Solving Small Problems, Ignoring Great Big Ones

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but the plastic/paper bag tax has been passed out of the environment committee.

The idea is that by charging $0.05 per paper or plastic bag, consumers will be forced to pony up a couple of bucks for reusable cloth bags. I’m not sure this will do much of anything. Many stores, including Stop & Shop, give a $0.05/bag discount for cloth bags. People still don’t buy the bags or forget them in the car.

It’s very difficult to legislate behavior. This is the problem I have with ever-higher cigarette taxes, for instance. For all the complaining some folks do about taxes, by and large if we want something we aren’t about to let a tax stand in our way. If we want a cigarette, we’ll go out and buy some, and if we want to fill up our car, we will. If we want plastic bags because cloth bags are too much work and we’re lazy bums, we’ll offer up a curse to the state and pay the thirty cents.

Now, if we want to try and change behavior, why not put a tax on dangerously shortsighted thinking instead? Dean Pagani writes the following must-read article at his site, Media Attache:

Buried under the pile of wreckage that is the Connecticut state budget is a secret incumbents of both parties don’t want you to know. Even if there had been no fiscal meltdown in the fall of 2008, chances are better than good, that Connecticut would be facing a severe budget deficit today.

Pagani blames the increase in education cost sharing grants (remember when Jodi Rell wanted to be the education governor? This is from then). Instead of raising the income tax as she had originally proposed, Rell, facing revolt in the GOP ranks, agreed not to raise taxes during the high surplus year of 2007, and covered the increase by basically building a deficit into future years’ budgets.

The result? Towns are now faced with the appalling choice of having to lay off teachers, close schools, or raise already high property taxes. The governor is now loathe to raise taxes in the face of a huge deficit, even at the cost of good education in Connecticut.

Oh well. Maybe a nice official state polka will cheer us all up.

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18 responses to “Solving Small Problems, Ignoring Great Big Ones

  1. Pagani’s column is great. It’s a shame that the Governor and the Democrats in the legislature have this economic downturn to cover their spendthrift ways. The saddest part of this whole debacle is that nothing will change in Hartford.

  2. AndersonScooper

    Not without a Democratic governor to lead us forward, and to strong-arm the Legislature, if necessary.

    Currently, Rell’s the buck-stops-nowhere, laissez-faire approach is not working.

  3. Both the Governor’s proposed budget and whatever the legislature rolls out will have a ‘structural deficit’ built in for 2012 and beyond. They will both rely on using the federal stimulus money and the budget reserve money to pay for on-going programs. The Governor’s proposed budget uses these funds to the tune of $2.6 Billion over the two year budget, FY 2010 and 2011. When the next biennial rolls around, those moneys will be gone, and we’ll be doing this all over again.

  4. I wish Sam Caliguiri would run for Governor in 2010. He at least had the common sense to vote against the ’07 budget (unlike anyone else in the Senate) that helped lead us down this road.

  5. CrankyYankee71

    Not without a Democratic governor to lead us forward, and to strong-arm the Legislature, if necessary.

    If we had a Dem governor, there is no way in the world that we would even be debating budget cuts and union concessions. Tax increases would be the unchallenged answer to everything. A Dem governor would not strong-arm anybody.

    Even now, with Rell saying no to tax increases, the Dems are trying to find creative ways around the problem instead of addressing it. The recent proposal by some spineless Dem was to propose that we only had to balance the budget every ten years! The result of that is nothing more than providing cover for tax-and-spend politicians to spend like drunken sailors now (no insult to sailors intended) and delay facing the problems.

    Stand up. Man up. Face the music. Pick whatever phrase works. Just realize that the level of spending in unsustainable and taking more people off the tax rolls and confiscating more of “those rich people’s money” is not the solution. Solve the big problem – our bloated collective expectation that government should and can solve all problems. Leave the small problems alone; the government should probably not be meddling in small issues even when the budget isn’t a mess.

  6. The result? Towns are now faced with the appalling choice of having to lay off teachers, close schools, or raise already high property taxes. The governor is now loathe to raise taxes in the face of a huge deficit, even at the cost of good education in Connecticut.

    Why are people assuming that more education funding = better education results? One look at the budgets, and academic results, of the Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport public schools systems is all the proof you need that it’s not all about money.

    We need good teachers, not just teachers. I’d rather jack up the student-to-teacher ratio and pay quality teachers more money than add average to below-average teachers just to satisfy some mushy statistic.

    Of course, the road to academic success begins and ends with the student and his or her family, not the teacher, so I’m not sure that we have our priorities straight.

  7. When did jacking up the student teacher ratio become free?

  8. When did jacking up the student teacher ratio become free?

    By jacking up the student-teacher ratio, I mean, increasing it. You can do that by increasing the numerator (students) or decreasing the denominator (teachers).

    My point is that I’d rather have 60 students in two classrooms (30 per class), taught by two excellent teachers making $80,000 apiece, than have 60 students in four classrooms (15 per class), taught by four average or below-average teachers making $50,000 apiece.

    In that hypothetical, $40,000 in salary, plus about $20,000-$25,000 in benefits, or a total of $60,000-$65,000, is saved.

  9. My point is that I’d rather have 60 students in two classrooms (30 per class), taught by two excellent teachers making $80,000 apiece, than have 60 students in four classrooms (15 per class), taught by four average or below-average teachers making $50,000 apiece.

    30 per a class is a disaster. Ask, literally, any teacher, from the teacher of the year to someone with about 10 minutes experience.

