Students Trapped By Their Zip Code In Failed Schools

How many Rhode Island families have moved away? How many other American families have chosen not to make our state their home… because of a lack educational opportunity and economic prosperity? The die has now been cast: School choice is all about expanding educational freedom for families; those who oppose choice are all about preserving the status quo system. With aggressive education reform ideas to come from the White House beginning next year, and only one side will prevail.

In announcing his intent to nominate philanthropist, entrepreneur, and education reform leader, Betsy DeVos, to serve as his administration’s Secretary of Education, President-elect Donald Trump has selected a talented woman who will place the interests of students and families above the interests of the state controlled school system model. A proven innovator, Betsy DeVos will ostensibly work with states and with Congress to implement the new president’s bold national school choice initiative

I have had the pleasure of personally meeting Ms. DeVos in attending multiple education reform conferences sponsored by the American Federation for Children (AFC), of which Ms. DeVos has been chairman, and I have chatted with her over dinner. I know that she will support reform of America’s broken educational system by removing barriers to change. It is the mission of educational leaders like Betsy DeVos to provide students, trapped by their zip code in a failed school, with the opportunity to attend a school of their family’s choice. Such choices include expansion of charter school seats, educational scholarships that can be used to attend private schools, and private mentoring programs.

Our Center has similarly advocated for Bright Today Educational Scholarships, which would empower parents in our state with the freedom and financial capacity to choose the best educational path for their children. Our Center produced reams of research that clearly demonstrated that such a program would not cause harm to students who remain in public schools. In fact, a detailed financial model showed that by funding such scholarships with state money only, and leaving 100% of local education dollars for exclusive use in local public schools, there would actually be more money available per public school student. You can read more about the model here.


Monthly Tracking Will Be Welfare Boom

Pay attention to this tidbit from a Providence Journal article by Alisha Pina:

The majority, said Cindy Machado, chief human service policy and system specialist, were here because they want to know why their benefits were cut. Of the 97,000 receiving food assistance, 3,000 have been deemed ineligible or didn’t give the required paperwork in time to keep getting help.

Another 500 people on Thursday had their state health insurance cut for similar reasons. UHIP has a program that allows the state to check monthly if residents are still eligible for the insurance. Notices were sent to those in question, and time was given before benefits were ended. Officials had hoped that the program would save about $16 million this fiscal year, but delaying the launch by two months decreased the projected savings by $2.4 million.

Right now, it sounds like a money saver that 3,500 welfare beneficiaries were found to be ineligible, but we’re on an economic upswing, and all of the state’s welfare programs aren’t fully integrated, yet.  When the upswing stops and, more importantly, when all government programs are linked for this month-to-month assessment, UHIP will become a way to maximize payments, not minimize them.

Through a creepily invasive “program” that keeps a monthly profile of all Rhode Island residents — at least those below some income threshold that we might call the “dependence line” — the plan is for the government to actively sign up new “clients” as they become eligible, sucking a maximum number of people into the system.  Again, we’re all either potential produce or tax-money laborers for the government plantation.


Another Indication of the Private-Sector Solution for RI

Here’s another interesting tidbit from Ted Nesi’s “Notes” today:

Like many, [Newport-and-Cambridge start-up Dockwa CEO Mike Melillo] wishes Rhode Island could take better advantage of its proximity to thriving Boston. “The distance between Palo Alto and San Francisco is the same time as it is between Boston and Providence,” Melillo said. “Yet none of the companies that ship their employees from Palo Alto to San Francisco do that from Boston to Providence. … I think there’s an incredible opportunity.” Nokes, too, thinks Rhode Island isn’t tapping its full potential. “There’s really no reason why a state as small as we are, with the potential efficiencies that we could have, that we have such high overhead and such low rankings on ease of doing business,” he said.

Cut red tape, reduce regulations, eliminate mandates, and lower taxes.  I’ve recently heard a complaint that I don’t offer detailed policy suggestions to counter all of the junk that elected officials in Rhode Island pile on us every year, but the details are irrelevant until we’ve decided to turn the corner.  The basic policies aren’t difficult.  This isn’t rocket science… or even slip mooring rental, which is the apparently complicated problem that Dockwa seeks to resolve.


