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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Education lobby is outraged it has to compete for money

    For decades and maybe even centuries the sages have noted that to govern is to choose. Charles de Gaulle elaborated that governing is "to choose among disadvantages."

    Leaders of Connecticut's education lobby and the state legislators they control will have none of this wisdom.

    They're sore at Governor Lamont for proposing to move $43 million to "early-childhood education" from state grants to municipal school systems. Though he doesn't put it this way, the governor could figure that the shortage of day care for children from poor households is a bigger problem than the desire of school systems for more money, most of which is spent on staff compensation, which rises every year even as student enrollment and performance decline, and that more day care will do more for neglected children than raises for teachers and administrators.

    This implication may be what has outraged the education lobby and its tools in the General Assembly. Last week they shrieked that the various components of education should not have to compete against each other for appropriations — that schools and "early-childhood education" both should get whatever they want, no questions asked.

    But of course the components of education already compete against each other for money. They compete whenever a school board compiles its budget, and the education lobby never complains that, because of state binding arbitration law and teacher union contracts, school employee compensation takes heavy precedence over everything else.

    The governor and legislators do such choosing on a far larger scale whenever they assemble state government's budget. Then education expenses compete against everything — transportation, medical insurance, housing, environmental protection, criminal justice and so on.

    The president of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, Kate Dias, says that in appropriating for education, "We cannot have a dollar-store mentality." But dollar stores are noted for economy, so what's wrong with that, except that teacher unions are glad when their members are paid more than necessary?

    Except for their great political influence, why should people drawing their income from government in the name of education be exempt from competing for appropriations?

    Besides, Connecticut has no "dollar-store mentality" with education. Ever since the state Supreme Court decision in the school financing case of Horton v. Meskill in 1977 and passage of the Education Enhancement Act in 1986, the premise of education policy in Connecticut has been that if government just spends enough money, especially on teacher compensation, student performance will soar. Acting on that premise for almost 50 years Connecticut has spent many extra billions of dollars in the name of education, only for student proficiency to decline.

    That decline can't be blamed entirely on schools. As the governor's emphasis on "early-childhood education" suggests, the far bigger problem is the collapse of the family and parenting amid the deepening of poverty. When, as has been the case lately, a third or more of Connecticut's children are chronically absent from school — a situation proclaiming poverty and demoralization — no Ph.D is required to figure out that the problem is not a lack of school spending.

    Indeed, the lack of correlation between student performance and school spending has been plain for many years, just as plain as the strong correlation between student performance, steady parenting and family income. But the political economy of Connecticut and most other states — that is, the huge number of people employed in the name of education — precludes any such acknowledgment.

    Even the governor surely knows that the legislature will reject his proposal to shift money from schools to "early-childhood education" and will make sure that the education lobby gets the money it wants, perpetuating irrelevance. The legislature will choose — but against less-influential interests.

    The historian Edward Gibbon attributed the decline and fall of the Roman Empire to its steady loss of civic virtue. That the education racket in Connecticut continues without any substantial questioning of its dreary results suggests that government has grown far larger than the civic virtue available to set it right.

    Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. He can be reached at CPowell@cox.net.

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