Blog: Education

Taxes & Government Spending, Education, Legislation

CT Government Weekly Rundown—September 16

  • Sep 16, 2013
  • by Alexandra Forrester
CT Government Weekly Rundown—September 16

House Speaker To Revive Debate on Car Tax, Municipal Tax Reform

Connecticut House Speaker Brendan Sharkey announced Thursday that the upcoming 2014 legislative session will once again address municipal property tax reform.  Last session, municipal leaders shot down Sharkey’s proposal to standardize and phase out local property taxes on cars, arguing municipalities need the tax revenue.  Municipal leaders have indicated they may once again object to a phase-out of the tax.   Sharkey stressed the importance of increasing local government efficiency to make up for the lost revenue, and plans to re-launch the legislature’s Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies (MORE) Commission to identify savings opportunities.  The Connecticut Council of Municipalities has noted that one driver of Connecticut’s high local property taxes, on cars in otherwise, is the large number of unfunded municipal mandates – i.e. costly things that the state government requires localities to do, without providing them the resources do them.

What it means for you: Connecticut is one of two states in the nation to have a car tax that is not part of a broader tangible personal property tax, and the only one to have the magnitude of the tax vary by locality. Is this a good way for Connecticut to stand out? Tax specialists say no.  But it does seem odd for state government to denounce high local taxes while simultaneously mandating local government spending.   

Audit of Connecticut’s Community Colleges Finds Deficiencies

An auditor’s report for the Connecticut Community colleges released on Wednesday found “significant deficiencies” in the oversight of finances at the colleges.  Issues the report cited included improper controls over school inventory, failing to follow proper notice and bidding procedures for large purchases and contracts, and paying part-time instructors for classes that were cancelled.  The report’s author characterized the missteps as “small on their face, but we're looking at protecting controls that may lead to bigger losses of … resources."  The audit looked at Fiscal Years 2010-2011, when the community college system had its own board of trustees.  That board has since been merged with the board for the state’s regional colleges.  You can read the full audit report here.

What it means for you: The dollar amounts at issue in the identified missteps represent a small portion of colleges’ budgets, but any time taxpayer money is not properly managed it should be a matter of public concern.

About the Author: Alex Forrester is a policy analyst for the CPI

Jobs & the Economy, Taxes & Government Spending, Education, Healthcare

CT Government Weekly Rundown - August 18

  • Aug 18, 2013
  • by Alexandra Forrester
CT Government Weekly Rundown - August 18

Access Health Launches Informational Campaign Amidst Concerns Over Rates
Your next beach day might have you taking home more than sand and a tan as representatives from Access Health, Connecticut’s Public Health Exchange, plan to hit the shoreline the next three weekends to distribute information about the exchange.  Access Health is also holding Q&A sessions around the state.   

Public health exchanges are government-managed markets where private companies and non-for-profits cansell health insurance plans that meet certain patient acceptance, coverage, and rate criteria. The 2010 U.S. Affordable Care Act (often known as “Obamacare”) requires each state to establish an exchange by 2014, but leaves it to states to set their own regulations.  The goal of these exchanges is to create more standardized, transparent, and competitive insurance markets where consumers can easily access, understand, and compare coverage information across plans.  Connecticut’s exchange is controlled by a board in which eight of twelve voting members are appointed by the Governor and legislative leaders. 

On August 5 insurance giant Aetna announced it would not participate in Connecticut’s exchange for individual plans because it felt the premiums Access Health was requiring were too low to cover costs.  A few weeks earlier ConnectiCare withdrew its application to sell small business health insurance on the exchange.  These announcements have lead some to question whether there are enough participants in the exchange to constitute a competitive market.  On August 5 Access Health announced premium rates for remaining participants.  It appears that aggregate premiums will be higher than pre-reform rates, but on an individual basis the comparative cost will vary based on location, gender, age, and plan type. Several employers have complained that employees are being asked to decide whether to join the exchange with minimal information and that employers are not in a position to effectively answer their questions.

What It Means For You: It remains up in the air whether Access Health will meet its goal of being more consumer friendly and cost-competitive than the existing insurance market. Initially, using the system may be troublesome—only 3% of users are expected to enroll without assistance as the exchange works out administrative and technological kinks.