What a Democrat Governor Can Do to Medicaid

Ted Nesi has changed his Saturday quick-hit column back to “Nesi’s Notes.” I wonder if one of the items on his list in today’s edition was the inspiration.  Writing of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s proclaimed savings from Medicaid initiatives:

The governor’s office frequently touts roughly $70 million in state-level savings from her Medicaid initiatives in 2015-16. But most of that money didn’t come from changing how care is provided; $19 million was from lower payment rates to hospitals and nursing homes, $13 million was from higher taxes on hospitals, $9 million was from cuts to managed care, $7 million was from maximizing federal funding, and so on. There were plenty of other 2015-16 initiatives, some of which achieved their promised savings and some of which didn’t, but that’s where the big money was saved.

As I noted last February, Raimondo’s “Reinventing Medicaid” seems to have a clear news-coverage advantage over the reforms championed by Republican Governor Don Carcieri (with help from the Bush administration), to which it bears a marked similarity.  The main difference was on emphasis, with the Republican looking for accountability from consumers while the Democrat has turned more to increasing revenue and shifting costs to private insurance, where the government is less likely to take any heat.

Or maybe the difference in how the program is treated isn’t so much a partisan thing as simply a better name…


Even Playing Field, Equal Trophies!

At the Rhode Island State Field Hockey Championships on Oct. 30, seventh-seed Pilgrim High School upset the top-seeded Lincoln School to win the Division II championship. It was an outstanding achievement, and the team’s hard work and perseverance was rewarded with the receipt of the traditional championship plaque — well, traditional for every champion except for the Division I champion. For earlier that day, the Division I state champion Barrington High School team received a more elaborate and impressive trophy.

Source: Marc Comtois: R.I.’s ‘second-class’ champions – Opinion – providencejournal.com – Providence, RI


One Area in Which U.S. Unity Is Critical

David French reminds us that America’s enemies will make their plans according to what they think we’re going to do.  He quotes from a book by James Mitchell, who states that al Qaeda honcho Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was surprised when the United States actually retaliated for 9/11, rather than following the Clinton-Obama approach of treating such attacks as “law-enforcement matters.”  French goes on:

… as [Marc] Thiessen notes, our enemy is counting on our exhaustion. “In the end, he told Mitchell, ‘We will win because Americans don’t realize . . . we do not need to defeat you militarily; we only need to fight long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting.’”

Unfortunately, we’ve spent the last eight years reinforcing the idea that differences within the United States mean defeating us by getting us to quit is a simple process of holding out for a few election cycles.  This is one area in which some national unity would really be to the better.


Raimondo Admin’s Dodgy Non-Response to ProJo’s APRA Request

So as you probably know, Rhode Island’s new computer system (UHIP) for qualifying applicants and disbursing social program benefits is a mess. The problems have been well publicized to the point of infamy: a backlog of applications; benefit payments delayed; nursing homes (who have no easy way to stop their expenses) wracking up serious amounts of uncompensated care; even a security “glitch” that could have exposed the personal information of 200-1,000 customers.

It has gotten to the point that the feds were compelled to step in again – this time, breathing fire.

The agency continued to warn that the DHS could soon lose federal funding for administrative costs because of the system’s “failure to meet FNS statutory and regulatory requirements.”

And a Rhode Island House committee held its second hearing into the matter on Monday.

The question is, who is responsible for all of this? Was this a failure by the vendor setting up the new system, Deloitte Consulting? Or did the Raimondo administration force a transition to the new system from the old too quickly? (This, in fact, was a blunt warning by the feds to the Raimondo administration in early September.) If so, why?

In order to shed some light on the matter, the Providence Journal’s ace reporter Kathy Gregg sent the Raimondo administration an APRA request on September 7 for

all correspondence between the state and the company that designed it: Deloitte Consulting.

We pause here to go back, review and note that the subject of Gregg’s request was “correspondence”.

Gregg reports in yesterday’s Providence Journal that six weeks later – on the night before Thanksgiving, to be precise – the Raimondo administration gave her a thumb drive that purported to respond to the request. It contained only reports from Deloitte – and those only through September 6. Critically, the thumb drive contained no correspondence whatsoever between the Raimondo administration and Deloitte.

