Insurance Executives Win; Citizens and Mental Health Advocates Lose

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At the end of May, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy stunned healthcare advocates when he vetoed an important bill that would have required insurance companies to provide data about how much substance abuse coverage and related mental health care they are actually providing Connecticut residents.

The legislation was a product of a major study conducted the Connecticut General Assembly’s bi-partisan Program Review and Investigation Committee.  While insurance companies already report some utilization data, the Committee’s investigation determined that companies were not providing the information necessary for policymakers to determine whether patients were getting the substance abuse treatment and mental health services that they need and deserve.

Considering that the cost of appropriate substance abuse treatment and mental health services is far cheaper and more effective than dealing with the resulting emergency room visits, potential suicide attempts, violence and incarceration that can result from inadequate treatment, the bill was extremely appropriate.

With strong support from Democrats and Republicans, the legislation passed the Program Review and Investigation Committee 11 – 0, the Insurance Committee 15 – 2, the Connecticut State Senate 35 – 0 and the Connecticut House of Representatives by a vote of 143 – 0.

But then, in an apparent gift to insurance executives, who have been extremely generous to Malloy’s political fundraising efforts, the Governor reversed course and vetoed the bill.

Now, according to House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, the Democratic-controlled legislature will not override any of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s vetoes, including the important substance abuse and mental health bill.

The General Assembly’s decision to simply give in and give up the fight to ensure a better and fairer health insurance system for Connecticut is a sad one.

As the CT Mirror reported at the time Malloy vetoed the bill,

“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has vetoed a bill opposed by the insurance industry that would have required carriers to report information about the substance abuse treatment they have covered and their networks of mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.

Malloy said he supported the objective of the measure, which was intended to increase the amount of information available about substance abuse treatment and coverage, but was concerned that it could lead to inaccurate information being gathered.

Malloy took issue with that last requirement, saying in his veto message that it’s unusual for state law to require private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives,” and that he worried about the precedent it could set.

In defense of his veto, Governor Malloy actually said that he is opposed to requiring private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”

Malloy’s statement is absolutely absurd considering that private businesses that are engaged in public purposes MUST regularly “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”  Just ask the electric companies, the water companies and all the other private entities that serve the public good.

Insurance companies that provide health insurance to Connecticut residents must be held accountable for their actions and the bill Malloy vetoed would have done exactly that.

As Jeffrey Walter, the president of the Rushford Center and an expert on substance abuse treatment, explained in his testimony in favor of the legislation,

“The legislation might not be necessary were it not for the fact that behavioral health is treated differently by the insurance industry than virtually any other health care specialty….care for psychiatric and substance use disorders [are] denied at a rate that far surpasses my other part of the health care system.”

The Connecticut Psychological Association added,

“The provisions…increase transparency related to coverage decisions and complaints, which will facilitate evaluation of the review process, including compliance with federal parity law, which requires equal treatment of medical and behavioral health providers and conditions, as well as network adequacy.”

And Connecticut’s State Health Care Advocate, Victoria Veltri, explained,

“Expanding the data that insurers report to the Insurance Department concerning member utilization of services for the treatment of substance use, co-occurring and mental health disorders will provide additional needed clarity to the issues concerning consumer access to treatment for these conditions.”

Malloy was wrong to veto this bill and the Connecticut General Assembly is failing to do its job by refusing to even consider overriding Malloy’s veto.

You can read more about the bill in this CT Mirror story: http://ctmirror.org/malloy-vetos-substance-abuse-treatment-bill-opposed-by-insurance-industry/?hvid=4ILvLG

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Important Wait, What? weekend stories you might have missed

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Define fiscal irresponsibility….

While most Connecticut residents feel a growing unease about the Malloy administration’s irresponsible and underhanded approach to state budgeting, I’m often asked to give specific examples of how Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy has handled the Connecticut budget during his term in office.

Long-time readers may remember this one, but here is a prime example for readers who are newer to Wait, What?

In January 2010 there was a tragic school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a young Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools.

As politicians are wont to do, state legislators kicked into action, and on May 1, 2010 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 10-83.  The new law created a special protected trust account called the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account and required the Department of Motor Vehicles to administer a program to use the funds to help Connecticut school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175 and directed that $50 of each license restoration payment be deposited into the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account.  The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the higher fee would raise about $2.1 million a year.

Now fast forward two and a half years…

Governor Malloy had been in office for two years and none of the $4.7 million collected for school seat belts had been spent.

