Hearst Connecticut Media. January 22, 2023.
Editorial: Solution to economic growth in CT is not a mystery
When responding to a question recently about the possibility of raising taxes on high earners, Gov. Ned Lamont’s spokesperson resorted to a familiar refrain: “We’re interested in creating more taxpayers, not more taxes.” It’s something the governor and his people say often, and it mostly comes across as a dodge. It’s not as if only one of the two could exist.
But is it even true?
The state’s business community certainly hopes so. The Connecticut Business & Industry Association recently released its legislative agenda for the 2023 session of the General Assembly, and at the top of the list is filling available positions. “The jobs are here,” CBIA CEO Chris DiPentima said. “What employers need are the workers to fill those jobs.”
The numbers back him up. There are about 100,000 job openings in Connecticut, and even if every unemployed person immediately went to work, there would still be unfilled positions. That means more people are needed in Connecticut.
To fill that gap, CBIA is pushing an agenda that includes lowering the cost of living, cutting some taxes, removing barriers to certain positions and other solutions that would have the effect of limiting the problem, but not coming close to solving it.
The issue is housing. There isn’t nearly enough of it, and what is available is too expensive. It’s a simple solution that is staring everyone in the face, from the governor to legislators to business leaders — the state must build more housing.
And yet we see nothing but trepidation from the people with the most to gain.
Lamont told a gathering of business leaders in recent days that “Everything I do with this coming budget has got to be about economic growth, which is a precondition to opportunity.” That sounds great. But it doesn’t match his actions thus far, which have been to distance himself from the housing debate and let it continue to fester at the local level.
And what we see at the local level is familiar to anyone who has paid attention to politics. Nearly every housing proposal of any kind generates an immediate negative reaction from neighbors, and therefore from local officials. The result is that little if anything gets built where it’s needed, the preferences of a small group of aggrieved residents takes precedence, and everyone in the state suffers.
There is a solution here, but it has to come from the state level. Local control will never accomplish what the state needs.
So it’s worth asking: Does the governor want to create “more taxpayers”? That means more residents, and those residents need a place to live. There aren’t empty homes for them to fill — Connecticut has one of the lowest vacancy rates in America. There isn’t a glut of homes on the market — real estate officials said recently the fewest homes are available in the state in recent history.
We need new housing. The governor needs to be a leader on this. He has to stop standing in the way of economic growth. His agenda, and his legacy, depends on it.
Bangor Daily News. January 24, 2023.
Editorial: Snow days aren’t always great for everyone
We love a good snow day. Turn up the Storm Center music, heat up soup and get the sleds ready.
This is the nostalgic snow day experience for many Maine families, a relaxing day off brimming with fun. It is a tradition worth holding on to — even, if not especially, in a new world of remote learning capabilities.
At the same time, not to rain on the snow day parade, it is also critical to remember that this is not everyone’s snow day experience. That was true even before the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in how snow days could impact meals for disadvantaged students. The role that schools fulfill as service centers became even more apparent in the pandemic. Income and racial learning gaps worsened, with online learning disproportionately causing challenges for disadvantaged students. The impacts of COVID-19 have fallen disproportionately on people of color, particularly here in Maine.
Snow days are often not great for working parents, particularly when they happen with little notice, and parents are left scrambling to figure out child care. The same or similar can be true with remote learning days, too. This emphasizes the need for school districts to be as clear and proactive as they can be in communicating plans for potential snow days or remote learning days.
Snow days — and snow — also can be an entirely new experience for some. As we welcome new Mainers from around the country and the world, Maine winters might be providing them with a not-so-welcome introduction to snow and the cold.
“Dear residents of Maine, I need you to understand that my first experience of snow season was a big problem for me personally — and for others I know as well,” Gashi e xplained in Amjambo Africa, a news organization that helps new Mainers better understand life in the state and helps Mainers better understand their new neighbors, this past October. “Because in many of our countries we do not have a snow season.” They talked about having to layer up to deal with the cold, but also about the happiness of watching Mainers get outside and enjoy the snow.