To reiterate: Gregg asked for correspondence. What she got was reports. (In the same way, Gregg might ask a Raimondo-operated fruit stand for a bag of oranges and receive, instead, a small bag of turnips.)

This non-responsive response by the Raimondo administration would appear to conform to neither the letter nor the spirit of Rhode Island’s APRA law. Nor is it the action of a Governor who, in an interview with Rhode Island Public Radio thirteen months ago, claimed to be “deeply committed to transparency”.

I asked the CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity (full disclosure: I work with the Center), Mike Stenhouse, if he had a reaction to this. He responded,

A curious, honest, and relentless free-press is vital to preserving democracy in our free society and in holding elected officials accountable to the people. In this case, the administration’s pitiful non-response certainly makes it appear as if they have something to hide.

When a reporter like Kathy Gregg asks questions, she isn’t just asking for herself and her newspaper, she makes the request on behalf of all Rhode Islanders. Something went wrong with the launch of a major new state computer system – a system, remember, that has come in at over triple the originally budgeted cost. We are all minimally owed answers about the why and how of all of this. It is time to move from the dodgy non-responses to the straight answers and transparency to which the Governor herself has indicated that she is “deeply committed”.


Immigration and the Choices Your Government Makes

Writing in the Washington Examiner, Paul Bedard lists some programs for American citizens that are seeing their funding drained in order to pay for services for illegal immigrants making their way over the border:

The Department of Health and Human Services is raiding several of its accounts, including money for Medicare, the Ryan White AIDS/HIV program and those for cancer and flu research to cover a shortfall in housing illegal youths pouring over the border at a rate of 255 a day.

HHS is trying to come up with $167 million to fund the Office of Refugee Resettlement that is accepting the youths, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. …

The money, [Policy Director Jessica Vaughan] said, pays for “shelters, health care, schooling, recreation, and other services for the new illegal arrivals, who typically were brought to the border by smugglers paid by their parents, who often are living in the United States illegally.”

I’m most definitely not one to assume that the eight specific transfers mentioned will not come from waste, and I’d rather use money that’s already been confiscated from taxpayers (or put on our massive debt tab) to provide basic necessities for poor children anywhere in the world than to fund the adult-entertainment habits of employees of the federal government (for example).

But the article is useful in framing a basic policy reality.  As a point of fact, money spent on welfare and other services for illegal immigrants necessarily comes from some other expenditure, whether reducing government services for citizens or leading to more taxes.

For that matter, it’s worth reminding people that money collected through taxes, fees, and fines doesn’t just appear out of people’s bank accounts.  It necessarily means the money isn’t spent on something else, especially in an era in which vanishingly few people truly keep cash lying around unused.

Even those who are willing to simply brush aside questions about the government’s right to take people’s money away to pay for things that powerful people value still have to ask whether the thing to be purchased is worth sacrificing the things not purchased.  Too often, we allow government officials and their satellites to spend money as if there is no downside to doing so.


JOI in the PBN

Providence Business News Web editor Lori Stabile notes Rhode Island’s continuing poor performance on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI):

Rhode Island’s score fell to 17.5 in October from September’s 17.9 on the index, which ranks states on a scale from 0-100 on factors including job outlook, which measures optimism that adequate work is available; freedom factor, which measures the level of work against reliance on welfare programs; and prosperity factor, which measures the financial motivation of income versus taxes.

Of all the factors, arguably the clearest cut is the prosperity factor, which is literally a ratio of personal income (including investments and rental income) to state, local, and federal taxes.  The data shows that RI’s ratio puts personal income at 2.4 times total taxes collected, which is the fourth-smallest ratio in the country.


Empowering Our Families!

Did you have empty chairs at your Thanksgiving dinner table? We all know people who have left Rhode Island for greener economic pastures. The Ocean State’s poor business climate is forcing our people out. For too long, there has only been one voice in the policy discussion in Rhode Island. What if Rhode Island’s political leaders were to realize that policies that focus only on the material needs of individuals were actually harming our state’s families? It is time for Rhode Island to adopt the family friendly policy reforms that can transform our state into a place where people can achieve their hopes and dreams.

