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OPINION: The purpose of the Partnership for Connecticut

OPINION: The purpose of the Partnership for Connecticut

The purpose of the Partnership for Connecticut is simple: to help disconnected, disadvantaged students who are struggling in high school get on track so they can have a better future.

At least that’s what I thought. And what could possibly be wrong with that?

But if you read their mission statement, it gets more complicated: “Expand upward mobility in Connecticut by connecting disengaged and disconnected high school-aged youth (14-24) to educational and career opportunities, and by supporting economic development in under-resourced communities through microfinance and social entrepreneurship.”

I figure the educational part is more than enough to ask (especially with an expanded age range) from an outfit that will have only $40 million to spend per year, for only five years. The other part, about economic development and microfinance and social entrepreneurship, seems to add up to another Manhattan Project altogether.

But the Partnership is an odd duck anyway — a private initiative that brings $100 million to the table, to be matched by another $100 million in taxpayer money. This is something we haven’t seen before. Maybe it’s just hard for us to get our heads around the idea that public education in Connecticut is now a charity case.

(Early reports included the idea that another $100 million might be added, from other private sources. Don’t know what happened to that idea, but it seems to have faded.)

The other odd thing about the Partnership is the shroud of secrecy (I call it secrecy, others may call it confidentiality, or something) that has covered the project since Day 1. So far, Gov. Ned Lamont and Barbara Dalio, of Dalio Philanthropies (her husband is hedge fund giant Ray Dalio, and they are the source of the all-important $100 million) seem to be fine with a high level of secrecy. Others, not so much. Earlier this year, legislators granted Dalio’s and Lamont’s request to exempt the partnership from state disclosure and ethics rules.

To me, that’s going too far, even though Dalio Foundation money has helped many school systems in Connecticut, including Meriden’s.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, Lamont’s fellow Democrat, seems to want a healthy level of public debate. “This is all very unprecedented,” Looney said. “We are, in a real sense, sort of making it up as we go along.”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides wants all proceedings to be open.

Her fellow Republican, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven, is somewhere in between: OK with some private discussions, but all spending matters should be hashed out in public. “I think you should be able to do some of the bigger issues in private,” Fasano said, as quoted by The Connecticut Mirror.

The main argument for secrecy is that tough discussions will be had, and public officials won’t be really frank in public. Also, there will naturally be questions when one school system receives funding and another doesn’t. And I’m sure that’s true.

“When you do it in [public] you don’t get real,” said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin. “You don’t get to the root of the problem.”

That may be, but I’m with Rep. Klarides. This operation needs to be as open as possible, because taxpayer dollars are involved. I hope Sen. Fasano and others involved will be able to steer this new entity closer to the light.

Reach Glenn Richter at