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UPDATED: Raimondo’s Got Nothing to Say About Mercy

Ethan Shorey of The Valley Breeze is having a hard time getting an answer from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo about a charitable dental effort that the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) shut down this year:

On June 28, Gov. Gina Raimondo sent out a mass email denouncing Trumpcare, calling it “immoral” and saying it would bring “disastrous ramifications” for “Rhode Island residents at risk of losing health care coverage.” The use of the word immoral got me to wondering about Raimondo’s thoughts on the Community College of Rhode Island’s decision to end the Mission of Mercy, an annual volunteer event giving some of Rhode Island’s poorest residents access to free dental care. …

It’s now July 12 and I still haven’t heard back from [spokeswoman Catherine] Rolfe. Perhaps my email was lost again?

Shorey’s background article gives the details.  CCRI didn’t technically kill the program.  The college just kicked the volunteers out of the campus’s dental facility and told them they’d have to set up in a field house, promising to kick in $10,000 toward the estimated $70,000 cost of setting up a mobile clinic each year.

CCRI may have a perfectly reasonable explanation for the decision, but it’s difficult to imagine one, and it’s impossible if government officials won’t even attempt to explain.  Shorey’s right, too, to wonder how rhetoric about reform of broad national health policy can be called “immoral” for removing mandates for insurance coverage and seeking to reform a welfare program when Raimondo’s extended administration directly removed access to actual health care.

ADDENDUM (4:01 p.m. 7/13/17):

I’m struggling to understand Ethan Shorey’s complaint about this post, but he seems to want some clarification to be made in this space.

His apparent insinuation in the text quoted above is that if one considers Trumpcare “immoral,” then the term could reasonably be seen as applying to CCRI’s treatment of Mission of Mercy.  This observation, of itself, does not tell the reader anything about Shorey’s own moral view, although one might infer from his attempts to get a comment from the governor that he finds the Mission of Mercy issue less ambiguous, if anything.

In paraphrasing Shorey’s sentiment at the end of my post, I kept the same structure, only adding more details about what partisans like Raimondo assert is “immoral” about Trumpcare.

Perhaps Shorey is worried that people might think he agrees with my broader views, which aren’t part of this post.  That would explain the “we both know” language in our tweeted exchange.  If that’s the case, I apologize for any detrimental effect that my approving citation of his work has on his social standing.

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When Teachers Choose Their Children’s Schools

Count it among the saving graces of Twitter that one periodically overhears a snippet of conversation that opens an intriguing topic.  Such was the case for me this morning when OSTPA retweeted Citizen Stewart’s assertion that public school teachers use private schools for their own children at a higher rate than the general public.  The thread provides no source for the assertion, though somebody did ask.

So is it true?  Yes, and it appears over many years and multiple sources.  The most recent to come up quickly through an online search comes from EducationNext:

School teachers are much more likely to use a private school than are other parents. No less than 20% of teachers with school age children, but only 13% of non-teachers, have sent one or more of their children to private school. Teachers are also just as likely to make use of a charter school or to homeschool their child as other parents.

A 2004 Thomas B. Fordham Institute study found almost the exact same results: 20% for public school teachers versus 13% for the general public.  Of course, public school teachers tend to be very well paid, so they’re significantly more likely to be able to afford private school.  Indeed, the Fordham study found that teachers with household income between $42,000 per year and $84,000 per year were almost exactly as likely as their economic peers to utilize private schools.

This caveat only goes so far to mitigate the lesson, though.  At the least, they’re still signaling that inside knowledge doesn’t undermine the general sense that private schools are preferable.  Moreover, teachers with household income under $42,000 are about 50% more likely than their own peers to use private schools, suggesting that they do indeed know something everybody else doesn’t.

The Fordham study also looks regionally, at 50 urban areas.  In the Providence-Fall River-Pawtucket region, 31.3% of public school teachers utilize private schools versus 16.5% of all families.  That differential is the sixth biggest that Fordham found.

