LETTER: “Local Zoning Control” is Just Perpetuating “Separate but Equal”

To the Editor:

Regarding Kim Healy‘s letter on local zoning control, while I strongly disagree with pretty much the entire thing, I wanted to draw particular attention to one issue, the so-called “mansion tax.”

If you believe, as I hope most of us do, that every child in Connecticut deserves a great education, and you acknowledge that the property tax bases of many of our cities are  (through no fault of their own) too low to pay for a world-class education for every child living in them, there are three ways you can address that problem:

  1. Regionalization, pooling students and resources from neighboring cities and towns so that every child in the area can attend an excellent, diverse, well-funded school
  2. Affordable housing, making it possible for more people to move out of cities and into towns with great school systems like Wilton’s
  3. Redistribution, collecting money from residents of wealthy towns and using it to support the school systems of less wealthy ones.

If “local control” is important to you, as it seemingly is to Ms. Healy, then you ought to be an enthusiastic supporter of option #3, as it’s the only one under which Wilton retains full control of its school system and zoning. If you don’t want the state forcing you to merge with other school systems, and you don’t want the state forcing you to erect reasonably-priced apartments, then you should strongly favor a system in which money is pooled but control remains local. It is the absolute least we can do.

Personally, I don’t think that goes nearly far enough; sending money to urban school districts without also trying to break down the barriers that keep people out of suburban ones is simply an ugly 21st-century perpetuation of “separate but equal.” Redistributing money so that we are no longer in a situation where a child in Wilton has $22,000/year spent on their education while a child in Bridgeport has $14,000/year spent on theirs would be a step in the right direction, but only a baby step.

I recognize that my views are likely not shared by a majority of Wilton voters yet, but I also believe that that will change over time, as older residents leave and younger ones move in to replace them, and that until then, Wilton loudly opposing efforts to make our state a more equitable place to live will only serve to scare away new residents and make us look like a town full of angry Neanderthals.

If Haskell and Thomas need to oppose these bills to keep their seats then so be it – they have to keep their constituents happy and can do more good in office than out of it – but I very much hope that they do so quietly and reluctantly, rather than letting the likes of Ms. Healy goad them into leading another obnoxious “Hands off our Schools” type fiasco.

Michael Love

6 COMMENTS

  1. What Michael Love fails to understand is that the funding received by towns like Bridgeport and Hartford from State property taxes is quite breathtaking, which is funded largely by the state income tax dollars coming from Fairfield County. So in essence, we already pay for our schools almost entirely and then fund the city schools as well. Hartford for example receives $12K per student from the State’s Coffers. He also is likely totally unaware of the double counting of students that don’t actually attend their neighborhood schools due to Union “hold harmless” agreements. For example, Hartford reports to the state that it has 19K students in their district and they receive funding for 19K students. In reality, 11K of 19K attend Choice school programs: Magnet, Vocational Tech, Vocational Agriculture, Open Choice (all unionized schools) and Charter Schools. Of that 11K that do not attend their neighborhood school, the Hartford District only sends a portion of the funds they received (about 60%) to the Choice program that the student actually attends and the district keeps the rest to “hold a seat for every student” in case they come back to their neighborhood school. SB 949 aims to have all the per pupil “the money follow the child” to the “Choice” program a student attends that actually has better results. A form of Decentralization of the largest districts, which has been shown in studies to create better outcomes and be more cost effective. A win-win. The Choice programs have demonstrated an ability to do more with less, while creating more accountability. There are long waiting lists of other students that want to attend Choice programs. Let’s get the Choice programs fully funded per pupil and create greater opportunity and better outcomes for all. The point in this discussion is an over simplistic talking point of city schools just being underfunded and let’s throw more money at it is not necessarily the best solution.

  2. My letter was about educational equity, not school choice – I will freely admit that I’m not well versed enough on that subject to argue about it with you. I probably should have written point #3 to talk about students rather than school systems – I’m fairly agnostic on what kind of schools the money goes to as long as we’re spending the same amount per kid.

    But if you truly believe that Hartford and Bridgeport schools are not underfunded, then either a) they enjoy such spectacular economies of scale that somehow they can deliver the same quality of education Wilton delivers (to a population with considerably more complex / diverse needs) for 2/3 of the money, or b) Wilton’s schools (nickel-and-dimed every year by the skinflints on the Board of Finance) are horribly wasteful and inefficient.