And then, rather than using the money for its intended purpose…

We witnessed the following;

As part of the December 2012 “deficit mitigation bill” Governor Malloy and the legislature included language that overrode the existing law and quietly transferred $4,700,000 from the School Bus Seat Belt Account into the General Fund to help eliminate the projected FY 2013 $415 million deficit.

Gone was the money for school seat belts.

For more go to:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/05/31/define-fiscal-irresponsibility/

 

Does it really only cost $30,000 to get Governor Malloy to veto a good bill?

Over the past few months Governor Malloy and his political operatives have raised more than $30,000 from major insurance companies and their corporate executives.  The funds were deposited into the special Democratic State Central Committee account that will be used to augment the $6.2 million that Malloy will be getting from the State’s public financing system.

Then late last week Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy stunned healthcare advocates when he vetoed an important bill that would have required insurance companies to provide data about how much substance abuse coverage and related mental health care they were actually providing Connecticut residents.

The legislation was a product of a major study conducted the Connecticut General Assembly’s bi-partisan Program Review and Investigation Committee, a committee I chaired in 1993 during the last year I served in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

The Program Review and Investigation is the only committee charged with fully investigating major public policy issues and developing comprehensive solutions.

In this case, the committee produced a comprehensive report entitled, “Access to Substance Use Treatment for Privately and Publicly Insured Youth.”  Phase I of the report, and its corresponding legislative initiatives, was adopted on December 18, 2012.  Phase II of the report was adopted on June 7, 2013.

This past legislative session, one of the legislative proposals arising out of the report, was introduced in the form of House Bill 5373, An Act Concerning the Reporting of Certain Data by Managed Care Organizations and Health Insurance Companies to the Insurance Department.

The bill was a common sense, first step toward ensuring insurance companies actually pay the bills they are supposed to be paying.

More at:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/06/01/really-cost-30000-get-governor-malloy-veto-good-bill/

 

And then this one…Will the Working Families Party stand up for working families in this year’s election

Does it really only cost $30,000 to get Governor Malloy to veto a good bill?

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(Correction:  Please note the $30,000 figure used in this article is donations form all insurance companies.  However, a re-review of the campaign finance data reveals the actual amount insurance companies gave the Connecticut Democrats’ federal account was in excess of $40,000)

Over the past few months Governor Malloy and his political operatives have raised more than $30,000 from major insurance companies and their corporate executives.  The funds were deposited into the special Democratic State Central Committee account that will be used to augment the $6.2 million that Malloy will be getting from the State’s public financing system.

Then late last week Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy stunned healthcare advocates when he vetoed an important bill that would have required insurance companies to provide data about how much substance abuse coverage and related mental health care they were actually providing Connecticut residents.

The legislation was a product of a major study conducted the Connecticut General Assembly’s bi-partisan Program Review and Investigation Committee, a committee I chaired in 1993 during the last year I served in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

The Program Review and Investigation is the only committee charged with fully investigating major public policy issues and developing comprehensive solutions.

In this case, the committee produced a comprehensive report entitled, “Access to Substance Use Treatment for Privately and Publicly Insured Youth.”  Phase I of the report, and its corresponding legislative initiatives, was adopted on December 18, 2012.  Phase II of the report was adopted on June 7, 2013.

This past legislative session, one of the legislative proposals arising out of the report, was introduced in the form of House Bill 5373, An Act Concerning the Reporting of Certain Data by Managed Care Organizations and Health Insurance Companies to the Insurance Department.

The bill was a common sense, first step toward ensuring insurance companies actually pay the bills they are supposed to be paying.

Jeffrey Walter is an expert on substance abuse issues and the president of the Rushford Center, one of the Connecticut’s leading private, non-profit behavior health providers.  In his testimony in favor of the legislation, Walter said,

“The legislation might not be necessary were it not for the fact that behavioral health is treated differently by the insurance industry than virtually any other health care specialty….care for psychiatric and substance use disorders [are] denied at a rate that far surpasses my other part of the health care system.”

The Connecticut Psychological Association testified,

“The provisions…increase transparency related to coverage decisions and complains, which will facilitate evaluation of the review process, including compliance with federal parity law, which requires equal treatment of medical and behavioral health providers and conditions, as well as network adequacy.”

Connecticut’s State Health Care Advocate, Victoria Veltri, concluded,

“Expanding the data that insurers report to the Insurance Department concerning member utilization of services for the treatment of substance use, co-occurring and mental health disorders will provide additional needed clarity to the issues concerning consumer access to treatment for these conditions.

