You don't read all that much about Connecticut in the national news because it's a small state, and often overshadowed by its bigger neighbors to the West and North. Its "big cities" (Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford) only have around 150,000 +/- people each. But the state deserves attention, at least from those interested in effective public policy, because it is a poster child for the dead end of "blue model" state governance. It's one of the wealthiest states (number four in per capita income according to this list on Wikipedia), but its cities are among the poorest in the country, and in recent years it has been losing population and high income taxpayers to outmigration. As is typical for deep blue states, the proposed solutions to social problems are always more taxes and higher government spending. After many rounds of that, somehow the problems never get better.
A couple of developments this past week in Connecticut illustrate the blind alley into which the state has backed itself. One is a big decision handed down by the state Superior Court in Hartford in the latest school funding litigation, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell. The second is an enforcement action taken by the State Elections Enforcement Commission against two (Republican) state senators for the sin of mentioning the name of the (Democratic) governor unflatteringly in their campaign advertisements.
The CCJEF case is the latest in the endless series of constitutional litigations brought by various activist groups around the country challenging state methods for funding the government schools. Connecticut has many of the usual circumstances for these cases: the major cities are relatively poor, the schools in the major cities have student populations with heavy majorities of blacks, and those schools are failing the students miserably. In many of the cases around the country over the last several decades, the activists have succeeded in getting courts to order remedies in such circumstances that have included either simply more money for the poor urban districts, or new funding formulas that reallocate funding from wealthier to poorer districts. (The famous seminal case was Serrano v. Priest, decided by the California Supreme Court in 1971.) So why not try another run at this in Connecticut today?
Actually CCJEF started this case in November 2005, now almost 11 years ago. Of course the initiators were the usual suspects from the Yale Law School, who rounded up a bunch of school kids to serve as plaintiffs. In 2010 the case reached the Connecticut Supreme Court, which declined to dismiss it as without basis, and instead remanded the case to the Superior Court on the vaguest of standards as to what the state constitution of Connecticut requires of the government schools. The case then ended up in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher for a "trial" that started in January this year and ran into August. The good judge rendered his 90-page decision on September 7.
The best that can be said about the opinion is that it's a total mess; but, to be fair to the judge, he was put to an impossible task. Here's the governing clause of the state constitution:
There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state. The general assembly shall implement this principle by appropriate legislation.
OK, take it from there, Tom! Needless to say, what the plaintiffs wanted was lots more money for the poorer districts, which they were happy to see taken away from places like Greenwich and Darien for the sinful conduct of getting rich. But here was the rub: Connecticut already had one of these constitutional school funding cases, back in the seventies in the wake of Serrano v. Priest. And that case, Horton v. Meskill, decided in 1977, had already forced the reallocation of state spending such that the poorer districts got lots more money out of the state than the richer ones, and the overall level of per pupil spending was as high or higher in the poorer districts than in the richer ones. And now, just since 2012, the state legislature had added one handout after another to try to improve things in the poorer and failing schools: $400 million in new money for the state's 30 lowest performing schools under the "Alliance Districts" program; "additional resources," including $13 million in 2015 alone, for 14 failing schools under the "Commissioner's Network" program; $4 million in new "school improvement grants" for 30 high needs schools; etc., etc., etc.
So, how about a few more programs? You can't even name one they don't already have!
State and federal programs also beef up needy school districts by providing students breakfast, lunch, and many times food to take home. Schools in some districts feed students even in the summer. After-school programs instruct and care for kids. Parents are invited into schools to share in learning. Homeless children are sought out and their needs tended. There are programs to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases, young parents programs, pregnant student supports, and mental health programs.
And yet the urban and heavily black schools continue to fail. So what is the "solution" demanded by the geniuses from the Yale Law School to finally bring success to Connecticut urban education after decades of failure? You guessed it! More money for everything:
The plaintiffs claim that all of these programs are under-effective because they are under-funded.
What is a judge to do? And here's where the whole thing goes completely off the rails. After recognizing that lack of programs and money can't possibly be the problem, the judge claims to have now finally discovered the problem that nobody else previously noticed: the allocation and spending of the state education money have been "irrational." The legislature came up with a spending formula without "explain[ing] how it was chosen," and then they failed to follow it. They have no explanation for how current levels of spending have been decided. (Suggestion: political horse trading?) They spent money on buildings "without rhyme or reason." The teacher training and evaluation system is completely irrational. The use of money for special education makes no sense at all. It's just chaos! And what we need to straighten this all out is so obvious: "a rational plan."
Or to put it another way, the functionaries have been failing to execute socialism properly. Now, they will be ordered to execute correctly! Anybody who believes this can actually work has to be completely insane. But hey, what else was the judge to do with the mandate handed him by the Supreme Court? Anyway, the decision contains no orders for remedies, but rather directs the state to "develop" and submit "rational policies" in each of the areas of irrationality that have been identified in his opinion. Connecticut is now in for decades of judicial meddling in K-12 education. The chance that the court can do a much better job than the bureaucrats who have been running things so far is probably about zero; but then again, he probably can't do much worse either.
And in another area where Connecticut decided that it could achieve a more perfect world through more government spending, we find that they are one of a minority of states that have adopted a so-called "clean campaign" system for public funding of political campaigns. Here is a write-up from Restoring Liberty on September 3. Collect enough "very small donations" of $5 or less from constituents, and you will get a "near fully-funded campaign" courtesy of Connecticut's taxpayers. Thus we will "get money out of politics." Enforcement is entrusted to something called the State Elections Enforcement Commission. What could go wrong?
Well, next thing you know the SEEC started an enforcement proceeding against 16 Republican state senators. (Of course it's Republicans. The Democrats control the governorship and both houses of the legislature.) What did the evil Republicans do?
The state’s sanction against the legislative candidates was for mentioning Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, by name in mailings that referenced “Malloy’s bad policies” and “Malloy’s tax hike” for their own races in 2014, when Malloy was also on the ballot.
Well, obviously we can't have criticism of our governor or of high taxes in a political campaign! Fourteen of the accused promptly settled. But two -- Joe Markley and Rob Sampson -- have chosen to fight. A hearing is scheduled for later this month.
Really, why haven't these guys thought of the idea of creating a "foundation" and collecting a few hundred mil from Wall Street banks and mid-East petro-states before the campaign officially gets under way?