We need to empower families, businesses, and all of the people of the Ocean State to make the calls, instead of a small group of insiders. Our state ranks 48th on both the Family Prosperity Index of the American Conservative Union, and the Jobs & Opportunity Index created by our Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. We have virtually no population growth, and have suffered the embarrassment of many other near-bottom rankings. Despite all this, our Rhode Island political class appears happy not to make the significant changes that are needed to turn our state around.

The Ocean State needs to dare to disrupt the status quo and boldly evolve itself into a regional outlier so that we can become a magnet – on our own – for businesses, jobs, and families. Will the elitists in Rhode Island learn the biggest lesson of the election? It is time to remember forgotten families. Both President-elect Donald Trump, and Sen. Bernie Sanders have said for a very long time that the system is rigged against regular people. While other states are decisively moved in a new direction, Rhode Island is doubling down on a failed agenda.

Rhode Islanders have had enough of the insider machine. It is time to make a complete turnaround. We must adopt the family friendly reforms that can make our state a place where our families can be prosperous. You are powerful. You do not have to tolerate the cronyism and elitist attitude any longer. Don’t be on the sidelines. The rigged system in the Ocean State has kept too many people out of the process. Now is the time for you to speak out and demand that the status quo changes.


Want to Battle “Fake News”? Do It with the Real Thing.

It would appear that the “alt-right” hysteria has been supplanted by “fake news” hysteria as the American Left goes through its post-election stages of grief.  To be absolutely clear, here, I’m open to the possibility that made-up-story click bait is an existential problem for our society, and I’d welcome serious discussion about whether and how to address it (and at what cost in freedom and treasure), but my goodness, can’t the news media just report the news?

Today’s Providence Journal features an article from Craig Timber of The Washington Post, which the Rhode Island paper gives the click-bait headline, “Russian propaganda helped spread ‘fake news.'”  How bad is the article?  The reader must plow nearly halfway through the 700-word article before Timber bothers to identify the “researchers” whose word he is passing along as tantalizing truth.

Even when we find out who the sources are, they’re just a bunch of names, which the Providence Journal does not contextualize with any details about their backgrounds, their fundings, or any detail that ought to give them credibility.  Timber’s original article in his home paper is longer and therefore has more detail, but even so the question of whether the Russian government used social media and the Internet as a field for propaganda is not put in the context of all of the other interests, on the Left and the Right, attempting to do the same thing.

On The Week, Edward Morrissey argues that the “fake news” narrative is indicative of liberals’ contempt for those who do not share their views.  It can’t be that an astoundingly horrible and corrupt candidate like Hillary Clinton simply lost.  It must be that somebody else was able to deceive the rubes more effectively than the Democrats were. Ian Tuttle of National Review Online is correct to highlight the hypocrisy of handling “fake news” in an ideological fashion.

One need only look at Craig Timber’s report for evidence, according to which one of the dread objectives of Russian masterminds is “undermining faith in American democracy.”  And yet, here is the Washington Post, the Providence Journal, and other reprinting news organizations furthering that objective by building a narrative, essentially, that the election was rigged.

Why?  Because it serves their partisan and ideological agendas to do so.


The Learning Community’s Divisive Propaganda

Charter schools are still public schools, correct?  They’re still supposed to inculcate values that are truly shared among all of those who have no choice but to fund them, right?

I ask in reaction to an outrageous and divisive op-ed that three leaders of The Learning Community in Central Falls published in yesterday’s Providence Journal, apparently in their official capacity.  These educators are stoking dangerous fear and distrust among their very young students — implicitly accusing the Rhode Islanders who pay their high salaries of exhibiting “emboldened white supremacist, sexist and xenophobic attitudes and actions, escalating locally and nationally.”  They assert that Vice President–elect Mike Pence is “anti-gay.”

I emailed the codirectors, Sarah Friedman and Meg O’Leary for elaboration on that point, but they have not responded.  Had they done so, I would have asked whether their students participate in Governor Gina Raimondo’s sexist girls-only contest.