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Rhode Island’s “Overpriced” Public Colleges and University

Preston Cooper, of AEI, has an interesting short study up that could enable one to argue on both sides of the “free tuition” debate in Rhode Island. Basically, he adjusted the advertised in-state tuition at public four-year colleges and universities for regional cost of living. Doing so, he finds that many New England states overprice their public higher education even when taking into account the high cost of living. Rhode Island, by this measure, has the ninth-most-overpriced system. (Vermont and New Hampshire are highest and second-highest, respectively)

This is a quick analysis, as Cooper acknowledges, not even adjusting for state-government subsidies and such. He appears to have done some digging in that area but for some reason doesn’t present the information. I’d note, though, that Rhode Island spends a large percentage of its budget, relative to other New England states, on higher education.

And of course, there are deeper, more-subtle market factors that might play a role. In a high-cost area, the value of a degree is arguably greater, because one needs more income to get by. It may also be the case that an area with a large number of high-prestige, high-cost colleges allows more-standard schools to adjust prices up based on comparison. Vermont and New Hampshire may be high (I’m guessing) in part because they are low cost, relative to the area, but institutions of higher education compete regionally on price.

For the interesting question, put aside these critiques and ask: If we take the data at face value, what does that mean for the governor’s “free tuition” proposal? She would probably say that it shows the need to provide young adults with more assistance, to cover the costs. I’d argue that it is further evidence that the governor isn’t solving the real problem. Making it easier to afford college makes it easier for colleges to charge more, which makes no sense if they’re already overcharging. That money is going somewhere that it doesn’t have to, and we need to figure out where. Naturally, those who agree with me suspect that an unwillingness to do that drives much of the motivation of the other side.

It’s fascinating, though, how a data point can serve opposing sides of an argument.

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Not Just Spending, but That Upon Which It Is Spent

Reading about Illinois’s budget problems a little earlier today, an association nagged at the corner of my mind, and I remembered something from Table 5 of the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) report comparing the states.  Specifically, in fiscal year 2015, Illinois was near the top of the list when it came to the percentage of its budget spent on “other” expenditures — that is, things other than elementary & secondary education, higher education, public assistance, Medicaid, corrections, and transportation.

The states higher than Illinois seem generally to have unique circumstances (Wyoming, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii), and with 43.7% of the budget going to “other” expenditures, Illinois is way up there.  What’s apt to catch a Rhode Islander’s attention is that our state is only two ranks behind Illinois (after Nevada), with 42.1%.

That, if you’re wondering, is the highest in New England.  The percentages across New England are interesting, particularly in the degree to which they scuttle some clichés.

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Two conspicuous myth busters are Massachusetts’s relatively low spending on education and Rhode Island’s relatively high spending on higher education.  Also conspicuous is Rhode Island’s low spending on transportation.

Overall, though, notice that, with the exception of higher education, Rhode Island is typically in the bottom tier for all categories, to the benefit of “other.”

What is this “other”?  And why do we need so much of it?

Of course, we need to keep in mind that these percentages might be a little misleading, inasmuch as the amount of total spending will make a big difference.  Nonetheless, the results are interesting.

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The Bubble Begets Tone-Deafness on Eternal Contracts

So, the teachers unions’ annual attempt to give themselves even more leverage in negotiations by making their contracts eternal is back in the mix.  The lobbying by union employees and donations to politicians are ultimately taxpayer funded, so this bill probably won’t go away until it passes someday.

What’s notable, this time around, is that the bill accompanies a labor dispute in Warwick, leading to this telling point from Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh:

Netcoh said the bill “levels the playing field between employers and employees.”

Referring to [Warwick Schools Supt. Philip] Thornton, she added: “Would he go to work every day if he didn’t have a contract? I don’t think so.”

One wonders how it could have escaped Netcoh’s attention that plenty of Rhode Islanders go to work every day without contracts.  See, it’s called “a mutually beneficial transaction.”  The employer has work that has to be done, and the employee has a need to earn income.  If a contract makes sense in a particular circumstance, then the parties draw one up and abide by it; otherwise, the contract is essentially a casual, even verbal, agreement to do work and to pay for work that’s done.

