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Voices Speaking

November 10, 2016


Last year five girls from a 4th grade class at Pine Grove School in Avon decided they wanted to make a difference. They rallied their class. Here is their story, in their own words:

To join them with a donation, click here.

September 27, 2016

Upcoming webinar - Equitable Education in CT: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly on the CCJEF case

Roger Senserrich

Join us on Tuesday October 11th for our webinar on the CCJEF ruling. Ellen Shemitz, Connecticut Voices´ Executive Director, will provide a rundown on the main points of this case, and what it means for education funding in the state.

Expect an overview on the many hurdles the case has faced, a detailed analysis of the good, the bad and the ugly of this ruling, and a look ahead on what we need to close educational disparities in Connecticut.

  • When: October 11th, 11 am to 12 pm.
  • Where to Register: click here to register - space is limited.
  • Where to watch: The webinar will be broadcasted on our Youtube page - or you can watch it right here on our website, after the jump.


Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Education
September 23, 2016

Investing in Connecticut: taxes and economic prosperity

Derek Thomas, M.P.A.

If you read what some commentators are saying about our state, you might think that Connecticut having one of the nation’s highest standards of living is just an accident. To mark the anniversary of the income tax last month, observers presented a story of doom and gloom entirely attributable to state income taxes.

What these columns are missing, however, is any thought to what those taxes translate into in terms of services, investments and economic prosperity. Grover Norquist, for instance, pointed to Texas and Florida – which have no state income taxes – as examples of what states can accomplish if they liberate themselves from the responsibility of investing in the future. Well, let’s take a look.

The poverty rate in Connecticut is fourth lowest in the nation. In Texas and Florida it’s much higher. Connecticut is fourth in the share of the population holding a graduate or professional degree. Florida and Texas are well below the national average. In only three states do a higher percentage of people lack health insurance than in Florida; one of them is Texas, which leads the nation in this shameful statistic. Meanwhile only nine states have a lower share of people without health insurance than Connecticut. You get the point. Connecticut may have higher taxes, but that is because the state invests in the services essential to sustained economic success.

If Connecticut were to follow a low-road model, it would jeopardize the competitive advantage it has in a highly educated and highly productive workforce that is attractive to high-wage and high-skill employers, who in turn benefit from a return on the investment of their business tax dollars in the form of roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure, safe neighborhoods, and education.

But Norquist and other commentators are not just wrong about what makes a state’s economy strong; he also errs when he and others claim that taxes in Connecticut drive residents to leave.  Norquist inaccurately characterizes a net loss of roughly 8,000 households per year as an escape from the state income tax. In fact, net annual movement from Connecticut declined steadily in the first 10 years after the tax was enacted – hardly consistent with Norquist’s argument. And, more than eight in 10 of the households that left Connecticut between 1992 and 2014 were replaced by households moving in. If taxes are as significant a driver of state-to-state moves as Norquist wants to believe, why would so many people be moving to Connecticut?

In fact, 38 percent of all residents leaving the state moved to Florida, the leading destination for virtually all northeastern and rustbelt states – including New Hampshire, which doesn’t have any broad-based income tax. Common sense says many of these people leaving Connecticut are retirees seeking warmer weather, who likely would move regardless of Connecticut tax levels.

Norquist errs again when he asserts that those who moved out of the state took billions of dollars of income with them, further depleting the state’s finances. It’s a claim that former Tax Foundation economist Lyman Stone has written rests “on an egregiously wrong use of the data” by analysts who “have either failed to perform the most basic due diligence . . . or else actively mislead their readers.”  Think about it: the vast majority of people who leave a state hold jobs that will be filled by people joining the labor force from within the state or moving in, resulting in no “loss of income” at all.

You can throw as many arguments you want against the wall and none of them stick. Connecticut is a better place to live because of the public investment that comes from everyone pitching in for the common good. Neither residents nor businesses are “damaged” by our state’s income tax. To the contrary, it’s the children growing up in poverty in states that don’t invest in shared prosperity and quality of life that will have a hard time reaching their full potential.

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Connecticut, education, insurance, investments, services, taxes
July 28, 2016

Connecticut’s Income Inequality in Stark Contrast to Its Prosperity

Derek Thomas, M.P.A.

This blog was first published at the CT Mirror’s CT Viewpoints Website.

In the economic expansion following the great recession, the top 1 percent in Connecticut enjoyed exclusive benefit from all income growth, compared with 85.1 percent of income growth enjoyed by the top 1 percent in the United States as a whole. That is one of the findings in Income inequality in the US by state, metropolitan area, and county, a new paper published by Mark Price, an economist at the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, PA and Estelle Sommeiller, a socio-economist at the Institute for Research in Economic and Social Sciences for the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN).

