Democrats in the General Assembly are busy with big plans for transforming Connecticut. Though state government is rolling in federal cash, the Democrats want to tax business and the wealthy a lot more. They want to overthrow suburban zoning. They want state government to start selling medical insurance to small businesses. They would legalize and commercialize marijuana and erase thousands of criminal records. They seek a vast expansion of state-sanctioned gambling.
But that’s all in the future. What Democratic legislators don’t want to do is take responsibility for running Connecticut in the present.
Instead once again the Democratic legislators want to leave the daily nitty-gritty to Governor Lamont, who is acting with becoming modesty as King Ned the First and has governed by executive order for more than a year on the false presumption that the virus epidemic prevents the legislature from doing its ordinary work. In fact the legislature has been convened for many weeks now and most aspects of life in Connecticut are returning to normal, but the legislature still isn’t ready to address the daily details.
The governor’s royal authority is scheduled to expire May 20 and Democratic legislators want to extend it for another month or two or three or maybe 10, probably taking their practical abdication well past the adjournment deadline for the current legislative session. This is because reviewing those scores of executive orders and deciding which to terminate and which to put into regular law would be work and distract from dreams of transformation.
The governor has said he doesn’t mind ruling by decree and indeed rather enjoys it, even as Democratic legislators are letting themselves be ruled by their dreams. So if the governor was filling out one of those new, politically correct biographical forms for a world where wishing makes it so, he’d be entitled to list his “preferred pronoun” as “Your Majesty.”
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Now that the narrow Democratic majorities in Congress think money is infinite, President Biden wants legislation to guarantee all Americans 17 years of free education, which would add two years of preschool and two years of community college to what ordinarily is available to everyone now.
At first it may seem a lovely thought. Many of the youngest children can benefit from a year or two of enhanced day care before they get to kindergarten, and the education lobby has just about convinced the country that everybody should go to college as well.
Unfortunately student performance data suggests that more time in school produces less learning than educational inflation.
Most Connecticut students never master high school work and many require remedial courses when they are nevertheless promoted to a public state university. Last week the State Board of Education reported that the percentage of public state university students needing remedial high school courses has fallen from 50 to 41, as if that’s not still scandalous.
That figure provides a warning about “free” education. For as the American Revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything its value.” Piling free college and free remedial high school courses on top of 12 years of social promotion may not be the best way of demonstrating the value of education, increasing society’s knowledge, and keeping the United States competitive.
But then free college may not be a gift to students as much as to educators, most of them being in the vanguard of the Democratic Party’s army of unionized government employees. At a typical Democratic national convention 10 percent or more of the delegates are members of teacher unions. And with the school-age population decreasing, keeping teacher union members employed may require keeping young people in school longer even if they’re not learning much of use for employability or general appreciation of life.
There might be some consolation if the president’s proposal for 17 years of free education could be boosted by just another year or two. Then maybe everybody could be a “doctor” like the president’s wife even while being unable to read beyond what used to be considered a fourth-grade level.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.