  10. For the interested…

    * Smaller classes in grades K-3 improve student achievement in reading and math. Students in smaller classes performed better than students in larger classes on reading and mathematics achievement tests (Mitchell & Mitchell, 1999; Molnar, Smith, & Zahorik, 1999).
    * A class size of 15-18 is the upper limit for capturing benefits in the early grades. Classes with no more than 15-18 students have been found to be the threshold class size for increasing student achievement in the early grades. (Ehrenberg, Brewer, Gamoran, & Willms, 2001).
    * Young students benefit more when reduced class size programs span grades K-3. The achievement of students in small classes outpaces that of students in larger classes by a widening margin for each additional year spent in small classes. (Fidler, 2001; Nye, Hedges, & Konstantopoulos, 2001a).
    * The benefits of small classes in the primary grades are lasting. The reading and/or math gains students in small classes experience in the primary grades continue or are maintained more than five years later (Nye, Hedges, & Konstantopoulos, 2004; Nye, Hedges, & Konstantopoulos, 2001b).
    * Small classes in the primary grades can help close the achievement gap. Minority students often experience even greater gains than white students when placed in small classes in the primary school years. Minority students tend to have lower achievement scores than white students before participation in small classes and make larger achievement gains by the end of the year. (Nye, Hedges, & Konstantopoulos, 2004; Nye, 2000; Molnar, Smith, & Zahorik, 1999).
    * More instructional options for teachers might explain the benefits of small classes. Teachers may teach differently or certain instructional strategies may work better in small classes. For example, more work done in small groups might be possible. (Ehrenberg, Brewer, Gamoran, & Willms, 2001).
    * Teachers with small classes give more individual attention to students. High school math teachers with small classes were found to engage with individual students and small groups more frequently than teachers with larger classes, possibly because they spend less time on classroom management than teachers in larger classes (Rice, 1999).

    Center for Public Education – Class Size and Student Achievement – Key Lessons

  11. 30 per a class is a disaster. Ask, literally, any teacher, from the teacher of the year to someone with about 10 minutes experience.

    How many students were in your classes when you were growing up? We regularly had 25-30 pupils in my public school classes when I was in elementary school. Besides, what would you expect, literally, any teacher to say? “Yeah, get rid of the girl in the class next to mine.” Really? I’m sure the teachers’ union would love that.

    The growth in our educational budgets is the real disaster, in my opinion. They’ve become grossly unsustainable in every town in the State, and you can’t blame Jodi Rell for that.

  12. Gotcha, pseudonymous guy on the internets tubes had a good experience in a 30 person class room when he went to school somewhere, sometime ago, so we can ignore all the studies that say the opposite.

    I’ll go you one better – education can be free, yes Virginia, I said free, if we have all our students taught by magical ponies in classrooms in the clouds. And since magical ponies are such good teachers, we can have 4,000 kids per classroom. And magical ponies fart school supplies, so we are covered there too!

    Let me know how the hunt for magical pony teachers with classrooms in the sky goes.

  13. I love how your only response is to ridicule any possibility of eliminating teachers’ positions and/or cutting budgets with lines like “pseudonymous guy,” “yes Virginia,” “magical ponies,” and “fart school supplies.” That’s great. Let’s just raise taxes on rich people. That will cure everything, won’t it?

    Why are you so committed to throwing good money after bad in places where public school is a failure? And what are the odds that you’ll hold a single parent accountable for his or her child’s progress in school? Odds are that you’ll just sit back and blame George Bush for everything.

  14. I love how your only response is to ridicule any possibility of eliminating teachers’ positions and/or cutting budgets

    Read a little closer – that’s not what I was ridiculing. I was ridiculing your sidestepping of the evidence that smaller class sizes benefit students, in favor of fantasy notions of doubling or tripling class sizes and improving education by then hiring better teachers by enticing them to teach in classes that would resemble physics day at Great Adventure; and an anecdote about how you turned out fine even though there were 400 students in your class and you had to walk to school barefoot, uphill both ways, and you turned out fine. Which is not evidence.

    I figured, since you refused to engage on the evidence, I would join you in your magical fantasy. Sadly, I was rebuffed there too!

    And we weren’t actually having a discussion about raising taxes on rich people or George Bush, but on whether dramatically increasing class sizes will have a positive or negative effect on education! Jack Dobb says positive, but people who have researched the issue say negative. We could have a debate! But you prefer to talk about your third grade teacher and the charred wood scraps you had to use as a pencil. That’s fine, but its where I bid you good day, sir.

  15. And we weren’t actually having a discussion about raising taxes on rich people or George Bush, but on whether dramatically increasing class sizes will have a positive or negative effect on education! Jack Dobb says positive, but people who have researched the issue say negative. We could have a debate! But you prefer to talk about your third grade teacher and the charred wood scraps you had to use as a pencil. That’s fine, but its where I bid you good day, sir.

    Let me boil it down for you:

    Prove that increasing New Haven’s, Hartford’s or Bridgeport’s schools budgets will actually improve education in New Haven, Hartford or Bridgeport.

    Go ahead, give it a try. Increased state aid (most of which is paid for by rich people, hence the relevance) and higher urban education budgets have failed, so why should we continue down that path, especially when we’re running out of cash, and suburban schools are educating children better and for less money? A voucher program stands as good a chance as any to improve results, but that would require Democrats to vote against teachers’ unions, and that’s not going to happen… ever.

  16. I said GOOD DAY.

  17. I said GOOD DAY.

    LOL

  18. It would be great if we looked at the big picture. Education budgets especially in this State are out of wack because of the under funded Pension and Liability Fund.
    Time to phase out taxpayer funded Pension funds of any kind and let the teacher’s and their respective Union handle the money. Let them join Social Security like the rest of us fools. Taxpayer pension plans are patenly unfair, especially in this economy. Why should my taxes go up because the Democrats and the Governor for years used the money somewhere else? Why isn’t Napier in Jail?

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