HEADLINES

RI Education: High Cost, Low Results

The left-wing Center for American Progress is out with a report lamenting the low pay of America’s public school teachers.  (Imagine what they must think of private school teachers’ even lower pay!)  In some states, teachers in government schools are eligible for up to seven social service programs if they are the “head of household” sources of income for families of four.

Given the source, I’m sure plenty of arguments against the report are possible, but being from Rhode Island, my interests go in another direction — namely, the appendix table on page 6 that shows the “average teacher base salary (bachelor’s degree and 10 years of teaching experience)” for all of the states.  Wouldn’t you know it, Rhode Island leads the nation, at $67,700.

That’s 15% more than second place Massachusetts, which comes in at $58,800.  It’s 51% higher than the national average of $44,900.

When it comes to the “highest possible step on the salary schedule,” Rhode Island’s $78,200 comes in fifth, after New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland.  By that measure, Rhode Island is 20% higher than the national average.

Yet, as the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Competitiveness Report Card shows, the Ocean State’s median household income is fifteenth in the nation.  Our unemployment rate is worst.

Despite all this spending (which Rhode Islanders can’t afford), our students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests are generally below average for the nation and, under the current governor and Board of Education, reversing some progress from the last decade.

At the very least, paying teachers beyond taxpayers’ means is not proving to be a benefit to our students, and one could plausibly argue that such the pay scale is actively harming the quality of education in Rhode Island.

The Mission of Government Labor Unions

When Rhode Island’s government-sector labor unions — organizations that engage in politics to elect people who will negotiate employees’ contracts with kid gloves so that more taxpayer dollars can be funneled to the unions and then back into politics — came out against a constitutional convention in Rhode Island, many observers thought it might be out of concern that a surprise wave of good-government interest in the Ocean State would usher in policies that make it harder for their racket to continue.  Now, an activist group has emerged, funded almost exclusively with government-sector labor money (which is to say, with taxpayer money), and its emphasis does not fit those observers’ assumption at all:

The group has warned that such a gathering will open the door to actions that could impede women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights and rights for minorities and immigrants.

In brief: social issues, not labor issues.  The organization’s Web site lists more labor unions and also a broader array of groups, but they have a particular bent, such as the Economic Progress Institute (aka the Poverty Institute), Humanists of RI, Jobs with Justice, RI NOW, RI Pride, RI Progressive Democrats, and the Secular Coalition for Rhode Island.

It’s possible that the unions are carrying the financial weight of this organization because they don’t want a convention based on their own self interest and just feel that trumpeting the social-issues angle will stoke the public’s fears more effectively.  If that’s the case, then Rhode Islanders should question whether it’s appropriate for the labor organizations representing taxpayers’ employees to be using their money to carry far-left free riders.  Even the most strident believer in the right of workers to organize can admit that the process shouldn’t distort our system of government on so many issues that have nothing to do with contracts and working conditions.

After years of observation, however, I’d suggest that the real lesson is that labor services are just the way in which the unions raise money for themselves.  Their real mission is far-left progressive politics.  If that’s the case, union members should ask themselves whether they really to gain such tremendous benefits that it’s worth so much destruction of our rights and our society.

Profit as Theft from the Collective

Disdain for “for profit” companies is an indication that progressives believe all property actually belongs to the government, and taking extra is a type of theft.

The Education Legacy of the Chafee Era

NAEP scores and comparisons of trends across the country suggest that the stall of education reform during the Chafee era has not been good for Rhode Island’s children.

Steve Ahlquist, the Oppressors’ Heir

In attacking Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, Steve Ahlquist gives reason to believe he’d have been a different kind of oppressor in a different time.

When Immigration Truth Is the Friday News Dump

Friday afternoon is the day that governments across America release information that they’d like to see downplayed.  During the weekend (especially in the summer), Americans are distracted, and journalists aren’t able really to dig into a late-Friday release until Monday, at which point the news cycle has moved on.

In the collection of Friday news dumps, this is a strange one:

The data, which was dumped by the U.S. border patrol late Friday afternoon, shows that inflow of youths and children traveling without parents has doubled since 2013, to 57,525 in the nine months up to July 2014.

But the number of migrants who cross the border in so-called “family units” has spiked five-fold to 55,420, according to the border patrol’s data, which came out amid a storm of news about the shoot-down of a Malaysian aircraft in Ukraine, delays in failed U.S. nuke talks with Iran, and on Hamas’ continued war against Israel.