The understanding that not all Mainers experience winter or snow days the same way should be front and center for school officials and school boards as they think about the future of snow days. Online learning worsened learning gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers, and school districts aren’t going to close those gaps by leaning further into that model. This is a bigger conversation than snow days, surely, but it speaks to the need for balance here.
It would be a mistake for Maine to follow New York City schools in completely moving away from snow days. And educators should not approach the conversation the way one southern Maine superintendent did last year, when stressing that local businesses rely on student workers during the busy tourism season.
It should go without saying, but Maine school districts need to think about their students as learners, not laborers.
School districts are right to think about how remote learning can be used to prevent school years from dragging into the summer and make school calendars more predictable. Using remote learning days after a few regular snow days makes sense. But as many Maine districts have decided, snow days should not be replaced completely.
This can and should be done in a way that preserves the snow day magic that many young Mainers have experienced over the years, while working to make these and all days more magical for the disadvantaged students who have historically faced greater educational barriers.
It would be a mistake to make snow days a thing of the past. It would also be a mistake to pretend that snow days are fun for everyone. School districts, and policymakers, can hold on to the tradition while making the days better for everyone.
Boston Globe. January 24, 2023.
Editorial: Recovering from COVID-19 learning loss
The state is offering a realistic approach that should be seen as a floor, not a ceiling.
Public schools across Massachusetts are struggling. Nearly all districts face serious labor shortages: There aren’t enough teachers, nurses, and bus monitors and drivers to go around. Meanwhile, in the classroom, teachers feel burnt out, and students’ mental health issues are on the rise.
Bound inextricably to those overlapping crises is the legacy of school closures during the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that online learning lasted too long, did not work for many students, and set back a whole generation of kids academically, socially, and emotionally.
Now education leaders face challenging and complicated questions related to the COVID-19 learning slide: What is the best way to help students recover from learning loss due to school closures and other pandemic disruptions? And what is the best way to keep districts accountable for closing those gaps, which widened preexisting achievement disparities between white students and Black, Latino, special education, and English-language learner students?
At one extreme are teachers unions that insist the whole idea of learning loss is overblown; on the other are advocates pressing for unrealistic deadlines.
In Massachusetts, those questions burst into public view this month after state education authorities unveiled goals for schools and districts to return to their 2019 achievement levels as measured by scores on the state’s standardized test, known as MCAS. The proposal was deemed misguided and lacking in urgency by advocates and some members of the elementary and secondary education board. Meanwhile, unions continue to lobby to get rid of the yardstick of test scores altogether.
Presented by commissioner Jeff Riley and his team at an early January board meeting, the proposal aims to be ambitious yet realistic. It sets a goal to get students back to 2019 achievement levels, which was the last year before the pandemic that students took the MCAS. The size of the decline from 2019 to 2022 scores will determine the school, district, or student group’s “time to recovery,” which will be up to four years for schools or districts that suffered the biggest declines. Robert Curtin, the state department of education’s chief officer for data, told the board that there was an unprecedentedly wide variance of MCAS results, with some schools in Massachusetts losing little ground and others falling badly off track.
But the plan was met with concerns, which will likely be aired Tuesday when the board hears public comments on the proposal. The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education sent a strongly worded letter to Riley and the board. “Setting a return to 2019 achievement levels as our goal is an unambitious, backward-looking, ‘return to the status quo’ standard, particularly given that was a moment in time when Massachusetts had the dubious distinction of having some of the biggest achievement gaps in the country,” Ed Lambert, executive director of the MBAE, wrote. The plan “sets the bar at a level of continued inequity,” he noted.
Critics of Riley’s plan further argued: Why even set recovery targets? They fear that will only delay setting targets to close the achievement gaps that existed before the pandemic began. But the reality is that recovering from COVID learning loss is a prerequisite for moving on to those preexisting problems. Education officials explained during the presentation that their approach recognizes the need to meet schools and students where they are. All 400 districts and 1,500 schools in the state will start from different places compared to 2019 test results on the three MCAS subjects. The state plan also includes a parallel “path forward” system: Once a district or a school reaches 2019 levels, it will be given higher standards aimed at closing achievement gaps.
