The Day

Where school money goes isn’t a mystery

- CHRIS POWELL The Journal Inquirer Chris Powell is the former managing editor and now a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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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