So why should a simple demographic fact be treated like a political liability?  It changes the image of what’s happening on the border, doesn’t it?  Firstly, it changes the image of the invasion — from a wave of lonely children traversing Mexico alone to whole communities’ taking a journey.  It could be that many of the “unaccompanied” minors were actually very much accompanied, right up to the border.

Secondly, it changes the talking point that the wave is a result of the “Buse era” Wilberforce Trafficking law that required enhanced due process for unaccompanied children from nations other than Canada and Mexico.  That talking point is disingenuous because (1) the migration of children en masse does not relate to the intent of the law, (2) the law provides plenty of room for discretion in extreme and unanticipated circumstances, and (3) the Obama Administration is hardly a stickler for the letter of the law.  But still, it’s a talking point by which Democrats and progressive activists can muddy the water and prevent honest debate.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 37 (WJAR Gubernatorial Debates & Immigration)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the first Republican and Democrat gubernatorial debates on Channel 10, WJAR, with some emphasis on the illegal immigration crisis.

June 2014 Employment: And the Happy Face Keeps Smiling

Based on the numbers, Rhode Island’s employment woes appear to be coming to an end. The numbers feel wrong, though, and some experts’ explanation doesn’t seem to fit.

During Hard Times, Crack Down on Workers?

Here’s a pretty good example of how Rhode Island politicians and the special interests who govern them look at their neighbors’ plight.  The legislation is Senate bill 2410, sponsored by Hanna Gallo (D, Cranston, West Warwick), Erin Lynch (D, Cranston, Warwick), and Dominick Ruggerio (D, North Providence, Providence), and House bill 7391, sponsored by John Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton), Donald Lally (D, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Christopher Blazejewski (D, Providence), and Katherine Kazarian (D, East Providence).

Basically, the legislation — which Governor Chafee signed into law (naturally) — triples the fine for a first offense violating the chapter of Rhode Island law dealing with the licensing of plumbers, from a painful $500 to a potentially devastating $1,500.  Second and subsequent offenses more than doubled, from $950 to $2,000.  There may be a variety of violations that could spark the fines, but mainly, they have to do with performing unlicensed plumbing or disregarding plumbing regulations.

That’s right: After years of Rhode Island’s being thousands shy of its peak employment, after months of its having the worst unemployment rate in the country, during an era of low or non-existent economic growth and taxpayer flight, the Rhode Island General Assembly finds it important to tighten the screws on one of the better-paying blue-collar occupations.

In the upcoming election, voters should consider that the only legislators who don’t think a time of economic agony is ripe for cracking down on people trying to make ends meet were Rep. Michael Chippendale (R, Coventry, Foster, Glocester), Rep. Doreen Costa (R, Exeter, North Kingstown), Rep. Karen MacBeth (D, Cumberland), Rep. Michael Marcello (D, Cranston, Scituate), Rep. Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick), and Joseph Trill (R, Warwick).  Not a single senator voted against the bill.

Here are the “yea” votes in the Senate:

YEAS- 33: The Honorable President Paiva Weed and Senators Algiere, Archambault, Bates, Conley, Cool Rumsey, Cote, Crowley, Doyle, Felag, Gallo, Goldin, Goodwin, Hodgson, Jabour, Kettle, Lombardi, Lynch, McCaffrey, Metts, Miller, Nesselbush, O’Neill, Ottiano, Pearson, Picard, Pichardo, Raptakis, Ruggerio, Satchell, Sheehan, Sosnowski, Walaska.

And in the House:

YEAS – 66: The Honorable Speaker Mattiello and Representatives Abney, Ackerman, Ajello, Almeida, Amore, Azzinaro, Bennett, Blazejewski, Canario, Carnevale, Casey, Cimini, Coderre, Corvese, Costantino, Craven, DeSimone, Diaz, Dickinson, Edwards, Fellela, Ferri, Finn, Gallison, Giarrusso, Guthrie, Handy, Hearn, Hull, Johnston, Kazarian, Keable, Kennedy, Lally, Lima, Lombardi, Malik, Marshall, Martin, McLaughlin, McNamara, Melo, Messier, Morin, Newberry, Nunes, O’Brien, O’Grady, O’Neill, Palangio, Palumbo, Phillips, Ruggiero, San Bento, Serpa, Shekarchi, Silva, Slater, Tanzi, Tomasso, Ucci, Valencia, Walsh, Williams, Winfield.