In government, though, it’s not about that mutually beneficial transaction, in part because nobody’s spending their own money.  Contracts for government employees are fundamentally agreements about how much one party will take from taxpayers and transfer to the other party, and so they’ve become a mechanism for labor unions to get politicians to lock taxpayers into expenses.

This eternal contract legislation is about ensuring that taxpayers are locked in to the promises of elected officials (often elected with the help of the employees) to an even greater degree.

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The Labor Union Takes Credit for High-Performing Schools

While we’re on the topic of public education, a different angle caught my attention in the ongoing matter of East Greenwich budgeting.  Readers may have heard something about the fiscal changes and personnel turnover under a largely Republican town council, actually reducing spending and holding the school side of the budget flat.

What jumped out at me as worthy of commentary (beyond “rah, rah, go Team Reform”) is this reaction from National Education Association of Rhode Island union poobah Bob Walsh:

“They level funded the schools, with Corrigan saying her firm would do administrative functions,” said Walsh. “The Chair stopped taking testimony and approved the budget — and now the school committee has to figure out how to implement some of the cuts. This is after it took us a year to get the contract.”

“I’m really surprised by the whole thing — our best performing communities are Barrington and East Greenwich,” said Walsh. “And East Greenwich has not been as generous in funding, whereas the Barrington parents usually step up.”

That’s a strange statement to make, considering that East Greenwich spends almost $1,000 more per student than Barrington.

More to the point, though, what is this “our best performing communities” stuff?  When it comes to arguments about higher per-student costs and lower performance in other cities or towns, the Bob Walshes will run to the microphone to argue that the biggest contributor to success is demographic, the teachers or districts, thus denying the link between spending and results.  They make the same argument with charter schools.

And yet, when one of those towns with supposedly high-performing demographics reins in its budget growth, suddenly the union organizers want us to believe they deserve the credit for results?

It has never made sense for one part of town government to have the authority to allow the teachers union to “get the contract” while only the other part of town government is authorized to raise the money to pay for it.  Maybe it’s time to start removing some of the layers that confuse the question of who can say “our communities.”

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Missing the Point of the Higher Education Problem

The American Interest attempts to split the political difference in addressing why bureaucratic bloat and costs in higher education constitute a very difficult problem to address:

One reason this problem is hard to tackle is that the Left and Right disagree on the ultimate cause of the bloat. Many progressives see it as a product of the free market: If students and parents select colleges based on the quality of student spas and diversity centers and other amenities, then of course colleges will tailor their offerings to meet that demand. The real question is how to make access to college even more universal. Conservatives, meanwhile, are more likely to point to overweening government, including unnecessary regulations, which require more staff to implement, and to federal student loan programs, which pay the salaries of well-organized bureaucrats and end up funding superfluous services that colleges might otherwise forego.

To the extent that the post accurately characterizes two perspectives on the problem, both of them and the writer’s additional proposal (to expand the variety of institutions) miss the fundamental economic point.  If we let the actual price of college be correctly valued with respect to its benefits, then nobody would be willing to pay for a four-year spa or, for that matter, tolerate a budget-busting regulatory regime.

Allowing accurate pricing means reducing the broad-based subsidies (both direct and indirect, through subsidized loans) and thereby forcing colleges and universities to sell to people who can afford what’s on offer.  That certainly doesn’t preclude scholarships or even some sort of government assistance for specific people for specific reasons, but it does mean an end to this feel-good campaign slogan that nobody should miss out on college for financial reasons.

Financial reasons are for families to decide.  When families are deciding based on an artificially low price, of course they’ll opt for amenities and accept a lot of bureaucratic foolishness.

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Free Tuition as a Welfare Program

Note the substantive difference between this plan and what Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is proposing:

Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin J. Walsh have announced a tuition-free college program.

The Republican governor and the Democratic mayor on Monday launched the new college affordability program for Boston high school graduates, enabling low-income students to complete four-year degrees without paying tuition or mandatory fees.

Students first go to public community college, and then if they finish that degree in a timely manner, they can continue on to finish a four-year degree at a public four-year institution.  At least this program is more or less honest about being a public welfare program, and no doubt some students who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunities will take advantage of the program to good effect.

