Begun in secrecy, deception, and arrogance a year ago, the Partnership for Connecticut died the same way this week. Its tombstone should read: Let’s not do that again.
The idea, pitched by Greenwich billionaire fund manager Ray Dalio to his friend Gov. Ned Lamont, was to take $100 million in Dalio’s money, match it with $100 million in state government money and $100 million more in private donations, and spend it to improve education for disadvantaged children. The money was to be controlled by a board mostly chosen by Dalio and his wife, Barbara, who was to supervise the operation. The governor and several legislative leaders would be board members too but not constitute a majority.
The idea required legislation creating the partnership but its proponents did not submit it to the normal legislative process. Instead, through the connivance of the governor and legislative leaders, it was hidden in a much bigger budget bill and enacted without hearing or debate. Worse, at Dalio’s request it contained a provision exempting the partnership from the open-government and ethics laws.
The idea was comprehensively offensive and no amount of money could suppress its stink:
Connecticut didn’t need billionaires to tell it how to spend money on education. The state was already full of people ready to do that.
Connecticut didn’t need to create a special agency to spend education money, since state government already had many education agencies answering to the governor and the General Assembly.
Dalio’s demand that state government match his donation to the partnership took allocation of the matching money out of the ordinary democratic process though there was no plan for exactly how to spend it. This made the partnership a slush fund.
Demanding exemption of the partnership from the open-government and ethics rules, Dalio purchased the partnership’s path above the law. Figuring that the slush fund would mainly please the teacher unions, the governor and legislative leaders happily took the bribe.
Fortunately the partnership quickly started to implode as its assurances of transparency were riddled with exceptions. The partnership alienated the Republican leaders who had been required to serve on its board, engaged a Democratic lobbying shop, and hired an executive director at the extravagant salary of $250,000 only to begin secret proceedings to fire her two months later. Her protest reached the Hartford Courant, which revealed the embarrassing turmoil.
Announcing the termination of the partnership, the Governor and Mrs. Dalio blamed not its secrecy, arrogance, and incompetence but the Republicans, who, Mrs. Dalio said, sought to “sabotage” it. But any “sabotage” was actually accountability — letting the public know what was happening on a public agency with a lot of taxpayer money.
The Partnership for Connecticut is no loss. The Dalios can keep giving their money away by themselves, and state government can keep increasing education spending without accomplishing anything beyond buying the support of the teacher unions.
But if the governor and legislators ever want to know why student performance in Connecticut never improves no matter how much money is spent, a hint came the other day from Waterbury’s Board of Education. It reported that in trying to engage the city’s students in learning from home during the virus epidemic, the school administration had been unable to contact 30 percent of them. Other cities report similarly horrifying delinquencies.
Maybe the Dalios could try hiring the kids some parents.