And the Connecticut Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explained,

“We believe that transparency will best serve the public and private sectors while, most importantly, serving our children and families with quality service options.”

Malloy’s Department of Insurance DID NOT take a position on the bill, although the lobbyists representing the insurance industry opposed the bill claiming that reporting the required data would be a burden.

Legislators across the political spectrum dismissed the insurance industry’s claim.

The Program Review and Investigation Committee approved the bill 11 – 0.

The legislature’s Insurance Committee, which generally supports the insurance industry, approved the bill 15 – 2.

The Connecticut State Senate approved the bill 35 – 0 and the Connecticut House of Representatives voted 143 – 0 in favor of the bill.

As the CT Mirror reported last week,

The bill would have required insurers to report information on substance abuse treatment coverage to the Connecticut Insurance Department, for inclusion in the department’s annual consumer report card on health insurance carriers. The insurers would have been required to report information including:

  • The estimated number and percentage of members who get treatment for a substance use disorder and the level of care provided
  • The median length of covered treatment
  • Claims expenses
  • The number of in-network providers who offer substance use disorder treatment and percentage accepting new patients
  • The number of providers and facilities that treat mental health and substance use disorders and sought to join the carrier’s network, were accepted or stopped participating in the network
  • Factors that might negatively impact members’ access to treatment for substance use disorders, including screening procedures, the supply of health care providers, limited capacity among treatment providers and reimbursement rates.

But the CT Mirror added,

“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has vetoed a bill opposed by the insurance industry that would have required carriers to report information about the substance abuse treatment they have covered and their networks of mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.

Malloy said he supported the objective of the measure, which was intended to increase the amount of information available about substance abuse treatment and coverage, but was concerned that it could lead to inaccurate information being gathered.

Malloy took issue with that last requirement, saying in his veto message that it’s unusual for state law to require private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives,” and that he worried about the precedent it could set.

Wait, What? —- Governor Malloy said he is opposed to requiring private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”

But of course Malloy knows, as does every other public official, that the insurance industry and every other state regulated industry is required to report significant amounts of information that is designed to allow public officials and public agencies to “achieve public policy objectives.”

That is the very reason that certain industries are regulated.

But in this case, Malloy vetoed an important bill that was primarily designed to help improve access to substance use treatment for privately and publicly insured youth because he said it would require the insurance industry to require private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”

Come on…

One would think that along with the $30,000 in campaign contributions the insurance industry could have, at least, come up with a better sounding explanation rather than urging Governor Malloy to use what is nothing other than an absurd and outright lie.

You can read the CT Mirror story here: http://ctmirror.org/malloy-vetos-substance-abuse-treatment-bill-opposed-by-insurance-industry/?hvid=4ILvLG

Define fiscal irresponsibility….

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While most Connecticut residents feel a growing unease about the Malloy administration’s irresponsible and underhanded approach to state budgeting, I’m often asked to give specific examples of how Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy has handled the Connecticut budget during his term in office.

Long-time readers may remember this one, but here is a prime example for readers who are newer to Wait, What?

In January 2010 there was a tragic school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a young Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools.

As politicians are wont to do, state legislators kicked into action, and on May 1, 2010 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 10-83.  The new law created a special protected trust account called the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account and required the Department of Motor Vehicles to administer a program to use the funds to help Connecticut school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175 and directed that $50 of each license restoration payment be deposited into the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account.  The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the higher fee would raise about $2.1 million a year.

Now fast forward two and a half years…

Governor Malloy had been in office for two years and none of the $4.7 million collected for school seat belts had been spent.

And then, rather than using the money for its intended purpose…

We witnessed the following;

As part of the December 2012 “deficit mitigation bill” Governor Malloy and the legislature included language that overrode the existing law and quietly transferred $4,700,000 from the School Bus Seat Belt Account into the General Fund to help eliminate the projected FY 2013 $415 million deficit.

Gone was the money for school seat belts.

That tragedy was yesterday’s news and no one even spoke out against the inappropriate raid on the School Bus Seat Belt Account.

Just a year later, adding insult to injury, Governor Malloy and his administration were crowing about a projected FY 2014 budget surplus.

But instead of using a portion of that surplus to pay back the $4.7 million taken from the School Bus Seat Belt Account, Malloy used the surplus funds to pad this year’s budget and even promised a series of election-year tax rebates and tax cuts before the fiscal reality facing Connecticut set in and he had to “postpone” those tax cut promises.