Their op-ed appeals to fellow educators, “if there is no neutral stance on bullying, there is no neutral stance on bigotry.”  Well, isn’t excluding boys discriminatory?  Isn’t it bigotry to dismiss Mike Pence as “anti-gay” because he understands our rights of free expression and free association to include the right to determine what events one will service occupationally?  Isn’t it bigotry to tell people that they “must reject their whiteness”?  “No neutral stance on bigotry” is nothing but an excuse for them to indulge in what they know is inappropriate behavior.

If the leaders of a public charter school took to the pages of the state’s major daily to slander their fellow Rhode Islanders and make clear that they were propagandizing students with Republican messaging, there would most certainly be consequences.  What consequences will there be for the heads of The Learning Community and the division that they’re using taxpayer funds to sow?  None, because their indoctrination serves the progressive ideology and Rhode Island’s insider system, even as it harms their students by failing to prepare them to live in a pluralistic society that respects the rights of others.


Bannon an Early Indication of the Suspicion the Left Has Sown

Ian Donnis gave me some space in his weekly bullet-list column to offer a conservative perspective on the Stephen Bannon brouhaha. Sample:

In short, those of us not caught up in the internecine feuds between Trumpkins and NeverTrumpers can’t help but see the fingers of progressive guru Saul Alinsky, who advised radicals to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” It’s a tactic to sow chaos, division, and hatred. However, the effect may be to unify the Right. We’re watching this tempest spun up within the mainstream media, which we understand to hate us, with the pervasive involvement of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which we’re inclined to see as a hate group.

If anything, the process that has led to the Right’s suspicion has accelerated.  Witness the scene when the cast of Hamilton on Broadway opted to single out Vice President–elect Mike Pence in the audience in order to deliver him a condescending speech with the basic message, “We believe all the worst that’s been said of your administration, and we wanted to disingenuously call for you to respect us by implicitly insulting you and turning your evening of entertainment into a hate-happening that’s sure to attract national attention.”

While I’m concerned about the danger and the rifts that progressives have lost no time in promoting, my perspective as a conservative is otherwise positive.  The opposition is leaving President-Elect Donald Trump no easy path to selling out his base.  By hardening the sides, rather than softening them, lefty activists are ensuring that he can’t afford to let down those audiences that cheer him and his administration rather than booing them.


Updated: Dear RI Media: Is First-Woman-X Important or Not?

Let’s start with a counter factual.

Imagine that Rhode Island’s House in the General Assembly had historically been run by a Republican majority.  The current speaker of the House, a white man, just won narrow reelection and unanimous reappointment to his leadership position, bringing with him a white male majority leader.  The Democrat minority, by contrast, just elected the first female minority in the history of Rhode Island.

The reportage is not difficult to imagine.  The headline from every news outlet would be some variant of, “Democrat Minority Elects First Female Leader.”  Some reporters might look back in Rhode Island history to see whether any women had ever even bothered to run.  Others would look across the country and immediately inform their readers/listeners/viewers of Rhode Island’s position in the race to break the “glass ceiling.”

And yet, the House Republicans just elected Patricia Morgan (Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) to the position — calling her “the first female House Minority Leader” in their press release — and the initial reaction of the local media is very different.

RIPR reporter Ian Donnis does mention this distinction, but phrases it as hearsay.  In paragraph 5, he notes that the new Minority Whip, Blake Filippi (Block Island, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown), “believes Morgan is the first female minority leader.”  Patrick Anderson doesn’t bother mentioning gender in the Providence Journal blurb.

On Twitter, journalists seem more interested in being very clear about whether the vote was unanimous and making fun of Filippi for mentioning that he’s the first Millennial Whip.

Look, I think it’s all a phony game to continually make first-[identity group]-[position] proclamations, but the news media clearly does not.  If this particular appointment is not a Big Deal™, one really must wonder if the glass ceiling only matters insofar as it’s a branding aid to Democrats.

(Post script: As I prepared to click “publish,” the Associated Press story appearing on WPRI came out headlining Morgan’s gender.  That doesn’t change the certainty with which we might expect it to be the very first tweet and headline from every single news source were the parties reversed.)

UPDATE (11/17/16 7:15 a.m.):

After this was posted, WJAR headlined Morgan’s gender, as did the Providence Journal in its extended article.

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