Lambert asserted in his letter that the state’s proposal violates the 2019 Student Opportunity Act, which increases state funding that goes to districts for each low-income, special education, and English-language learner student with the ultimate goal of closing achievement gaps that those student groups have historically experienced. But the reality is that the law’s funding has not yet been fully disbursed. Sure, districts have pandemic-related federal aid coming. But those are one-time funds.
The MBAE and some board members believe the focus should be on interventions and strategies to target the learning slide. These interventions include high-dose tutoring, extended school days, and expanded summer learning programs. Certainly, those are good ideas. But if districts are in a tight spot filling open positions for bus drivers and teachers, where are they going to find these tutors? Indeed, for districts, apparently the biggest obstacle to spending the one-time infusion of federal dollars is finding enough staff. Why not turn instead to traditional nonprofit partners to collaborate on after-school programming? Well, guess what — they’re also having trouble hiring staff.
That is what state education officials mean when they talk about meeting schools where they are. And that’s the reason why some were calling the board’s pushback to Riley’s plan tone-deaf. There’s nothing preventing districts from setting more ambitious goals than the state’s. But by setting achievable targets at the state level, Riley also preserves his regulatory firepower for truly lagging districts. As commissioner, Riley has tools to pressure or even take over districts if they fail to overcome pandemic learning loss or close achievement gaps. The state clearly lacks the capacity to intervene in dozens of schools at the same time, though.
Ultimately, opponents and supporters of Riley’s plan share the same goal, which is to help schools and districts help themselves, not to punish them or set them up for failure. The commissioner’s goal-setting proposal, which is required by federal and state law, should be seen as a floor and not a ceiling; as a complement, not a substitute, for long-term efforts to close achievement gaps that predated COVID. Perhaps it should be evaluated after one year to see how districts have fared, as the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents’ executive director, Tom Scott, suggested to the Globe’s Adria Watson. That sounds like a reasonable compromise.
Boston Herald. January 25, 2023.
Editorial: Mass. Dems must get on board bus buy plan
Senators Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley – this is your moment to shine.
The money pit that is the MBTA is now in Gov. Maura Healey’s lap and there is little good news out of the gate.
As the Herald reported, the T needs to purchase 200 to 600 electric buses and hire 740 additional drivers to meet the current demands of a Greater Boston population that grew 53% over the past 50 years while the region’s bus fleet decreased, a new report found.
This comes after calls for fare-free buses in Boston (and amid a pilot program for select routes). It’s tough to promote transportation equity when the stock of buses is falling short.
There are a host of MBTA issues that need fixing and funding, but the bus system lands at the sweet spot of climate change goals, equity and improving local communities.
All issues near and dear to Warren, Markey and Pressley’s hearts, not to mention that of our new governor.
A report by LivableStreetsAlliance and the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy found that “While the regional economy expands, employment industries boom and population soars and shifts, the number of buses, bus facilities and level of service remains largely unchanged, and in some cases, decreased.”
The solution, as it is with so many things, is money, and the report suggests the Legislature and Healey’s administration work together to come up with the cash starting this year. It noted that legislation should include “active financing considerations” for bus service. That sounds a bit ominous for taxpayers, and it overlooks our friends on Capitol Hill.
Warren, Markey and Pressley have long been anti-fossil fuel, pro-equity, Green New Deal advocates. Securing the funds for a fleet of new electric buses for the folks back home is right up their alley.
They’ve each crowbarred cash out of Washington for local transportation projects.
In August, Pressley secured $20 million in new federal transportation funding for Boston’s Roxbury Resiliency Corridors Project. It was earmarked to support the construction of safety improvements at several intersections and provide enhanced mobility for all along sections of Melnea Cass Boulevard, Malcolm X Boulevard, and Warren Street in Roxbury.
Also that month, Markey, and Reps. Lori Trahan and Seth Moulton announced $7.6 million in additional federal funding for the T to support a proposed project to replace the century-old South Elm Street Bridge with a modern two-track rail bridge in Haverhill.
And Warren has been in on discussions to use the Infrastructure Law as an investment vehicle for the T.
This is the perfect opportunity for our Democratic delegation to flex their collective muscle on Capitol Hill and bring home the bacon, as it were.