Concerns over State Budget & Fiscal Climate as CT Goes to Bond Markets
On Wednesday, August 14, Connecticut issued $500M in new bonds. A bond is the state’s version of a credit card.  The state borrows money now, but it has to repay that money later – with interest.  Like a person, states that borrow to spend more than they can afford eventually run into trouble. In recent bond sales, Connecticut has had to pay a higher interest rate than states with good credit ratings, and a series of recently released financial and policy analyses suggest that more trouble is on the way.  Fitch Ratings and Connecticut Voices for Children are just the latest organizations – including the CPI – to criticize the state for raising taxes, failing to spend responsibly, and claiming the budget is balanced even though $600 million of expenses are being paid on credit and another $400m through accounting slights of hand. Connecticut already spends $1.2 billion per year on debt interest and its per capita debt is one of the highest in the country. Connecticut's high taxes, large debt, and ongoing deficits were identified as drivers of the state’s lackluster economic performance in both a recent Forbes profile on Connecticut and a presentation by John Rathgeber, Connecticut Business & Industry Association CEO, at an Aug. 6 CPI forum.

What It Means For You: If Connecticut does not get its fiscal house in order, the government will have to cut services, raise taxes yet again, or both.  This means less money in your pocket and fewer benefits back to you from your tax dollars.  And if businesses remain concerned about the state’s fiscal outlook they will be less likely to come to, or expand in, the state. That means fewer job opportunities for state residents.

Department of Labor Releases July 2013 Jobs Numbers
Speaking of jobs, the Department of Labor on Friday released the July results of its monthly employment surveys of Connecticut employers and residents.  The employer survey showed the state’s “nonfarm payrolls” increasing by 11,500 in July – the largest single-month increase since May 2010 and a larger increase than the previous six months combined.  With the July bump Connecticut’s 2013 nonfarm payroll growth rate is now roughly equal to that of the country as a whole.  The Department of Labor’s survey of Connecticut residents paints a more concerning picture.  Even with a slight increase in July, Connecticut has 10,600 fewer residents employed today than at the beginning of the year, continuing a trend from 2012.    

What It Means For You: Connecticut’s economy has performed slightly better in the first seven months of 2013 than it did in 2012, though this says more about the state’s dismal 2012 than it does about economic performance this year.  The next six months will shed light on whether the July jobs report is a statistical outlier or indicative of meaningful long-term trends.  In the last year Connecticut has seen other strong jobs reports, only to have them followed by weak ones. 

Department of Education Releases 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test Results
The Connecticut Department of Education released the state’s 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) results this week, and overall student achievement decreased in every academic subject tested for grades 3 through 8. Education Commissioner Stephen Pryor blamed the decrease on the state’s transition to the Common Core Curriculum, noting the CMT is aligned to previous curricula.  Other states have also seen a drop in test scores as a result of the transition to the Common Core, though in most of those states the tests themselves have changed.  Connecticut’s drop in scores occurred on the same metric measured in previous years.  Pryor also noted substantial improvement in student achievement at the four Commissioner’s Network schools – the schools with the worst scores that were taken over by the state as part of the 2012 education reform package.  The limited scope of this improvement, together with the state’s overall decline in scores, may indicate, as CPI has previously noted, that while last years' reforms included some positive steps the core structural problems with CT public education that are impeding low income students’ access to high quality opportunities remain unaddressed.

What It Means For You: Improving Connecticut’s underperforming public schools remains one of the paramount policy challenges facing the state.

About the Author: Alexandra Forrester is a a CPI policy analyst.

Education

Jeb Bush Addresses CT Education Reform at CPI Forum

  • Sep 20, 2012
  • by CT Policy Institute
Jeb Bush Addresses CT Education Reform at CPI Forum

Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida from 1999-2007 and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, today met with many of Connecticut’s business, education and political leaders at a Connecticut Policy Institute forum, "Reforming Connecticut's Schools: Lessons from Other States."  The forum took place at the GE corporate headquarters in Fairfield, CT.