In 1928, just before the Great Depression, the income of the top 1 percent in Connecticut was 31 times greater than the income of the bottom 99 percent (Figure 1). This gap decreased in the years from 1940 to the late 1970s as the middle class grew and living standards rose. This period of economic democratization ended in the 1980s, a period marked by, among other policy decisions, the erosion of the minimum wage, tax cuts for those with the highest incomes and a decline in unionization. Over the past thirty years, incomes for the bottom 99 percent grew by just 14.5 percent while the incomes of the top 1 percent swelled by 290.8 percent. As a result of this lopsided growth – a period in which the top 1 percent captured 71.6 percent of all income – incomes of the top 1 percent are now 42.6 times greater than the bottom 99 percent.

For historical perspective, Price and Sommelier compare the distribution of income growth during previous economic expansions. Prior to 1980, the top 1 percent in Connecticut captured, on average, 16.5 percent of overall income growth during the six economic expansions, and the bottom 99 percent captured a proportionate 83.5 percent. In the four expansions since 1980, however, economic recoveries have looked dramatically different: the top 1 percent captured, on average, 79.8 percent of overall income growth, while the bottom 99 percent captured just 20.2 percent.

The new data allows for intra-state analysis as well (illustrated interactively here). The authors find that the most unequal metro area in Connecticut – and the 2nd most unequal metro area in the nation – is the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk metro area, where the top 1 percent makes 73.7 times more than the bottom 99 percent (Table 1).

Connecticut Voices for Children has illustrated the yawning socio-economic gaps in this region of the state. Within this metro area, poverty rates for children are nearly 23 percentage points higher for children in Bridgeport than they are for their peers in Stamford. Within Stamford itself, poverty rates for black residents are more than 16 percentage points higher than they are for whites.

Connecticut’s standing as one of the most prosperous states is at odds with its dubious distinction as one of the most unequal. Just as policy choices contributed to today’s dramatic levels of inequality, so too can policy choices (national, state and local) begin to tackle generational poverty and restore the American promise of economic mobility. Consider, for example, the revenue forgone by our state under the current tax system in which the bottom 95 percent of Connecticut households pay an effective tax rate of 11.3 percent while the top 5 percent pay a rate of 8.5 percent, resulting in a loss of more than two billion dollars in state revenue annually (see Figure 2).

By adding fairness to the state tax system, lawmakers could begin reinvesting in education, infrastructure and other smart investments to grow the state’s economy. Strategic investments would in turn increase opportunity across the state, enabling a return to a more democratic economy with a growing middle class and shared prosperity.


Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
May 10, 2016

School Discipline in Connecticut: Questioning Suspended Education

Though we know removing students from the classroom is harmful, exclusionary discipline continues to be used in schools across Connecticut. Research has shown that students who are suspended, expelled, or arrested are more likely to experience academic failure, drop out of school, and become involved in the juvenile justice system, feeding the school-to-prison pipeline. To help state leaders disrupt this pipeline, we analyze exclusionary discipline data to identify the factors affecting a student’s likelihood of entry to the system, and recommend interventions to disrupt their entry.

In past publications, we have raised concerns about the overuse and misuse of exclusionary discipline in public schools across the state:

  • Arresting Development: Student Arrests in Connecticut” (2013). We analyzed school-based arrest data from 2007 to 2011 and showed that although the overall number of arrests had declined across the state, a significant portion of those arrests were avoidable—that is, students were arrested for non-criminal behaviors that could likely have been addressed in the classroom. While arrest rates were higher for students of color, students in poorer school districts, and students with disabilities, we observed significant variation in arrest rates across schools and districts with similar student populations, which suggested school policies and practices may impact rates of arrests.
  • Keeping Kids in Class: School Discipline in Connecticut, 2008-2013” (2015). In our analysis of suspension, expulsion, and school-based arrest data from 2008 to 2013 we showed that as rates of exclusionary discipline use declined, schools continued to suspend, expel, and arrest students of color, students from poorer districts, and students with disabilities at rates disproportionate to their representation in the population of students enrolled in CT public schools. Additionally, in 2013, nearly 1 in 10 school-based arrests were for non-criminal violations of school policy (like profanity, insubordination, or dress code transgressions).

