher union, the Connecticut Education Association, implicitly urging their audience to make sure that state government keeps giving teachers whatever they want.

    In addition to their legislation seeking to confirm the obvious about the destination of education spending, the Democratic senators last week indicated a desire to rewrite for the umpteenth time the formula for allocating state aid to local schools.

    At least this latest impulse to rewrite the formula seemed to arise from a growing suspicion among even the Democrats themselves that the previous formulas have failed to make any difference in student performance, especially the performance of minority students in poor cities and towns. That performance is what the frequent rewriting of the aid formulas supposedly has been targeting since the state Supreme Court's 1977 decision in Connecticut's first big school financing lawsuit, Horton v. Meskill.

    Yes, 46 years have passed since Connecticut officially noticed that poor minority students in poor municipalities were not performing well in school, 46 years since the state attributed their poor performance to inadequate school funding, and 46 years since that funding began to be steadily increased. And yet, speaking of those students last week, the Senate chairman of the legislature's Education Committee, Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Windsor, declared, "We're not properly educating them."

    Even 46 years after Horton v. Meskill such an acknowledgment also may be better late than never. But after the failure of nearly a half century of public policy's concentration on school financing formulas, could it be time for legislators to question whether the education problem has ever been about money at all, no matter how much the teachers clamor for more?

    After all, despite the lack of sophisticated school aid formulas, a half century ago most children in Connecticut at least got to school every day. Today, according to the state Education Department, a quarter of Connecticut's students are chronically absent, missing 10% or more of instruction time, even though the virus epidemic is over.

    If children miss so much school, the problem isn't at school but at home. So where is the investigation or the legislation targeting what has happened at home? How will paying teachers more get the kids to show up?

    Where’s the protection?

    But state government continues to pose as the great protector of children. Legislation has been proposed to outlaw flavored tobacco products, especially because such products are attractive to young people and risk getting them addicted to a carcinogen.

    Meanwhile in the name of "equity," state government is creating a marijuana retailing business as if marijuana can't be as harmful as tobacco, if in different ways. While state law promoting marijuana forbids its sale to people under 21, of course young people were obtaining it illegally before the state got into the business and will obtain it even more easily now that their older friends can purchase it for them.

    The tobacco legislation may create another contraband trade targeting adults and minors alike, and smuggling cigarettes into the state is already easy.

    People already know that these substances are bad for them. Better to let them live their own lives without contraband law than for state government to make itself so hypocritical, pushing one harmful substance on them while deploring and impeding another.

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