'Spend more' is short-sighted
Last of two parts.
In an online missive accompanying his public-school reforms, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy laments how Connecticut "students' overall performance has stagnated, and our achievement gap — the worst in the nation — has persisted." As we discussed yesterday, however, his proposed grand fix for the education monopoly is neither bold nor original, so when historians write about it, expect them to describe it in the terms he reserves for previous reforms: They "failed the most basic test: they have not elevated our students' aggregate achievement."
Student performance was falling when the state passed the mother of all education reforms, the Education Enhancement Act of 1986. But why did the EEA and multiple intervening reforms fail? Why has the achievement gap persisted — widened, actually — despite billions upon billions in new government spending and borrowing? Because like the Malloy reforms, they relied on defective concepts and ignored the quality of the raw materials of education: the children.
Indeed, Gov. Malloy only briefly and abstractly discusses under "additional reforms" ways of improving students' reading abilities, their "international academic competitiveness," and their college access and readiness. He proposes a pilot program for "a frequent and real-time interface between teachers and parents," this after government has spent decades conditioning parents, especially those in the worst districts, to believe it's the government's job to raise their children. So like the rest of his plan, his "additional reforms" ignore all that government has done to devalue the raw materials.
The Malloy administration has been as guilty as any of perpetuating that devaluation. In this biennium, it will spend 30 cents of every budgeted dollar — almost $13 billion — on "the safety net," which the governor preserved in the face of a historic budget deficit by imposing a record tax increase on the dwindling pool of taxpayers in the worst economy since the 1930s. Recently "improved" by his earned income tax credit — welfare by another name — the net rewards, subsidizes and enables the vast array of anti-social behaviors and poor lifestyle choices in which the decline of public schools and widening academic and income gaps are rooted deeply.
The net's worst casualties have been the institution of marriage, and children born out of wedlock. Not long ago, The New York Times trumpeted these great successes of the Welfare State under the headline, "For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage." Illegitimacy is "the new normal," it crowed, for women and children of all races, but more so for blacks and Hispanics.
But it also made this astonishing, intuitively obvious admission: Many single mothers refuse to marry because with a husband, "their official household income would rise, which could cost them government benefits like food stamps and child care."
So rather than break the shackles of government addiction, try to climb out of their wretched existence and inspire their children to greater heights, they game the system through cohabitation, often producing more out-of-wedlock government dependents from a succession of live-in boyfriends who likewise keep all their "free money from the government" while enjoying the other benefits of marriage without the commitment.
Even liberal socialists agree this system condemns children to unstable lives, punctuated with violence, poverty, crime, and emotional and behavioral problems. Oh, yes, and stunted academic performance.
So even as Gov. Malloy proposes to throw $329 million more at education, he will spend nearly $13 billion in this biennium on social programs that undermine them. Said another way: As he takes up the quest for the silver bullet, his gun remains aimed squarely at his foot.
You want to reform public schools? Reform the safety net to begin restoring the principles of personal responsibility that underpin successful lives; damming the inflow to Connecticut of career government parasites; and elevating civilization's bedrock institution of marriage to the heights it deserves.
If that's unacceptable to politicians, the special interests and government's legions of slaves — sadly, it is to most of them — then the best anyone can hope for is to provide what the state constitution calls for: "There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state." What children do with their educational opportunity is up to their parents and them.