Recently, this publication ran an article in which State Comptroller Sean Scanlon was cited as urging his former legislative colleagues to resist using the state’s recent string of budget surpluses as justification for expanding programs and services for residents.
While I do not disagree with the comptroller’s disdain for “generations of Democrats and Republicans” whose repeatedly having “kicked the can down the road” resulted in the state’s accumulation of $40 billion in unfunded pension obligations, I do disagree with his assertion that providing more and better services for our state’s neediest residents must wait until those debts have been paid down to his satisfaction. I told him as much, in response to his having reposted that article on social media (accompanied by the comment, “Saving for rainy days and paying down debt isn’t fun or exciting but it’s what we need to do for our kids. Now is not the time to change what’s working.”).
I did — and do — take exception to the comptroller’s intimation that the vital services and supports for which residents and advocates have long called are in some way frivolous. (“Fun?!” “Exciting?!”) I asked him, “What about the kids of families with the least? Why should we economize at their expense? That is what this policy represents…”
I did — and do — take exception to the comptroller’s response. (“It’s a math problem, not a moral one. We do serve them now and we will serve them better when larger and larger percentages of the dollars…we currently allocate to debt service can be redirected to people and programs in need.”)
“With respect,” I replied, “it’s inarguably a moral problem. We continually choose to place lower priority on the needs of the least secure kids, always putting off addressing them properly until some future date.”
I don’t mean to pick on Scanlon. He is by no means the only elected official in Hartford who has argued for an incremental approach to addressing Connecticut’s longstanding societal inequities. The Connecticut General Assembly, having been aware for decades of the appallingly disparate resources available to school districts across the state, pledged in 2017 to rectify those inequities — incrementally — by 2028. To its credit, during its most recent session, the CGA voted to accelerate that process.
Much remains to be done, though. The families who love and raise the children and adolescents who attend historically under-resourced schools likewise need to be supported. Yet, the CGA has not passed a state child tax credit, which would provide families some degree of much needed relief. This measure, like too many others, is approached haltingly, as evidenced in another piece that recently appeared in this publication, this one citing Senate President Martin Looney.
The children and adolescents of modest means who call Connecticut home, and who are its future, were not yet born when the state’s political leaders were on their decades-long spending spree. (Neither, it must be admitted, were they or their families the beneficiaries of that profligacy.) Why should we be so willing to shortchange their futures — and the state’s — because of the irresponsibility of elected officials who ought to have known and done better? Why do we so consistently ignore the moral and mathematical truths of what Frederick Douglass articulated almost a century and three-quarters ago, that “It is easier” — and, indeed, cheaper — “to build strong children than to repair broken men?”
As one of the wealthiest states in the nation, Connecticut has more than enough resources to ensure that all of its young people are helped to be strong — by ensuring that families are well-housed, well-fed, have sufficient incomes, and have access to affordable medical and behavioral healthcare; by ensuring that the state’s public schools are equitably and generously funded; and by ensuring that Connecticut’s public community colleges and regional universities are robustly subsidized by the state, so that young people from limited means may, without amassing insurmountable debt, engage in post-secondary study that enriches their minds and readies them for success in work and civic life.
What we have lacked is the political will to provide adequately for children, adolescents, and families in the near term, so that they — and, through them, the state — may prosper in the long term.
Christopher Trombly Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Southern Connecticut State University.