Here’s a startling statement from Providence City Council Member Sam Zurier, in a Linda Borg article from today’s Providence Journal:
“While everyone has the best of intentions,” Zurier wrote, “the sad truth is that if someone wanted to break the Providence public schools, it would be hard to devise a more effective plan than the application now before the council …. ”
In the prior paragraph, Borg cites a “net loss” to the district of up to $179 million if Achievement First charter schools expand to 3,000-plus students, which is much bigger than the $32 million proclaimed last week, but which appears to be the combined total budget reduction over a decade, not an annual number, as the $32 million was.
Whether it’s $32 million or $179 million may be only a matter of degree in the minds of Zurier and other Providence insiders, however. Here’s how Zurier responded to me on Twitter when he came across my finding that holding annual 2% increases for teachers to 1.3% would cover the revenue reduction with money left over:
The country’s long-term inflation rate is 1.8%, so a long-term strategy of 1.3% raises is not realistic or fair.
It would seem that one “breaks the schools” by requiring them to innovate and take a slightly harder line in paring down the high pay of union members. The familiar question arises again: Is the goal of publicly funding education to ensure that our children have educational opportunities or to maintain a unionized public school industry?
The question has come up in Tiverton, too, in a different way. As Marcia Pobzeznik reports in the Newport Daily News, Erin Cook-Dumas (daughter of a friend of mine) is seeking to have the Tiverton School Department cover the expense for her home-schooled son to take a single automotive course at Rodgers High School in Newport. The course is available free of charge to students enrolled in the Tiverton district schools, but so far, the School Committee is telling the Cooks that they will have to pay the $7,000 tuition for the class.
Take special note of this part:
There is an advanced course network available at no cost to students at some area technical schools, said Lynn Nicholas, a high school guidance counselor.
Home-schooled children are not accepted into that program, Dumas said.
I’ve heard that Nicholas was surprised at Mrs. Cook-Dumas’s correction, but it’s true. Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo and the state Department of Education interpret a variety of state initiatives — such as those providing free SATs and “dual enrollment” for high school students at the state colleges and universities — as only applying to students enrolled in government schools. Legislation to force inclusion of home school students in at least the dual enrollment program went nowhere in the 2016 session of the General Assembly.
In short, Rhode Island taxpayers aren’t really helping to fund the education of all of our children but, rather, to support a system of government-branded union schools, regardless of how well they serve students.
And note the cost. Newport charges $7,000 for a single course. Single courses at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design run from $350 to $450. Providence College offers continuing education courses at less than $1,000. Two of the nearest private high schools to Tiverton, Bishop Connolly in Fall River and Bishop Stang in North Dartmouth, cost less than $10,000 in annual tuition for full-time enrollment.
Yet, Newport’s schools ask a prohibitive $7,000 for part-time students, designed (we might speculate) to push Rhode Island families fully into the system.
One can’t help but see an interesting contrast with a recent news story about Erin Cook-Dumas’s older daughter, in which she was the human face that the state government put on its program giving Electric Boat $2 million to train new employees. In that case, government officials insisted that Rhode Island taxpayers fund a well-connected private company to train a young woman whose credentials made her a valuable hire for the company under any circumstances.
When it comes to her brother, though, government officials insist that taxpayers cannot be asked to pay for just a portion of his education because his taxpaying parents are foregoing their right to stick us all with the whole bill.
The guiding principle connecting all three examples in Providence and Tiverton appears to be the benefit to special interests. The interests of children and young adults are only of primary concern where somebody with pull can profit from them. Conspicuously, that’s pretty much the stated approach to priorities that union leader Marcia Reback once stated.