In our new series, School Discipline in Connecticut: Questioning Suspended Education, we take a deeper dive into school discipline data, closely examining which students bear the brunt of this overuse of discipline and identifying opportunities for intervention. Our past research shows that low-income students, students of color, and students with special education needs are disproportionately impacted by the overuse and misuse of exclusionary discipline. In this series, we study additional factors that may influence school discipline rates, including school type, degree of racial segregation, and intersecting student identities.

The first brief in this series, “Struggling with School Transitions,” highlights the potential relationship between school transitions and school discipline. Comparing rates of exclusionary discipline by grade level to enrollment data suggests that school transitions (e.g., from elementary to middle school or middle to high school) may be a point of stress for Connecticut’s students. School discipline rates spike in the sixth and ninth grades, grades in which the majority of the state’s students are starting at new schools. If student suspensions rise sharply in the sixth and ninth grades, and suspensions are associated with further exclusionary discipline, then the behavioral challenges of changing schools may inadvertently function to establish harmful patterns of removing students from the classroom, contributing to further problems down the line.

In upcoming briefs we will highlight factors including gender, race, disability status, English language proficiency, and racial segregation in schools and how these factors affect the type, severity and duration of discipline used. This series seeks to better identify the factors that influence the overuse and misuse of exclusionary discipline in schools. By developing targeted interventions to address these factors, the state can more effectively disrupt existing entry points in the school-to-prison pipeline, and improve school climate for all of its students.

Issue Areas:
Education, Juvenile Justice
April 25, 2016

Governor’s Proposal Puts Low-Income Families at Risk for Losing Health Coverage

Sharon Langer, M.Ed., J.D., , and Dumingu Aparna Gomes

This post was first published at the CT Mirror's CT Viewpoints website.

Connecticut has every reason to be proud of its long-term commitment to ensuring access to care for low-income children and families through the HUSKY program (Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program).  We have one of the lowest rates of uninsured residents in the nation, thanks in large part to the State’s Medicaid program.  Long before enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Connecticut invested in the health of its children and their parents by aligning income eligibility for everyone in a family.  This policy was based on knowing that when whole families are insured, children’s access to care improves and parents stay healthy for work and family responsibilities.  Just last month, Connecticut’s  Governor Malloy, along with Connecticut’s budget director and state Medicaid administrators, extolled the quality improvements and cost savings realized through innovative changes to the HUSKY program.

Some of this progress will be undone if the Connecticut General Assembly goes along with the Governor’s April budget proposal to reduce income eligibility for almost 10,000 low-income parents. For example, in 2016 the income limit for a family of four would be lowered from $37,665 (155 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) to $33,534 (138% FPL).   Because of federal Medicaid rules, the estimated savings associated with reducing coverage is just $900,000 in state fiscal year 2017.  This cutback in parent coverage follows a very significant change in eligibility just last year (from 201% FPL to 155% FPL), the full effects of which will not occur until this summer when up to 20,000 parents may lose HUSKY coverage.  Taken altogether, this proposal means almost 30,000 low-income parents could lose affordable health coverage over the course of this year and next. 

State officials have emphasized that affordable health care coverage is available for these parents through the health insurance marketplace, Access Health CT. However, even with federal subsidies for premiums and limits on out-of-pocket costs, coverage in a qualified health plan can be very costly for low-income families. For example, a family with two parents and two children earning $48,843 could be billed as much as $13,676 (28 percent of household income) for their health coverage.   In addition, dental health insurance for adults is a separate purchase, without premium subsidies and with significant out-of-pocket costs for limited coverage.

We now know what can happen when coverage is cut for low-income parents:  Last year, most parents were eligible for a one-year extension, putting off until July 31, 2016, the risk that they will lose coverage altogether.  Among those who actually lost coverage last summer (645 parents),  just one in four enrolled in a qualified health plan through Access Health CT, including some who experienced gaps in coverage.  Three of every four parents who were cut from HUSKY A last year are not currently enrolled through Access Health CT and may be uninsured

Missing from the data collected last year is whether eligible children were cut off inadvertently from the HUSKY program when their parents lost coverage, as happened in Maine and Wisconsin.  

Experience in other states suggests that the effect of the rollback of Medicaid eligibility can be reduced in part with policies that address the financial burden for families forced to pay for their own coverage.  For example, Connecticut could use state subsidies to help reduce the overall costs of marketplace coverage.  To date, we have not heard discussion of these or other proposals to mitigate the effect of this cutback on Connecticut’s families. 

Cutting income eligibility for parents—once again and before the full effects of last year’s cut are evident—is a huge step backward in Connecticut’s long-standing commitment to covering children and parents in low-income families.