The fact is that over and over again, Governor Malloy has claimed that the state and its state budget have benefited from his good management skills.

But if a governor was truly dedicated to good management he or she would never have raided the School Bus Seat Belt Account or, at the very least, would have returned the money when it was clear that the state had the resources to do so.

Oh, and as an aside, when you hear the Republicans claim that they are the party of “fiscal responsibility,” remember that Malloy’s Deficit Reduction Plan passed the State Senate 31-3 and passed the State House of Representatives 140-3.

It was Democrats and Republicans, working together, who stole the money from the School Bus Seat Belt Account and then refused to pay it back when they had the chance.

Out here in the real world, when we talk about the need for leaders who are truly committed to fiscal responsibility, it has become painfully clear that we will have go outside the “incumbency” party to find them.

One more gimmick laden State Budget before the 2014 election for governor

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When Dan Malloy was running for governor in 2010 he wrote,

We have to be committed to getting our fiscal house in order…the current budgeting is a perfect example of irresponsible budgeting…Why?  Because this administration, once again, took the easy way out…the current budget was balanced on phantom cuts and one-time revenues that will not be available for the next budget round…As a result, the people of Connecticut have been sold a lemon.”

Yesterday, May 3, 2014 the Governor, with support from of the Democrats in the General Assembly adopted in irresponsible budget that relies on “phantom cuts and one-time revenues that will not be around for the next budget round.”

Connecticut’s new budget leaves taxpayers with a $1.3 billion dollar deficit for the state budget following this fall’s gubernatorial election.

As the media wrote,

Legislature adopts new CT budget built on risky assumptions (CT Mirror)

Lawmakers Approve Budget That Increases Spending, Gambles On Future Revenue (CT New junkie)

CT Mirror wrote,

The General Assembly adopted a $19 billion budget early Sunday that relies on about $200 million in fund sweeps and risky savings and revenues assumptions to stay in balance – including the last-minute discovery of $75 million in “miscellaneous” tax receipts.

[…]

They noted that nonpartisan fiscal analysts are projecting a $1.33 billion deficit in the first state budget after the election, a gap of nearly 8 percent.

And as for the promised tax break for retired teachers, CT News junkie notes,

The budget scales back the tax relief Malloy planned to offer retired teachers by phasing it in over a period of three years. Under the budget adopted Saturday, 10 percent of the retirement income would be exempt. That exemption increases to 25 percent in 2016 and 50 percent in 2017.

And to balance the new budget, the Governor and General Assembly utilized two particularly extraordinary gimmicks.

  • A new $75 million in revenue that will appear from various miscellaneous taxes
  • And a decision not to pay $51 million into the state employee health care fund to cover the impending retirement of correctional officers.

Last fall and again this spring, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo informed Governor Malloy and his budget office that an additional $51 million would be needed to cover the health benefits of correctional officers that would soon be retiring.  Malloy failed to put the money in this proposed budget.  The General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee initially proposed using one-time revenues to cover the costs but those funds disappeared in the final version of the budget that was approved yesterday.  Instead of making the payment, legislative leadership is relying on what they claim is a, “level of comfort that the Office of Policy and Management will be able to meet their obligations to retiree health care.”

At this point, it is also unclear how or if the new budget actually solves the under-funding of Connecticut’s magnet schools.

The bottom line – One more fiscally irresponsible state budget for the Governor who ran on the platform of “responsible budgeting.”

Malloy administration’s farce of a hearing on Common Core

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The development and implementation of the Common Core and its related Common Core testing scam is one of the most important issues facing American public education.

The Common Core was developed in relative secrecy and forced upon the states by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  Some of the people who developed the Common Core Standards were even required to sign documents swearing not to speak about the process.

The vehicle used to pull off this education disaster was the National Governors Association and a series of other organizations that were paid by the corporate education reform industry, along with hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds, that were funneled to private consulting companies to “develop” the standards and tests, while pushing their own profit-making efforts to sell more computers, new software, textbooks, and consulting opportunities.

After all, it was media mogul Rupert Murdoch who said that the America’s K-12 public education system was an $500 billion untapped market.

And support for the growing corporate education reform industry came from Democrats and Republicans alike.

In Connecticut, for example, it was Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy who introduced the most anti-teacher, anti-union, pro-charter school education reform bill of any Democratic governor in the nation.  The bill not only passed, but it passed with overwhelming support from both Democratic and Republican legislators.

But after two years, when teacher’s concerns were finally being heard and more and more parents were speaking up, legislative attention returned to this vital issue.

