Winter 2010 Issue of The Connecticut Economy Highlights Education and Economic Recovery

Like other states, Connecticut is still wrestling with the effects of the current recession. The latest issue of The Connecticut Economy, published by the Department of Economics, features Managing Editor Steven Lanza’s analysis of state-level economic resilience. Using the 2001 recession as a source of data, he finds that a variety of factors help to explain the difference in recovery time across the 50 states. He estimates several models that account for about two-thirds of the variation in recovery times in the earlier recession, but unfortunately none of the models points to a very quick recovery for Connecticut in the current recession.

Co-editor Arthur Wright diagnoses how President Obama’s stimulus bill has made a difference in education and transportation in Connecticut, both important sectors for long-run growth. Wright also questions what might happen when state taxpayer funds are used to replace the federal stimulus dollars to sustain ongoing projects and programs. The centerfold map of the Winter issue shows the variation in federal stimulus spending per person across the state’s 169 towns. As of November, the heaviest stimulus spending per capita had occurred in poorer urbanized areas and towns with considerable transportation infrastructure.

Connecticut, like other states, has recognized the long-term role of education in determining a state’s quality of life and economic performance. A guest commentary from Michael P. Meotti, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Higher Education, argues for increasing the educational attainment of the state’s citizens, emphasizing that “the knowledge and skills of our people will be the driving force of the Connecticut economy over the long term.” Two of the issue’s articles assess various aspects of the state’s educational system.

With nearly 58 percent of all Connecticut municipal spending earmarked for schools, recent cutbacks have forced educators to make do with less. Yet, despite these fiscal pressures, a study measuring the efficiency of the state’s high school districts, by co-editor Dennis Heffley and UConn graduate student Can Bekaroglu, finds that many districts fare well in preparing students for the SAT Reasoning Test—a primary “assessment tool” used by colleges and universities to evaluate readiness for higher education. Many regional high school districts and some of the familiar “premier” districts top the efficiency list, but a few districts with more modest SAT results are still quite efficient in improving the relative performance of their students. The value-added measure of performance used in the study helps to control for “student inputs,” but further analysis of the results indicates that socioeconomic factors and district size affect the measure of efficiency.

Connecticut boasts 42 colleges and universities and higher-ed enrollment exceeding 180,000; and it is near the top of the class when it comes to educational attainment—4th among states in the share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree (34.8%) and 3rd in the share of advanced degree holders (15.1%). But contributing editor Bruce Blakey and his son, Robert, point out that there is still plenty of room to improve education in the Nutmeg State. International comparisons have raised concerns about the quality of U.S. education in areas like math and science, although such comparisons sometimes fail to control for the fraction of youth attending school or being tested. Closer to home, however, broad disparities in student backgrounds and resources across the state’s 169 towns result in big differences in test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance.

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