That said, Governor Baker’s lamentation that the price of college sometimes “serves as a barrier” is poorly considered.  A price should server as a barrier, to ensure that potential students have consciously decided whether it’s worth the effort of surmounting it.

Our problem is that we’ve been hiding the size of the barrier while overstating the value of getting to the other side.  Taxpayer subsidies add bricks to the wall, and easy loans hide the real cost to students.  This has flooded the employment market with people who have degrees, devaluing them to the point of being little more than a cheap method for employers to screen applicants for jobs that don’t require anything like a bachelor’s degree.

We should address that problem, first, before providing related welfare programs.

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Little Compton Shows Education Evolution is Inevitable

Folks elsewhere in the state may not know that Little Compton sends its high school students all the way through Tiverton to Portsmouth High School.  Why?  Because it’s generally understood to outperform the high school that they bus right past.  Some Tiverton private school families move to Portsmouth when their children hit high school or pay the tuition.

Now, according to the Providence Journal’s Linda Borg, Little Compton is looking to market its K-8 school to area families as a school choice option in its own right:

… By pricing tuition at $6,000 — less than the typical parochial school — the district hopes to attract students from neighboring Portsmouth, Tiverton, Middletown and Westport, Mass. …

“If I’m sitting in Portsmouth or Tiverton, I’m going to say, ’I can get my kid into a class where the student-teacher ratio is 14 to 1, where the school has music, choir, band, athletics, where we go on field trips to New York and Washington, D.C.,” said Supt. Robert B. Powers.

With Rhode Island families generally on a decline, we may see more and more public school districts looking for similar opportunities.  As that happens, Little Compton’s approach may raise questions at the Dept. of Education.  Can the state allow particular schools the flexibility to price their tuition under the assumptions that it will have a cutoff before they have to start thinking about hiring new teachers and “have a conversation” if any higher-cost special needs students apply?

These questions will start becoming thorny pretty quickly.  What happens to Tiverton, for example, if Little Compton starts filling out its excess capacity with low-cost Tiverton students for K-8 and Portsmouth tries the same for high school?  For that matter, what happens to private schools as the government’s subsidized competition expands beyond just charter schools to include all public schools, too?

Little Compton’s proposal may be an early indication that change is coming to education whether established players like it or not.  Given the degree to which government already distorts the education market, edging into it on a case-by-case basis will prove extremely disruptive.  Better to implement a well-considered, all-encompassing school choice program.

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Suicide Demands More than Generic “More Services” Answers

I suppose Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner deserves credit for mentioning non-government organizations when answering a question about young-adult suicide, but his “solemn” answer still elides something important:

A student from Barrington High School said suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24 in Rhode Island. What can the schools do to help students with mental illness?

Wagner grew solemn. He said he had lost a close friend to suicide when he was young. That was one of the reasons he became a school psychologist. The schools have to invest in mental-health services, he said. But they also have to partner with mental-health organizations, with churches and temples, to get the word out, to publicize the warning signs.

Let’s start by acknowledging that the numbers are, thankfully, relatively small.  According to the WISQARS database of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of suicides among Rhode Islanders 19 and younger was 26.  That’s 26 horrible tragedies, but in light of the fact that there are more than 140,000 students enrolled in Rhode Island public schools, it’s a very small percentage, which suggests that the answer is more cultural than representative of a systemic problem that government services can solve.

The disappointing omission in Wagner’s generic, albeit heartfelt, answer is that this isn’t a demographically even group.  In the age group that the Barrington student mentioned (10-24), 80% of suicides are boys and young men.  If we look only at boys, defined as teens and pre-teens, the percentage is 73%.  That goes up to 77% if we just look at 2014 and 2015, meaning that the gender disparity is getting worse.

If teenage suicide is a problem in Rhode Island, it’s overwhelmingly a problem among boys.  Yet, Wagner’s boss, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, hosts an annual “Governor for a Day” writing contest that is only open to girls.

If we look only at Rhode Islanders aged 20-24, 88% of the 32 suicides over five years were young men.  These guys don’t need government services.  They need opportunity and a strong, healthy culture that encourages marriage and families.  In short, they need everything that the progressive agenda discourages.