The Democratic leadership decided to hold a sham “informational session” made up of pro-Common Core advocates.  In response, the Republicans, finally seeing the political advantage in speaking up, used a  little utilized parliamentary procedure to force a traditional public hearing on some of their bills related to slowing down the implementation of the Common Core.

The Democrat’s farce hearing took place on Friday, February 28th.

The two most amazing developments were the  lack of media coverage and the Malloy administration’s ability to keep their heads in the sand in the face of the disastrous impact of their policies.

For those who want to feel that emotion that allows one to laugh and cry at the same time you can watch the recording of the hearing by going to CT-N’s video on demand entitled, “Education Committee Informational Forum on Common Core State Standards.”

Warning:  The level of misleading statements and lies is enough to cause dangerous increases in blood pressure.

But equally disturbing is that the sham hearing received such limited media coverage.  In fact, most of Connecticut’s media outlets simply failed to cover it all together thereby leaving Connecticut citizens uniformed about the way in which the Malloy administration and the Democrats are trying to duck this important issue.

The best coverage of the hearing can be found in the Connecticut Post which wrote,

HARTFORD — Defenders of moving ahead with the Common Core learning standards spent four hours Friday explaining the controversial learning program and the test that goes with it before the Legislature’s Education Committee.

The invitation-only forum came after Republicans have forced public hearings on the matter. Those hearings have not yet to be scheduled.

Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, joined by Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped draft the standards, told the committee and a large audience that the road to fully implement Common Core in all classrooms may be a rocky one, but the state is headed in the right direction.

[Note: Pryor is a member of the Council of Chief State School Officers.]

The CT Post story includes Commissioner Pryor who said,

“Our youngsters are arriving at college unprepared for college. That is a problem,” he said. “We must aim for higher standards … Common Core goes about the teaching and learning process in the right way.”

[Note:  Connecticut's schools are incredibly successful.  As a result of poverty, language barriers and insufficient support for students who have special education needs, Connecticut has a significant achievement gap between suburban and urban schools that must be addressed, but to suggest that "our youngsters are arriving at college unprepared" is the statement of a liar or a fool.]

The CT Post highlighted the rhetoric coming from the Council of Chief State School Officers and other groups that are being paid to sell the Common Core and the Common Core testing adding,

Minnich, who has been traveling the country in defense of the standards — Thursday he was in Missouri — said none of the 45 states that have signed onto the standards were forced to do so, and 73 percent of teachers support a more challenging curriculum.

“It is surprising to me that it is controversial,” he said.

The new standards, adopted in Connecticut in 2010 and now being fully implemented across the state, teach reading and math in a deeper way and in a different order than in the past. Most districts in the state have agreed to try out the new test that goes along with the standards this spring instead of the traditional Connecticut Mastery Test.

Results of the new test won’t “count”; still many are fearful that students, teachers and schools have not had enough time and training in the new system and will be labeled as failures when students perform poorly on the test. They also said time was being wasted.

Pryor said the “test of the test” is required under federal law. He also argued that the standards are not a curriculum and do not dictate what needs to be taught in the classroom.

“But how flexible is Common Core if there is a test tied to it?” state Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison, asked.

Minnich said the standards merely say, for instance, that third-graders will learn about multiplication and division and gain an understanding of fractions. How that is taught is up to the teacher.

Minnich maintained states ARE not under pressure to adopt the standards.

States that didn’t adopt the standards could not win federal Race to the Top dollars, Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, pointed out.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, questioned the fairness of expecting students taught one way for so long to adjust in one year to a new set of standards.

Meanwhile, Rep. Gail Lavielle, also R-Wilton, wondered who decided the new standards are higher than what was already in place.

Minnich said national experts vetted the standards, and there are early indications in Kentucky and Tennessee, which have been using Common Core the longest, that student achievement is going in the right direction.

Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown, said it is not the new, higher standards that bother him, but the way they have been implemented. He characterized the rollout as “crummy.”

The state now has a new website, training efforts and a committee to work on ironing out the problems, Pryor said.

From start to finish the Malloy administration’s arrogant, top-down approach on education reform has  been a disaster.   Malloy has failed on many fronts, but Stefan Pryor and his side-kicks like Paul Vallas, Steven Adamowski and Morgan Barth are on track to ensure Malloy is unelectable.

One would think that after two years of being told about the damage they are doing they’d change course.  But when it comes to issues like this, Malloy and his inner circle are tone deaf….or worse.

