CT Voices for Children is absolutely right about CT budget situation

Statement from CT Voices June 30, 2017;

Connecticut Voices for Children strongly believes that a fiscally responsible and stable state budget is the cornerstone for equitable economic growth. The only way to build a strong foundation for long-term inclusive economic prosperity is having a state government with solid finances that is willing and able to support long-term strategies for economic growth and equitable opportunity.

Connecticut’s current fiscal crisis is the result of years of short-term budget thinking and a failure to address our state’s economic challenges. During the past few months, Connecticut policymakers have struggled with the daunting task of closing a budget gap not of their own making. After years of short-term fixes, they are now confronted with a harsh fiscal reality with no easy solutions.

As the Governor and the Legislature go back to the drawing board this special session, we urge them to ground their work in an understanding of the economic, demographic, and political changes which have created today’s ever-growing challenge.

The state budget is the clearest statement of Connecticut’s policy priorities. Working from our strengths, and with the courage to address our weaknesses, we can build a more inclusive economy that enables all families to thrive, provides quality education for all children from cradle to career, and provides the support services necessary to ensure that no child is left behind.

To achieve these priorities, the Governor and General Assembly must seek a balanced approach that combines smart, strategic spending in key budget priorities with tax reforms that assure fairness, stability, predictability, and adequacy. Connecticut needs a stable, responsible budget, with real structural reforms, rejecting the crisis-driven, short-term approach that has marked state fiscal policy for years. Legislators should create a stable revenue stream by modernizing Connecticut’s tax structure to reflect its changing economy, which is increasingly built on services rather than goods. This will require combining bold revenue reforms with a strategic rethinking of budget priorities that include a renewed willingness for forward-looking investments in education, workforce development, and health.

We understand that this shift will not be easy; Connecticut’s fiscal woes are deep, and fixing them will require making many hard decisions. Connecticut Voices for Children believes, however, that working together we can reach a balanced budget that ensures that our state is an attractive place to find a job, start a business, and raise a family. It is time for everyone that cares about the future of our state to set our differences aside and work towards this common goal.

Democrats – Time to stop coddling the rich

As a result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s failure to get Connecticut’s fiscal house in order, his proposed state budget includes disastrous cuts to vital state services and programs while continuing the policy of coddling the rich and unfairly burdening the middle class. While Malloy’s state budget proposal includes tens of millions more for wasteful and destructive programs like the Common Core, the Common Core SBAC testing and charter schools, Malloy put forward a budget that reduces funding for education and cuts deeply into programs that directly benefit Connecticut’s children. According to CT Voices for Children, a Connecticut based research organization, more than half of Malloy’s budget cuts (54%) are aimed at Connecticut’s children.  Add in the cuts for those with developmental disabilities, mental health challenges and the other budget cuts aimed at the state’s other vulnerable citizens and the legislature is forced to deal with a budget that Malloy and his administration should be ashamed of. At the same time, Malloy’s plan demands that the Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly continue to undermine the state’s middle class and the economic well-being of their own constituents in order to “protect” Connecticut’s wealthiest residents. The data highlighting Connecticut’s regressive tax system is clear, concise and extremely disturbing. After federal income tax deductions, Connecticut’s wealthiest taxpayers pay an average of 5.5 percent for their income in state and local taxes, compared to 10.5 percent for middle-class families and more than 11.0 percent for the state’s poor. Rather than a progressive tax system, or even a flat tax system, Connecticut has developed a state and local tax system that allows the rich to skate free, while leaving the burden of balancing state and local budgets onto those who make far less. Keith Phaneuf reported the situation accurately when he wrote in today’s CT Mirror,

“Just before the income tax’s enactment (1991), the state taxed capital gains at 7 percent, and dividends and major interest income at rates as high as 14 percent. Those rates went away when the income tax was enacted. Earnings from these sources instead were subject to the top income tax rate, which stood in 1991 at 4.5 percent. The top rate has risen just three times in the 24 years since then – to 5 percent in 2003, 6.5 percent in 2009 and 6.7 percent in 2011 – and still remains below the old capital gains and dividends rates.”