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Esolen to Leave Providence College

Rhode Island liberals like to think of themselves as open minded in the spirit of Providence founder Roger Williams, but they aren’t.  So averse to diversity are they that the state’s most-prominent Catholic institution of higher education has driven out a well-respected professor for being too, well, Catholic:

Anthony Esolen, the prolific Catholic scholar and author known for his distinctly Catholic worldview and translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, has accepted a teaching position at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, severing his ties with Providence College, where he held a tenured professorship and waged a long battle for its Catholic identity. …

Esolen told the National Catholic Register that the turning point for him came after Providence’s president, Dominican Father Brian Shanley, allegedly refused to meet with a small group of Catholic professors intent on resolving the conflict and persuaded the Dominican provincial not to meet with them either.

Esolen explained that he could have lived with a “somewhat Catholic school that was really committed to the humanities” or “an unreservedly Catholic school where the humanities needed shoring up.” However, he concluded Providence offered neither of these options: The campus had become “highly politicized,” and the administrative decisions, to him, appeared “basically secular in their inspiration and their aim.”

Rhode Island’s cultural leaders are open minded to ideas that they already find congenial.  Like the Massachusetts Puritans who drove out Roger Williams, to the extent they’re aware of Esolen, they’ll likely receive the news of his departure with relief that he won’t be drawing attention to the hypocrisy of Leftist secularism.

The conclusion of his controversies with the college ought, instead, to inspire self reflection.  What does it say of a state and a college when a professor will give up tenure to escape it?

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School Buses and Regulatory Truancy

Students in Tiverton and elsewhere are having difficulty getting to school on time and parents are being made late for work because of a bus driver shortage, as Marcia Pobzeznik reports in the Newport Daily News.  Here’s the bus company’s explanation:

The company has tried every way possible to attract potential drivers, [First Student Transportation General Manager Bill Roach] said. It has put up billboards at bus stops and advertised at movie theaters.

“We’ve gone to football games, local markets,” Roach said.

The efforts have succeeded in getting 56 candidates into the state’s 50-hour training program, he said. But it takes 20-30 days to get an appointment for a road test.

“It’s very discouraging. The road testing is the choke point,” Roach said.

There are just one full-time and two part-time road test agents for the entire state. They not only have to certify new drivers, but re-certify existing drivers, he said.

So, the state has set up an arduous regulatory regime for bus drivers.  That is, the state has artificially restricted the number of bus drivers by requiring candidates to be approved (and reapproved and reapproved) by the state.  And then the state doesn’t supply the road test agents (or some other system) to handle the demand for this mandatory service.

The state has to begin choosing its priorities, because from UHIP to the DMV to bus driver certification to infrastructure to everything, it isn’t accomplishing the basic tasks that it has set for itself.  Of course, there’s money for crony capitalist tax breaks, flashy videos promoting the governor, vote-buying schemes by legislators, and disproportionate pay and benefits for union employees.

Given the tax burden throughout the state, money cannot be the issue.  The issue is a government that claims for itself too much power and won’t use the bountiful resources it has to accomplish the tasks that it therefore must undertake.

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Obvious Reasoning on “Free Tuition”

George Leef reviews the economics of adding strings to “free tuition” for the Martin Center for Academic Renewal and summarizes the matter very well on National Review Online:

It shifts costs where they don’t belong and interferes with labor market mobility. It also interferes with the market for education by “privileging” (to use a favorite word of the progressives) certain kinds of governmentally-run colleges over all other types of education and training.

States can’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps with “free” education any more than they can with any other socialistic measure. Adam Smith had it right when he wrote, “Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about in the natural course of things.” Sadly, that’s a message that most politicians just don’t care to hear.

There’s no shortcut to prosperity.  Or rather, if there is a shortcut, people interacting voluntarily in their own interests and by their own priorities are exponentially more likely to find it than is the government.  Why is this so difficult for people to accept?