You can read the complete CT Post article at: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Common-Core-standards-defended-5277595.php

Connecticut to end non-credit remedial courses at public colleges

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No really….  A Connecticut law passed in 2012 made it illegal for Connecticut public colleges to provide non-credit remedial courses starting in 2014.

Long time Wait, What? readers may remember the discussion on the blog.

Led by Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly, Connecticut adopted a corporate education reform initiatives aimed at ensuring that all students were “college and career ready,” while at the same time passed legislation that prohibits public colleges and universities from providing non-credit remedial courses.

Among other things, it was sold as a way to reduce the state budget.

The irony, of course, goes without saying.

The same individuals who were willing undermine Connecticut’s public education system by pushing the Common Core, the Common Core testing frenzy and the unfair teacher evaluation system all in an effort to prepare children for college were reducing the budgets for Connecticut’s public colleges and universities by record amounts.

But by prohibiting public colleges from providing courses for students who needed extra help, Malloy et. al. could simply remove a significant cost those colleges were facing.

The issues has remained in the background until now, when students, their families and the public are  finally learning about this incredibly bad policy.

As the New Haven Register recently wrote,

About 10,000 incoming freshmen at state colleges enroll in no-credit remedial courses across the state every year.  This year, that number will drop to zero.

The courses will no longer be offered at state colleges once Public Act 12-40 goes into effect this fall semester.

Signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2012, the act requires colleges to abandon lower-level, no-credit remedial courses and embed support into entry-level courses or a college-readiness program.

High school graduates who do not place into entry-level courses by way of adequate SAT scores or college entry exams will be out of luck.

The urgency of the act going into effect this year has sparked strong reactions from state legislators, community colleges and high school educators.

Strong reaction from state legislators?

Who by the way passed the bill, after heavy lobbying from the Malloy administration and over the objections of the House Chair of the Education Committee who made it very clear what the ramifications of the legislation would be.

Instead of taking the non-credit remedial courses, students are expected to turn to local public schools and community based adult education programs.  The original argument was that this would save the state and students money.

But due to an insufficient number of programs, many students who were college bound will be discovering college, even Connecticut’s community colleges, are beyond reach.

Welcome to the Malloy Administration’s definition of college and career ready.

And the problems will be evident across the state of Connecticut.

As the New Haven Register goes on to report,

“At Northwestern Community College in Winsted, Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Patricia Bouffard said she anticipates there will be students who fall below the level of remediation community colleges can now offer. Based on test scores from fall 2013, about 15 percent of entering students at NCC would not have been eligible for remedial courses if the requirements were already in place.”

While Northwestern serves a significantly smaller population than Gateway [Community College in New Haven] — about 1,700 students — Bouffard said about the same percentage of students fall into the developmental level.”

[...]

The college is in the process of developing appropriate programs in reaction to the legislation but doesn’t yet have a partnership with nearby high schools. Bouffard said the college is in the second run of an 11-week, college-math proficiency program offered to students who are below the remedial course. 

The program is computer-based with faculty in attendance. Bouffard said English is a little more difficult in terms of developing a computer-based program.

Opponents of the corporate education reform industry will recognize the pattern.  Set standards that limit a cohort of students and then buy more technology and software to deal with the problem.

In Connecticut, this policy will mean that some of the students who need the most hands-on help will be provided programs that require them to “learn” what they need to know by sitting in front of a computer.

The New Haven Register article quotes State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who was just elected to the Connecticut State Senate in a Special Election.

Holder-Winfield’s comments represent the thinking of many  legislators who voted in favor of the original proposal.  The New Haven Register story explains that Holder-Winfield said that we was not, “’a fan of doing away with remedial courses’ but understood the logic behind it: ‘Many of our young people who go to college don’t graduate within the four to six years that we would think is normal.”

The New Haven Register reports that “Holder-Winfield understood that the bill would be rolled out and then legislators would determine if they were doing what was needed. Now, he said he isn’t sure it worked the way it was intended to work.”  He concluded, “I’m a fan of taking another look at what we have done and maybe pulling back off it. I don’t think that that was the solution.”

There are legislative proposals to  modify Malloy’s plan to end non-credit remedial courses at Connecticut’s public colleges.

Check back for updates.

You can also read the New Haven Register article here:  http://www.nhregister.com/social-affairs/20140222/concern-grows-as-connecticut-colleges-to-drop-no-credit-remedial-courses

 

America’s Most Un-American Tradition: Racial Profiling

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A court decision in New York City focuses attention on Connecticut’s failure to deal effectively with racial profiling.

