David Medina/CT Latino News
It’s official. It came right from the horse’s mouth.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin plans to balance the city’s budget on the backs of its schoolchildren, a clear majority of whom are Latino.
Gov. Dannel Malloy had no sooner proposed to increase state education funding by $230 million, including $38.1 million to Hartford, as the neediest school district of all, when Bronin told a CT Mirror reporter at Malloy’s budget address that he would raid the school system’s share of that money and use it to hold off the city’s plunge into bankruptcy.
Hartford faces a $22.6 million budget deficit this fiscal year and a more than $50 million next year, according to the most recent estimates, with negligible hopes of closing them. The city’s bond rating has been reduced to junk status. Avoiding bankruptcy is Bronin’s one and only priority.
Ordinarily, Bronin’s plan to confiscate school funds would be illegal. But, Gov. Malloy injected an escape clause into his proposal that allows Connecticut’s cities and towns to bypass the schools and use the money to balance their budgets. If Bronin can be taken at his word, almost none of that education money will ever find its way into a classroom. It’s a shell game. Now you see it. Now you don’t.
Nevertheless, Malloy would have the residents of Connecticut believe that his proposal is a response to the recent landmark ruling by Superior Court Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher, which declared the state’s “irrational” method of funding education is unconstitutional because it has, for generations, “left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts (such as Hartford) to flounder.”
The state, Moukawsher said, has an obligation to make sure that education aid and policies be “rationally, substantially, and verifiably” connected to educational need and he gave the state 180 days to come up with a solution that does just that. His decision came in response to a lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education.
Judge Moukawsher’s sweeping 90-page indictment of Connecticut’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gap took particular aim at “uselessly perfect” evaluations that are given out to nearly every teacher in the state, even as students in the poorest communities, such as Hartford, cannot read or write at basic levels. He also blasted graduation standards so loose that the neediest students leave school with worthless diplomas; and special education spending that does nothing to get the right services to the right students in the right way.
Judge Moukawsher’s ruling doesn’t call for increased education spending, as Gov. Malloy is claiming to do, but for spending existing funds wisely, which is much harder. He suggested that Connecticut set real standards for serving special education students, evaluating teachers and graduating high school seniors and fund districts based on those expectations.
So what does the State of Connecticut do in response?
It appeals Moukawsher’s ruling to the Connecticut Supreme Court on grounds that a “single unelected judge” does not have the legal authority to create new educational policy, let alone declare the existing policy unconstitutional. That authority, Attorney General George Jepsen argues in the appeal, belongs exclusively to the state legislature. Never mind that Judge Moukawsher was only stating the obvious when he said the state’s education system sucks. And never mind that the state legislature, whose authority Jepsen is bent on protecting, has been content to let it continue sucking for decades. If the General Assembly wants to confine the state’s neediest students in the crappiest schools, then, gosh darn it, it alone has the constitutional power to do so.
That’s exactly the same reasoning that was used to justify the enforcement of Jim Crow racial segregation laws in the Deep South before the Civil Rights movement — except, now, the argument is being put forth by elite liberal, latte-sipping Democrats, who still haven’t figured out how the hell Donald Trump got elected president of the United States.
A clever politician would have kept his mouth shut about looting tens of millions of dollars earmarked for Hartford Public Schools, until the money was actually in hand. Not Mayor Bronin. He couldn’t wait to tell the world about it.
What does he care? His kids attend private school in tony West Hartford. Moreover, no one at Hartford Public Schools seems eager to challenge his decision to take the money, except perhaps the parents of the children who may be ruined by it.
Last year, for example, the city shortchanged the district by $1.2 million in violation of the state’s minimum budget requirement law. No one said a peep. This year, the school system has no permanent superintendent and, given Bronin’s control over the appointment process, the three finalists for the job — Acting Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Tim Sullivan and Jose Colon-Rivas — are not likely to stake a claim on the new state funds for fear of being eliminated from contention. Bronin, in addition, insists that the new superintendent be someone who is committed to further cutting the district’s budget by closing schools. The absence of leadership extends to the Board of Education itself, which is transitioning to a new chairman, who has yet to be identified, but who, rest assured, is not likely to want to ruffle the mayor’s feathers either. Until new leadership is in place, everyone appears to be standing around, watching the school district collapse like a slow-motion car wreck.
Thank goodness that Judge Moukawsher isn’t bound by such concerns. Men and women of integrity are hard to find in government these days. His ruling, which the Connecticut Supreme Court has agreed to review and render a final decision, may be the last chance for Hartford’s neediest school children to get the education they’re entitled to.
They’re certainly not going to get it from Mayor Bronin.