There will be a lot of issues distracting them – investigations into Hunter Biden, the ongoing discoveries of classified documents at the home of Biden and now Mike Pence, and an already fractious Congress taking on the debt ceiling.
But their constituents need them to do what they elected them to do: step up for the voters in Mass.
Rutland Herald. January 23, 2023.
Editorial: Seize the moment
When history looks back, part of Gov. Phil Scott’s legacy will be that he oversaw one of the most unique fiscal moments in the modern era. His 2024 proposed budget made significant new investments in top state priorities, including housing, community revitalization, child care, mental health, and other pressing issues facing everyday Vermonters. But is it enough?
The moment drew criticism for needing to use the surplus money to attempt to resolve problems the state — as a whole — has been kicking down the road for years: housing, crisis services, child care, and homelessness.
In the address (which can be found in its entirety on our website), Scott emphasized the need to focus on regional economic equity and investing “in areas of our state that have been left behind.”
According to a release accompanying the transcript of the budget address, “The Governor continues to make historic investments in shared priorities like child care, housing, education, economic development, community infrastructure and more. His proposed budget uses (sizable) state surpluses and revenue growth to make significant investments that will put Vermont in stronger fiscal position, make progress on longstanding challenges, and lift up families and communities across state.”
“This budget is thoughtful, deliberate, disciplined, and carefully built to make the most of the historic resources available to us. It’s focused on investing, not just spending, to get the best results and grow revenue, so we can move families and communities ahead,” he told lawmakers during the address to the General Assembly, as well as fellow Vermonters, on Friday. “The choices we make this session, right or wrong, will have tremendous consequences on our state long into the future. So, let’s make the right decisions, not just the easy ones. Because there are moments in history — rare opportunities — to have a truly historic impact for those we serve.”
Across all funds, this is an $8.4 billion budget: $2.3 billion in the General Fund; $2.1 billion in the Education Fund; and $335 million in the Transportation Fund; a fully funded pension and retirement obligations takes up $444 million; a Capital Bill (which funds State infrastructure) totals $108 million of borrowed money over the next two years, and more.
Naysayers were not buying what the governor was selling. Here are a few mixed reactions to the proposal on the table: From the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition: “In order to address (the state’s housing) crisis, we need to continue making historic public investments in housing. ...Unfortunately, the Governor’s proposed budget fails to address the scale of Vermont’s housing need. …We know that permanent, affordable housing, not motels, is the solution to homelessness. … The proposed $26 million for GA Emergency Housing falls short of the amount needed to keep unhoused Vermonters sheltered. …The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition calls on Gov. Scott to work with lawmakers to accelerate progress in solving Vermont’s housing crisis.”
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman: “I am happy to see that Governor Scott is making many of the investments that our state desperately needs. This proposed budget is very much in line with ideas and proposals from the general assembly that have been brought forth in previous years but were not supported by the administration. … While the Governor indicated that we should not ask those with less to pay for those with more, I ask: why do we not ask those who can afford to to make the investments that we clearly see will help all Vermonters in the long run, especially those who are most vulnerable? … Had we invested more in affordable housing and support for our houseless population in previous years budgets, this money would not have been necessary to use in this way and would have been available to invest in further advancements for our communities.”
Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids: “This is the year we need to take the courageous step and fully fund a child care system that supports working families, enables our youngest children to thrive, pays early childhood educators adequately, and grows our economy. Partial investments do not truly solve the child care crisis we are facing as a state.”
Others seemed more pleased:
The Vermont Downtown Coalition: “(Gov. Scott’s) support demonstrates Vermont’s commitment to our communities’ economic health and vitality. Supporting the Vermont Downtown Program is a worthy investment by the State of Vermont.
Vermont State Colleges System Chancellor Sophie Zdatny: “We began our work to modernize and transform the system in partnership with the state in 2020. The state’s commitment to permanent, ongoing funding, and their continued investment in our students and in our transformation work will ensure our success.”
Vermont Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock, R-Franklin: “(This) proposed budget will make crucial investments in our communities without raising taxes.”
The ground work has been laid. Now we wait and see if politics and partisan prevail, or this administration and the Legislature can truly seize this historic opportunity.
Because this time next year, the tune is going to be a lot different.