“So I…pull over to the side of the road
And I heard “Son do you know why I’m stopping you for?”
Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low
Do I look like a mind reader sir, I don’t know
Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo?
“Well you was doing fifty five in a fifty four”
“License and registration and step out of the car”
“Are you carrying a weapon on you I know a lot of you are”

– “99 Problems” by Jay-Z,

Racial profiling is illegal, immoral, Unconstitutional and isn’t even an effective crime fighting tool…but it is standard operating procedure commonly used at the national, state and local level.

Connecticut’s anti-racial profiling law is called the Penn Act and was named after an African-American state senator who was the victim of racial profiling.

But a decade later, Connecticut’s law is little more than a toothless symbol of political pandering.  Just this year, Connecticut media outlets reported that the Connecticut General Assembly “Unanimously Strengthens Racial Profiling Law.” But that report was far from the truth.

Meanwhile, while Connecticut’s anti-racial profiling law remains a hollow example of fighting this crime, a New York Judge has ruled that the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy is unconstitutional, saying that the policy amounted to “indirect racial profiling,” and violated the fourth amendment of the Constitution.

As the Judge explained in her ruling, “No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life.”

The New York class action was the result of a nine-week trial that determined that African-American and Latino residents are illegally discriminated against by the NYPD’s racially-driven stop and frisk policies.

In Connecticut, where the Hartford Courant reported this past legislative session that the General Assembly, “voted…to expand the state’s racial profiling law to include more police departments,” the 1999 Alvin Penn racial profiling law remains little more than a requirement that certain police departments maintain records and report on the racial and ethnic make-up of the people they stop.

As the Connecticut Community Party wrote in a commentary piece in the Hartford News in May of this year, “The Connecticut General Assembly passed the Penn Act advisory board’s toothless racial profiling bill without adding any of the Community Party’s amendments. Last week this legislation was literally passed by the state Senate under the cover of darkness with no prior notice that the bill was coming up for a vote. The advisory board bill focuses solely on data collection with only a cursory nod towards enforcement, despite the fact that a Department of Justice investigation found that the East Haven police were engaging in racial profiling of Latinos. Instead of crafting legislation aimed at preventing a reoccurrence of this crime, which was the focus of an avalanche of gun control bills that were introduced following the Newtown school shooting, Gov. Dannel Malloy, Office of Policy and Management Under Secretary Mike Lawlor and the CGA continue to portray racial profiling as a theory which must be proven as fact. Our position is that this disparate reaction underscores a racial double standard at the State Capitol. The passage of the advisory board bill kills all of our enforcement language which was passed last year, including our traffic stop receipt provision that was scheduled to go in effect July 1st.”

Even watered-down, the bill’s effective date was set at July 1, 2015, a year after nearly every other new law was scheduled to go into effect.

As the Community Party went on to report, “Blacks and Latinos in this state will continue to be left vulnerable to the type of police abuse which occurred in East Haven because [Connecticut politicians] are more interested in using the racial profiling issue as a political football than in actually protecting people of color.”

So here we are.  As a result of yesterday’s bold action by a judge, New York City’s racial profiling policies are thrown out, but here in Connecticut, political games remain the order of the day.

It almost reminds one of the situation we face with Paul Vallas’ attempt to illegally hold onto the superintendent’s position in Bridgeport.

It is a sad commentary that it takes the actions of a judge to force politicians and our government to do the right thing.

For more on the New York Case check out: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/13/nyregion/stop-and-frisk-practice-violated-rights-judge-rules.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/13/opinion/racial-discrimination-in-stop-and-frisk.html?hp&_r=0

If you want to read more about Connecticut’s racial profiling issue start with: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_W65Rju7n4 and https://www.facebook.com/PennAct.

Connecticut’s Governor and elected officials play: “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

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During the last gubernatorial campaign, each side claimed that they had a deeper commitment to fiscal responsibility and government transparency. 

Now more than two and a half years later we are further away from both concepts than most people could have possibly conceived of.

In an announcement that will come as no surprise to Wait, What? readers, a report by the Fiscal Policy Center, which is part of Connecticut Voices for Children has determined that we should consider changing our state song from Yankee Doodle Dandy to Bob Dylan’s famous ballad, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”

The non-partisan Fiscal Policy Center concludes;

“By relying on borrowing and one-time fixes, we’re undermining the long-term stability of the budget and gambling with these investments in our children’s future.”

