Chris Powell: Searching for the unicorn: A supposedly fair school aid formula

Published on Saturday, 29 April 2017 22:17
Written by Chris Powell


Governor Malloy’s objective with education this year was doubly revolutionary. First, he sought to slash state financial aid to most school systems and transfer it to city school systems, partly as a response to the latest court decision that found the aid system unconstitutional, this time because it is supposedly irrational. Second, the governor sought to require towns to start paying $407 million a year toward the state teacher pension fund, a third of the fund’s annual cost.

But the governor succeeded only in terrifying most people, causing the General Assembly’s objective with education to become only to put everything back together exactly as before, the court decision notwithstanding, since it will be on appeal for a while.

The Superior Court judge who, at the invitation of the state Supreme Court, examined the school aid system, Thomas G. Moukawsher, found it unconstitutional and irrational because it seems to have no relation to learning. Testimony in the case established that schools in cities where poverty is concentrated, like Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven, long have given high school diplomas to illiterates, and the judge noticed that no one in authority cares.

But the irrationality here really isn’t the aid formula itself. The irrationality is thinking that any aid formula will ever have much bearing on learning. For Connecticut has been revising its aid formula nearly every year since the state Supreme Court’s decision in the first school aid case, Horton v. Meskill in 1977, without noticeable result, though the formula has greatly increased school spending in the impoverished cities.

The perennial search for a “fairer” school aid formula is futile because student performance is almost entirely a matter of parenting, not school spending, and because in a democracy “fairer” must be defined by politics, which inevitably links fairness with self-interest.

Besides, why shouldn’t any town defend its school aid against transfer to the cities when increasing school spending there accomplishes so little educationally?

Pursuing the unicorn of a “fairer” school aid formula, Connecticut has spent 40 years and billions of dollars accomplishing nothing and seems likely to keep doing it indefinitely because it makes so many politically active people feel righteous.

Now if only childbearing outside marriage and child neglect could be found unconstitutional instead, even if they are the perfectly rational responses to the welfare system that subsidizes and perpetuates them.

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Now Lembo tells us how bad Malloy is: With a video announcing his candidacy for governor this week, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo poses a few compelling questions.

“What happened?” Lembo asks. “How is it that Connecticut, with all its advantages, is struggling so badly?

“How is it that Connecticut has been reduced to chasing companies and jobs as they run for the border instead of being a state where people and businesses thrive? Why is the state borrowing money and shoveling it to the wealthiest hedge funds instead of investing in good jobs for working people?”

Of course, Lembo must mean his questions to be merely rhetorical, since an honest answer might note that the policies he criticizes so sharply in his video are the policies of Governor Malloy, the governor of Lembo’s own political party, the Democratic Party, which has been in charge of state government for the last six years. An honest answer also might note that the policies Lembo’s video criticizes went without such criticism from him until the governor announced this month that he would not seek re-election.

Better late than never, but if, as opinion polls suggest, repudiating the policies of the last six years of the Democratic state administration is to be the prerequisite for Connecticut’s next governor, maybe Lembo’s next video should explain where he has been all this time.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Saturday, 29 April 2017 22:17. Updated: Saturday, 29 April 2017 22:19.