    Open Choice is a positive thing but it’s tiny, and could not really be scaled to cover a large percentage of students in its current form; it’s nowhere close to being a substitute for regionalization and zoning reform. (also I don’t really see how you can support “fully funding” something without also explaining where that money is going to come from)

  3. Thanks Michael for your thoughtful letter. I think you might be pleasantly surprised that there are more and more people in this town that want to be part of the solution for educational equality our state. I take solace in the demographic shift that is coming. My 4 young adult children were mortified not only the moniker “Hands Off our Schools” but by the divisive and fear based logic used to shut down the conversation. That conversation will be had.

  4. Who would not want educational equality – is there a morally superior stance? I can’t imagine. Money follows the child is about equality of access to quality education. Unfortunately, we have lost focus on what is best for the students in service to the unions instead. There is no need to disparage HOOS – the point of HOOS was that we should be focused on making education everywhere excellent. Why would you need to dismantle what works while only creating bureaucratic middle layer of costs? It has not been successful recently in VT. Reshuffling students did not address the underlying issues that existed in the largest districts which were entirely excluded from review by the regionalization bills. So we all want the same results, but the question is how best to achieve those goals. (That is where one party rule has done a total disservice to the state and led us to where we are now.) There was an education study by the Hartford institute for Giving that stated better outcomes are achieved by decentralizing the largest school districts – make them smaller, more accountable and this is more cost efficient too! Oddly that report disappeared entirely from their website…maybe it doesn’t play into a narrative. Why not adopt best practices everywhere, we have a lot of room for improvement. What is disingenuous is that the largest districts never get analyzed. We don’t improve outcomes in struggling schools by not looking directly at what needs to be addressed to improve it. Agreed on Open Choice – it is tiny, costly, and not ideal, since many students can travel up to 2 hours each way to go to their choice school. By all means feel free to get educated on “Money Follows the Child” and SB949, by visiting MyChildMyChoice.org, which explains exactly how schools in the cities are being overfunded per pupil by well over $300 Million, since they are double counting students that are in the choice programs. I am learning as I go as well and find it interesting that some Magnet schools are actually housed in the neighborhood public schools – which again shows that there is something to decentralization. Regarding having enough funding in city schools, if you look at the videos on the website, there is over $300 Million sent to the neighborhood schools that students are not actually attending. I would argue the best idea would be to try to get as many students off the wait lists for their “choice” program, allowing parents to make the best decisions for the children and fully fund the students in their program of choice and take the remaining $300 million to address more intensive educational needs of the remaining students. There is a discussion a discussion with Dr Steve Perry from March 1st on CT169Strong.org under Events.

  5. Micheal Love has strong feelings about Zoning and Education but facts are more nuanced and their impact is inescapable. Mr. Love suggests pooling tax money and redistributing it to other school districts. We already do that. Under the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) program, Wilton sends far more money to struggling school districts than it receives. (For example, Wilton gets about $400,000 in ECS funding this year while Hartford get about $200 million). On zoning, Mr. Love suggests, as many “progressives” do, that racism is the underlying motive. In fact, it’s ground water. Wilton does not have a town-wide water and sewer system. Property owners are responsible for their own water and two acres is the minimum amount of land that can support a septic system and a clean well. No one is restricted from owning a home in Wilton because of their skin color. To say otherwise is to slander our town and its citizens. Mr. Love is welcome to his feelings. He should also do the work necessary to learn the facts.

  6. elizabeth oconnell – thanks! Your post gives me hope.

    Maria Weingarten – sorry, but I’m still talking about educational equity here, not school choice. I’ll be much more receptive to complaints about city schools’ “efficiency” after we’ve achieved equality in per-pupil spending.

    Philip Murphy – we don’t do nearly enough cost sharing, which is why we still spend so much less per student in cities than we do here; we need to do more.

    And if you actually believe that it’s impossible to build more housing in Wilton due to a lack of sewer lines (ignoring all of the new / proposed construction along the already sewer-equipped Route 7 and the fact that you can, y’know, build more sewers) then you should be totally unconcerned about affordable zoning because it wouldn’t affect us anyway.

    I don’t think you’re likely to be receptive to any arguments I might make here about structural racism, but if you ever feel like learning more about it there are lots of great books and other resources available. (it’s OK to ask questions; many of us talking about this now were totally oblivious about it – or at least turning a blind eye to it – 10 years ago)

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