Governor Bush spoke on the importance of education reform for the nation's future and laid out four essential ingredients that have proppelled successful reform efforts in other states: accountability, effective teachers in the classroom, school choice and higher expectations.  

The results of Governor Bush's education reform record speak or themselves. Between 2000 and 2007, only one state improved its graduation rate more than Florida, and between 2003 and 2009, no state made a bigger jump in eight grade reading. These gains were particularly pronounced for minority students.  The percentage of black students scoring basic or better on the 4th grade NAEP reading test increased from 31% in 1998 to 56% in 2009.  And the percentage for Hispanic students increased from 46% to 71%, putting them nearly on-par with their Caucasian peers.

Governor Bush stressed that meaningful education reform doesn't come easily.  "When there’s a conflict" between student leaning and status quo interests, he stated, "you fight."

A full video of the event is available at this link

Education

The Final Education Bill - What Does it Actually Do?

  • May 10, 2012
  • by CT Policy Institute
The Final Education Bill - What Does it Actually Do?

After a long and contentious debate, the General Assembly has passed an education bill that Governor Malloy has stated he will sign. Governor Malloy has said he feels the final bill still constitutes “meaningful” reform; but many of the boldest aspects of his original proposal (which itself fell short of the reforms instituted by states at the forefront of improved student outcomes) are absent from the final bill.

The final bill still ties teacher tenure to evaluations.  However, teachers only need to receive “effective” ratings (the second lowest of four categories) to receive tenure.  Further, with the exception of 8-10 pilot districts, the evaluations will not be based on the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council’s guidelines, which include student achievement as an important factor.  Teacher performance will also not be tied to compensation or certification. 

Another scaled back area of reform is third-grade reading intervention.  Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield (D, New Haven) had proposed a program of retention and intervention for third graders who did not meet certain reading standards.  The final bill did not include any retention program and intensive intervention plans are limited to a five school pilot. 

The bill does introduce a measure for grading schools on a four-tier scale based on standardized test scores; the lowest-performing schools can be taken over by the state education department.  However, the bill limits the education department's authority to actually change policies at the school.  For instance, unlike in Gov. Malloy’s initial proposal, in the final version of the bill the state has no authority to alter collective bargaining agreements.

The final bill also includes additional funding for existing charter schools.  But it removes proposed funding for new charter schools.  And it does not include any systematic attempt to promote public school choice through variable “money-follows-the-child” grants.

Ultimately, the bill seems more of a compromise among political constituencies than a truly bold plan to reform Connecticut’s schools.  As the Connecticut Mirror wrote, “some people left the 2012 legislative session questioning whether the education reform bill went far enough, but no one appeared to leave complaining that their interests had been trampled upon.”

Education

Education Reform Debate Rages On

  • May 01, 2012
Education Reform Debate Rages On

The legislative debates in Hartford on education reform remain heated. 

The controversy began this winter, when teachers’ unions launched a vicious campaign against Governor Malloy’s reform proposals.  The governor opened negotiations with the unions to reach a compromise. 

In a Hartford Courant op-ed, CPI Executive Director Ben Zimmer pointed out the irony of these “compromise” negotiations, given that Governor Malloy’s proposals already fall short of the reforms instituted by many of the states that have made the most progress in improving outcomes for high-poverty urban students.

Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the negotiations with the unions, the version of the bill reported by the Education Committee removed or reduced many of the most substantive reforms that Governor Malloy's initial proposal did include, such as teacher tenure reform and additional funding for charter schools.  Governor Malloy initially stated his opposition to the modifications, but has since backed down to some degree.  For instance, he has proposed a delay in linking teacher tenure to evaluations until after the evaluations have been piloted in ten voluntary districts.  

A third draft of the bill drafted by leaders of the General Assembly as a whole (rather than just the education committee) has encountered even more criticism from education reform advocates, as the bill limits the power of the Education Commissioner in taking over and reforming underperforming schools.  

In an internal memo leaked to the press, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), the larger of the state’s two teachers' unions, suggested that the CEA does not, in fact, want to reach a compromise at all and instead would prefer to defeat the Governor’s reforms outright.