The reported on the state budget that was proposed by Governor Malloy and approved by the Connecticut General Assembly “warns that the ‘quick-fix’ budget solutions adopted in the budget will deepen the state’s long-term budget deficit and could ultimately endanger funding for child and family services.”

The report goes on to explain that the new budget uses borrowing, one-time revenues, and fund transfers to close budget deficits and cover operating expenses and reports that, “ By relying on these measures, rather than recurring revenues to close the state’s budget gap…state policymakers have opened up a larger revenue hole in future budget years.”

Key problems about Connecticut’s state budget that highlighted in the new report include:

  • The new state budget “relies on almost $600 million in borrowing, over $400 million in temporary fund transfers, and $500 million in one-time revenues to pay for operating expenses.  Because these funding sources will dry up at the end of the two-year budget, there is currently a projected state deficit of $712 million in Fiscal Year 2016 and comparable holes in 2017 to 2018.” 
  • “Reliance on debt and one-time revenues will further increase budget risks for the state if economic growth does not return quickly.  The state’s budget projections assume that robust economic growth will result in increased state tax revenues.  With a nearly empty Rainy Day reserve fund, if this growth does not emerge, Connecticut would have little choice but to turn immediately to deep cuts, steep tax increases, and more borrowing.” 
  • “The state government has transformed over $1 billion in debt it owed itself and its employees into debt it now owes to bondholders, resulting in less flexibility and control of the repayment of that debt.  While the state budget plan pays down funds owed to the state employee and teacher pension systems, it does so by borrowing money from private bondholders.  In addition, the state has borrowed money from the private market to meet stricter accounting requirements under the rules of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).”

You can find the full report, entitled “A Gambler’s Budget: the Fiscal Year 2014-15 State Budget,” at www.ctvoices.org.

Connecticut: The Republic of Debt

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The 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly ended with the adoption of record amounts of additional state borrowing. 

They adopted $750 million in state bonds to pay a portion of the cost associated with moving Connecticut to Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles (GAAP).  Then there was the $1.6 billion for Malloy’s UConn initiative “to overhaul the state’s flagship university over the next decade,” this coming after the state’s $2.3 billion UConn 2000 program.  And then, of course there are hundreds of millions more in bonding for programs and services that should be funded out of the State’s General Fund rather than state borrowing, such as Malloy’s massive corporate welfare program and the state’s Stem Cell Research Program.

The fact is that the FY14-FY15 state budget relies heavily on record borrowing.

And this is occurring in a state that already has record amounts of debt.

Even before this latest bonding spree, the balance on Connecticut’s state credit card was more than $19.3 billion.

Referred to as “bonded indebtedness,” it is the amount of outstanding debt that Connecticut’s taxpayers must pay back, with interest, over the next 20 years.

This amount does not include the taxpayer funds that must also be paid to fund the state’s various unfunded liabilities such as the state and teachers’ pensions, health and other post-employment benefits.  That amount adds another $40 billion plus to the state’s fiscal ledger.

The $19.3 billion is only the existing bonds that must be paid…

When it comes to the level of state debt, no other state in the nation comes close to the level of official indebtedness facing Connecticut and its citizens.

The average per capita debt burden among the 50 states is $1,408.  That is, every man, woman and child in the average state is “on the hook” for $1,408.

In Connecticut, the per capita debt burden is $5,096.

But that’s not all.                                                                               

When it comes to facing the ramifications of the growing debt, Connecticut’s elected officials actually took a giant step backwards this year.

Not only did Malloy and the legislature add record amounts of debt, they ducked debt payments that were supposed to be made during this upcoming budget cycle, thereby pushing the burden until after the next gubernatorial election.

Back in Fiscal Year 2009, Governor Rell and the Democratic-controlled legislature addressed a massive state deficit by approving a series of special, short-term bonds called Economic Recovery Notes.  Each year the state is supposed to be paying off a portion of those notes. 

However, the two year budget just passed by the General Assembly delayed $196 million in Economic Recovery Note payments next year and the year after.  The additional interest cost to Connecticut taxpayers for this “restructuring” will be about $45 million

Ironically, when you strip away all the political spin, that amount is about what Malloy and his administration added to education spending in Connecticut…and the gall to claim it was a “historic” investment in education.

During the last gubernatorial campaign candidate Dan Malloy called these types of budget gimmicks, “kicking the can down the road,” and promised never to do it.

Now Governor Dannel Malloy is making these gimmicks a regular approach to his budget plans.

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