image description

Voices Speaking

January 21, 2016

CCJEF vs. Rell: Preschool is one path to equity but not on its own

Rachel Leventhal-Weiner, Ph.D.

Whether the state has an obligation to support preschool is at the center of a recent development in the CCJEF vs. Rell case. CCJEF, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, is a group of municipal leaders, educators, advocates, parents and children who filed suit against the state’s education funding system in 2005 claiming that the state has not met its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate and equitable public education to all students. Since the time of the original filing, the State Superior Court issued a pretrial ruling in 2010 that the state is must provide an adequate standard of quality for public education for all children. As the trial date loomed, in September 2015, the state filed a motion in the case to exclude preschool as a potential remedy in the final decision of the case, claiming that the state constitution does not specifically include preschool as part of a public education. In a victory for CCJEF, in October 2015 the State Superior Court denied the state’s motion, stating that a “high quality preschool is an essential component of suitable educational opportunity.”

This ruling represents an important shift in the way we think about preschool as a necessary component of a public education. As the CCJEF case progresses, the state may consider the creation of a “universal” preschool system as one potential remedy for public school inequity. There is already widespread agreement that we must invest early in children’s lives, especially low-income children and children of color. However, early education advocates recognize that in order for preschool to be effective, it must be of high-quality. This means it must adhere to universal early learning standards, have low teacher-student ratios, and employ highly-qualified educators (who are offered competitive compensation so that they can be attracted to and retained in the field). Early education advocates have also emphasized that the state must fund preschool at a rate that will support all of the above. Access to high-quality preschool experiences is but one strategy among several to reduce our state’s persistent achievement gap and reduce inequities between low income students and students of color and their affluent, white peers.

While access to high-quality preschool programs remains vital to combat the achievement gap, as a state we must ensure that gains achieved in early education are sustainable in a high-quality K-12 system for all public school students. And though equitable investments in preschool and K-12 schooling are necessary, improving life opportunities in communities across the state requires an affirmative investment in the systems and programs that impact the day to day lives of Connecticut’s citizens. Specifically, we must invest in equitable opportunity for all citizens in housing, health, and higher education to impact educational experiences. Investments in early childhood experiences are only sustainable if we consider the ways that education, housing, health and higher education are connected to support children on their journey from childhood to adulthood.

Equity must begin early. The inequities in life opportunity begin long before children cross the threshold of their local public school. While preschool alone is not the panacea for deep race inequities in education and life outcomes, preschool provides one opportunity to ready children for future education. The state superior court argued that preschool is “essential” to “sustainable” life opportunities in its ruling. As arguments in the CCJEF vs. Rell case progress, we encourage advocates, stakeholders and citizens to stay focused on the importance of early education as a crucial driver of equitable access to opportunities for all of our state’s children.

Issue Areas:
Early Care, Education
achievement gap, CCJEF vs. Rell, education, preschool
September 23, 2016

Investing in Connecticut: taxes and economic prosperity

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