The harsh reality is that Connecticut’s state and local tax system is designed to punish middle and lower income families. But Democratic legislators could push back against Malloy’s unfair budget policies. Connecticut’s top “marginal income tax rate” is 6.7 percent, a rate that is much lower than that in New York (8.82%) or New Jersey (8.97%).  Increasing the marginal income tax rate on Connecticut’s wealthiest taxpayers (those making more than $1 million) to bring it in line with New York State would bring in over $400 million a year. Eliminating a number of the useless sales tax exemptions that lobbyists have pushed through for their clients would raise another $400 million a year and ending some of the corporate welfare (tax expenditures) that Malloy has been doling out would mean that Connecticut could have a balanced budget that doesn’t destroy vital state services. The solution to Connecticut’s budget crisis is actually not hard to identify, but it does require conviction and honesty on the part of Connecticut’s elected officials…and that apparently is exactly what they are lacking. The next six weeks will determine what side of the battle the members of the Connecticut General Assembly will take.  The choice is simple.  Continue to follow Governor Malloy’s disastrous policies or actually come down on the side of their constituents and make the rich pay their fair share.

Connecticut “schools of choice” are a vehicle for discrimination

Fellow commentator and public school Advocate Wendy Lecker’s latest column in the Stamford Advocate examines CT Voices for Children’s new research report which is entitled, ”Choice Watch: Diversity and Access in Connecticut’s School Choice Programs.”  The study found that charter schools and other “choice schools” systematically prevent equal access to some of the state’s neediest students.

As Wendy Lecker reports,

Of special concern, the report found that Connecticut charter schools are “hypersegregated” — at least 90 percent minority. Furthermore, the authors revealed that charters grossly underserve English Language Learners (`ELL”) and students with disabilities.

Connecticut Voices noted that charters have a financial incentive to exclude ELL students. Unlike the cost of special education services, which is borne by the district where a charter school student lives, charter schools must pay for ELL programs and services. If, however, a charter has fewer than 20 ELL students, it is not required to provide an ELL program.

Connecticut’s rating system, which judges and sanctions schools based on standardized tests scores, provides more reasons to exclude. ELL students and students with disabilities tend to score lower on standardized tests, therefore charter schools look higher performing when they do not have either subgroup.

A traditional public school would never be able to get away with excluding any child in their district. Such a move would be illegal. However, the state enables the charter schools’ exclusionary behavior. Charters are not required to have specific diversity targets in enrollment. Moreover, while in theory a charter can be revoked if a charter school does not serve enough ELL or students with disabilities, no charter school has ever suffered that fate. With an Education Commissioner who is a founder of one of the worst offending charter chains, charters are safe to continue their exclusionary practices.

The fact that these publically funded “choice schools” have become a vehicle to further segregate our society undermines the very essence of our public education system.

As Wendy Lecker explains,

The idea of equity for all was the driving force behind the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. declared that “I am never what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

“Lyndon Johnson’s motto was “doing the greatest good for the greatest number.”

The principles of communal good underpinned Connecticut’s commitment to school integration. Connecticut’s Supreme Court deemed that having children of different backgrounds learn together is vital “to gain the understanding and mutual respect necessary for the cohesion of our society.” The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall maintained: “Unless our children learn together, there is little hope that our people will learn to live together.”

Armed with the evidence provided by the new CT Voices for Children Report, Wendy Lecker concludes,

As voters, we have a choice. We can recommit ourselves to school integration, realizing that instilling in our children a sense of community is the key to our cohesion as a democratic state. Or, we can allow politicians to school our children in avoidance, and risk becoming like the fractious and unstable nations we see in the world around us.

Be sure to read Wendy Lecker entire column which can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Some-needy-students-frozen-out-of-5413855.php

You can read and download the CT Voices for Children report at: http://www.ctvoices.org/publications/choice-watch-diversity-and-access-connecticuts-school-choice-programs.