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Even a Little Competitive Incentive Makes Schools Better

This, from Paul Crookston on National Review Online, is… not surprising:

Nine out of the top ten public high schools in the country are charter or magnet schools, according to the latest figures from U.S. News and World Report. In addition, charters and magnets account for 60 of the top 100 high schools. These statistics are even impressive when one considers that such schools constitute a relatively small percentage of the public schools around the country. …

Charters and magnets are unlike traditional public schools in that they must work to attract students, while traditional public schools do not have to. Charters also rely on greater accountability to parents rather than to regulatory regimes, which has spurred innovation.

The education establishment and teachers unions have the government school system figured out.  They elect allies (often current or retired teachers or other school employees) to school committees and legislatures.  Parents who rely on public schools are vulnerable to districts’ well-rehearsed (and well-financed) rhetoric deflecting blame for failure, and the substantial climb from no additional cost for education to paying private school tuition gives the education establishment the upper hand in any interaction.  (“Lunch shaming” illustrates the relationship well.)

This creates an environment in which the insiders work with each other to draw in additional money from taxpayers, which is actually easier if parents feel insecure about their children’s schools.  How could such a system not be easy to out-compete with just a little bit of choice?

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Building Character with Something Special, Something Difficult

William McGurn’s recent column in the Wall Street Journal reminded me of Ray Rickman’s program teaching young men in Providence to tie bow ties:

It may not be surprising to learn that a charter school named Boys’ Latin still offers courses in this dead language. But it is surprising to learn that this is an all-black school in an iffy part of West Philadelphia, and Latin isn’t merely an option here. It’s a requirement.

Turns out, too, that the young men of Boys’ Latin have become pretty good at distinguishing their ad hominem from their ad honorem. This month the school received the results on the introductory level National Latin Exam, a test taken last year by students around the world. Among the highlights: Two Boys’ Latin students had perfect scores; 60% of its seventh-graders were recognized for achievement, 20% for outstanding achievement; and the number of Boys’ Latin students who tested above the national average doubled from the year before.

There’s something about learning Latin, in modern day America, that gives the endeavor a sense of doing something unique and special, and it’s also a challenge that can help students learn how to learn, so to speak.  Languages, like math, are something you either know or you don’t.

Of course, for some of these very reasons, one can easily imagine this idea being caught up in our modern pathologies.  The students are giving themselves over to white culture, or some such nonsense.

Also of course, self-interested advocates would fault the school for draining the resources of government schools.  This is the attitude we ought to have for our overall education system:

As long as the school is doing great things, folks at the Philadelphia School Partnership don’t care whether the institution they are supporting is a traditional public school, a charter school or a private school. When they look at Boys’ Latin, for example, what they see is this: a high school that sends more black boys to college than any other in Philly—and has a waiting list to get in.

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Well, RI Does Love Passing Laws for Emotional and Political Reasons

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed with the get-right-to-the-point title, “Tuition-Free College Is Nothing More Than a Political Ploy,” Allysia Finley suggests real motivation is Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo’s presidential aspirations.  She also suggests another topic that merits some careful research before Rhode Island jumps on the bandwagon:

Promising free tuition could steer more students to public schools from private ones. The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York estimates Gov. Cuomo’s plan would boost enrollment at public colleges by 116,000 while reducing the head count at nonprofit schools by 11%. The declines would be particularly acute at small, less selective colleges. For-profit schools would be pinched, too.

According to the commission’s analysis, the plan would shift $1.4 billion away from nonprofit colleges, resulting in 45,000 job losses. Compensating jobs would be created at public schools, but dislocations would invariably occur. “Once this is out there and implemented, possibly some of the more precarious institutions will go under,” Gary Olson, president of Daemen College, told Inside Higher Ed. “And what that will do is cause millions of dollars of lost economic impact on the local community where the college is located.”

Yes, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities sounds like an interested party, but our society is supposed to work by pitting such interests against each other for the public’s edification.  Perhaps one of Rhode Island’s problems is that it isn’t big enough for collective voices to emerge, even as politicians have enough power to make individual institutions wary of crossing them.

In that, Rhode Island an excellent case study in the danger of big government.  When your economy depends on the ability to procure special deals from the government, the incentive is to not advocate for your interests publicly, which leaves the public uninformed for votes.