Rally Tomorrow To Oppose The Disbursing of Illegal Alien Children to Rhode Island

RIILE, Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement released the following alert this afternoon via e-mail.

Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement invites all concerned Rhode Islanders to gather tomorrow from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the Smith Street side of the Rhode Island Statehouse to protest the Obama administration’s plan to disperse illegal alien minors to Rhode Island.

“Two planeloads of illegal aliens have already landed at Hanscom Air Base in Massachusetts, only 45 miles away, and Massachusetts has declined to accept them,” said Terry Gorman, president of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement. “This may be our only chance to express our concerns to Governor Chafee and to discourage him from overwhelming our state with an unknown number of additional people needing government social services.”

Governor Chafee so far denies having been asked by White House administration officials to harbor the illegal alien minors in Rhode Island.

With the ink barely dry on a new state budget, Rhode Island is clearly in a fragile economic condition. Concerning illegal aliens, there exists a thriving underground network of grayscale government policy that combines passive sanctuary, benefit compensation, and lax, selective law enforcement. Accepting an unplanned influx of undocumented, unimmunized, and unsupervised aliens of minor age – all of whom illegally crossed the United States border to gain entry and none of whom can provide for themselves – is not an acceptable course of action for any state government, but especially not Rhode Island’s.

“We are not a people lacking in compassion, but this is a practical matter of survival and the obligation we have to Rhode Island citizens. Suicide is not noble and compassionate – it’s reckless,” Gorman said.

Continuing Incredulity on RI Employment Reports

Preliminary employment numbers for June produce the following chart.  I’ll have the final chart and all its companions tomorrow.  One thing’s clear, though: The employment numbers are still impossible to believe and likely to be revised dramatically after the election.

State Taxes and Economic Health

The effect of taxes on a state’s economic health is one of those repeated questions that is never resolved.  The obvious reason (I’d propose) is that it’s one of those areas that depends hugely on specific circumstances, but the ideological intentions of those having the discussion tend to promote specific findings as broad conclusions.

The last sentence of the most recent academic contribution to the debate, by Pavel Yakovlev of the Mercatus Center, probably captures about the broadest statement that can be made:

… not all tax variables exhibit a significant correlation with the selected measures of economic activity, but when they do, the relationship is usually negative.

Yakovlev concludes his summary in a way that’s probably more comprehensible to the average person:

Not all types of tax increases can be expected to significantly harm economic outcomes, but higher taxes are generally correlated with lower standards of living.

In the phrasing of a popular meme: I don’t always affect the economy when I increase taxes, but when I do, it usually hurts.

Another important variable that Yakovlev mentions in the course of presenting his findings is the quality of public services provided.  It is assumed that in some circumstances (or at least to some people) the trade-off of higher taxes for quality government services favors the latter.  Presumably, it is less common for people to want to have high taxes in order to finance poor government services.

Throughout the study, Yakovlev looks at two competing ways of calculating the correlation of variables that can sometimes serve to support different ideological preferences.  On the government-spending side of the ledger, the results find a positive correlation between taxpayer migration and education spending, but negative correlation of migration with infrastructure spending, public health spending, and public welfare spending.

Especially on the infrastructure count, that finding might be counter-intuitive, because we tend to think of better roads and bridges as a contributor to economic health.  One plausible explanation for the results is that the amount of spending on infrastructure doesn’t translate well into results.  In other words, over a basic minimum of spending on roads and bridges, additional dollars are wasted.

Of course, an objective viewer of Rhode Island would have to conclude that this level of discussion is mostly moot in the Ocean State, as the latest competitiveness report card from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity illustrates.

All of our taxes are high.  Most of our services are poor.  People are generally leaving; opportunity remains difficult to find.  And the hope of substantive change is limited.

Illegal Alien Children: Governor Chafee’s Strangely Narrow Statement

The latest regional development in the disbursement of illegal alien children from the southern border, drawn to the United States in part due to a dramatic drop in deportation of other such children over the last five+ years, is that the state of Connecticut has declined a request by the federal government to house children in the Southbury Training School.

This morning, I called Governor Chafee’s office and urged him, via a staff member, not to accept illegal alien children into the state. I was given a response that it turns out had also been given to WPRO and which Bill Haberman and John Depetro had read on the air. It was, simply,

No federal entity has reached out to the State of Rhode Island requesting assistance with housing undocumented immigrants.