Anyway, if Rhode Island’s non-government institutions of higher learning are too besotted or timid to argue their own interests, mark this down as another reason the General Assembly should pass the “free tuition” idea along for a study commission that might draw some real evidence out of the still waters of public discourse.

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Higher Education Funding for Unaccountable Administrators

The American Interest points to an investigation of California’s state higher education system:

In other words, administrators have been hiring more administrators for make-work positions and giving each other raises without sufficient accountability in a self-perpetuating cycle of bureaucratic decay that is sadly endemic to academia at large.

These findings should give pause to those who think that larger and larger state subsidies are the answer to higher education’s woes. Much of the public money spent on “free college” schemes championed by left-wing populists would end up being pocketed by the ever-expanding bureaucratic class of student services directors, Title IX coordinators, and HR managers, raising costs while steadily diluting quality.

Before Rhode Island embarks on this “free tuition” idea — Curious, isn’t it, how this out-of-nowhere scheme by the governor is being pushed through without any real time to think? — maybe the state should conduct a study of the administrative weight of the organizations under the state’s system.  It’d be difficult to out-do California, but Rhode Islanders have a right to know how much they’re wasting on unaccountable educational bureaucracy.

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Irrational Avoidance of Actual School Choice

In a not-online Newport Daily News article from April 18, Derek Gomes reports on new programs allowing students from other towns to attend Portsmouth High School:

The move comes on the heels of the state Department of Education designating the high school as a regional program provider for the career and technical pathways of child development and television production.

While the school has offered courses in each subject for years, it had to tailor curricula and have state education officials observe the classes before the state education department approved Portsmouth’s application last month.

“These tuition-based programs will welcome students statewide to participate and earn industry-based credentials and job experiences in these areas,” according to a letter the School Department posted on its Web site.  “Students from other districts may apply for enrollment … and be considered for admission on a competitive basis.”

Details from the district’s Web page don’t make it immediately clear whether students attend the district full time or, as with vocational classes at Rogers High School in Newport, just attend for the few relevant classes.  The Portsmouth tuition of $15,830 could certainly be full time, but the economics of these programs are crazy, with students’ home districts paying the same tuition for a couple of courses as they would for a full course load.

What strikes me at the moment, though, is how narrow and convoluted this all is.  There’s a reason Little Compton sends its high school students all the way through Tiverton to attend Portsmouth High School.  People actually move to Portsmouth for the same reason, and some private school parents in the area simply treat Portsmouth as another private school and pay the tuition.  Why should the district have to offer specialized programs in order for the Department of Education to incorporate the choice into the system?

As I’ve written before, taxpayers should see themselves as funding the education of children in our community, not the maintenance of a government-branded school system.  If that were the attitude, then we’d direct our resources where they will be used to greatest effect.

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The Peter Pan Generation in Rhode Island and Nationally

The U.S. Census has put out a report contrasting the living conditions of young adults (18-34) over time.  Some of the long-term data is stunning, such as the collapse of young adults who are married.  Nationwide, in 1976, around 93% of women in their late 20s and 57% of women in their early 20s had been married; for men, the percentages were 75% and 38%.  By 2014, these percentages had fallen to 46% and 17% for women and 32% and 10% for men.

One suspects a great deal of social and psychological pain can be explained by the fact that women with children have not decreased by as much.  Whereas in 1976 the percentage of women who were married was substantially higher than the percentage who had children, those with children now outnumber those who are married.

It’s related data, available at the state level, that initially caught my eye, with reference to Millennials.  From 2005 to 2015, the percentage of young adults living with their parents jumped up from 26.0%, nationwide, to 34.1%.  Rhode Island had a bigger jump than the national average: from 28.6% to 37.1%.  Rhode Island’s jump was the 15th biggest in the country (3rd biggest in New England).

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As Aleister suggests at Legal Insurrection, perhaps young adults should stop pursuing useless degrees and start seeking rewarding careers in the trades.  Along the way, they should also stop voting for politicians who promise them handouts but undermine the economy.

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