My follow up question for the gentleman on Governor Chafee’s staff whom I spoke to, to preclude confusion over terms, was “or refugees” and he agreed that the statement also applied to “refugees”.

But the Governor’s statement, specific and brief as it is, leaves a couple of large loopholes. No “federal” entity has reached out to the state. Have any other entities or individuals done so? If not to request assistance with “housing” undocumented immigrants, how about “temporarily sheltering” them?

It is not pleasant to have to parse the words of one of our elected officials this way but the narrowness of the statement compels us to do so.

Much as we sympathize deeply with the plight of these children, there are huge ramifications, budgetarily and public health-wise, to any state accepting dozens or hundreds, much less thousands, of illegal alien children, even if – especially if! – it is framed as a temporary situation. It is to be hoped that Governor Chafee will act accordingly and not out of a completely misguided sense of compassion.

Mayor de Blasio’s Very Reasonable Rate

Here’s a good example of what communities across the country are facing if they look to reform public education in such a way as to achieve good results without bankrupting themselves — by Chris Bragg:

Less than a month before Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a major contract agreement with the United Federation of Teachers, its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, gave $350,000 to a nonprofit run by de Blasio advisers, which lobbies on behalf of the mayor’s priorities, newly released records show.

The AFT’s donation, on April 9, was the largest donation to the de Blasio-affiliated nonprofit, Campaign For One New York, since it was founded after the mayor was elected last November. Its timing raises questions about the ability of outside interests to advance their agendas before the city by supporting a nonprofit close to the mayor.

Glenn Reynolds suggests, “It doesn’t raise questions, it answers them.”  But I’m not sure that the question being answered is actually whether the mayor can be bought off.  After all, teacher contracts in New York City are counted in the billions, so $350,000 would indicate a very reasonable payoff rate.

More to the point, though, as Jim Epstein indicates, the progressive de Blasio’s affection for the union doesn’t require payoffs as an explanation.  Consider the involvement of both the American Federation of Teachers and de Blasio with Democracy Alliance — a dark-money group tasked with shuffling the money of wealthy individuals and organizations (like teachers’ unions) to progressive activists.

In short, what we’re looking at is a movement that controls both sides of negotiations to take money away from the private sector and advance the cause of government control of everything… by which I mean the progressive movement’s control of everything.

The Missing Question on Transportation Funding

Channel 10 has a report up on the sorry state of Rhode Island’s roads and bridges and the absence of funds to address the problem.  Here’s the missing question that really needs to start being asked:  Where is all the money going?

From 2003 to 2013, Rhode Island’s budget increased from $5.4 billion to $7.7 billion.  That’s a 42% increase, or 3.56% per year compounding.  Over that same period, the gross state product (GSP) went up 32% (2.79% compounded per year), and inflation was 27% (2.39% per year).  (From 2005 to projected 2015, by the way, the state budget increase is 46%, or 3.88% compounded annually.)

With the government’s budget growing so much more quickly than either the state’s economy or inflation, where is all the money going?

According to WJAR’s Susie Steimie:

President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to put $300 billion toward road repairs.  The president warns if we don’t put money toward infrastructure repairs the economy will suffer.

We must stop letting politicians off so easily.  $300 billion doesn’t materialize out of nowhere.  From where does Obama plan to take that money, and why won’t that hurt the economy?

Unless we move past the superficial analysis of noting problems and insisting that the solution is money, we’re like children being governed by the Coachman on Pleasure Island.

Observations of Needed Change in Education

Like it or not, the notion of competition is creeping in on Rhode Island public schools. Rhode Islanders should be wary of approaches that drive alternatives out of business without securing real improvements.

Illegal Aliens and RI Social Programs: Qualifying Documentation Ranges from Strong to Alarmingly Weak

… In response to an inquiry from Ocean State Current-Anchor Rising, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services sent over several documents. One of those listed all of the documents that an applicant for social services can submit to verify citizenship qualification for those benefits.

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 6 of 6

Ultimately (part 6 of 6) Aaron Renn has to explain why a small group of decision makers have a better chance of success than Rhode Islanders acting on their own initiative.

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 5 of 6

Part 5 of a response to Aaron Renn: What kills the entrepreneurial spirit in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 4 of 6

Aaron Renn’s prescriptions for RI. Part 4: Who is the “you” who puts us to use?