Blackstone Valley Prep and Achievement First perform far better than similar public schools, but even among charters, it looks like direct accountability is key.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The odd position of charter schools should bring us back to fundamental questions about government and our objectives.
The idea behind charter schools may be sound, but Ted Vecchio argues that their balance between public and private disadvantages the public.
If the powers who be don’t provide more revenue for a suitable learning environment for children, what are unions and insiders willing to do?
In Rhode Island, holding a school district’s funding level is a “cut,” even when it just means foregoing new hires and activities and eliminating unpopular classes.
I was on Tara Granahan’s 630 AM/99.7 FM radio show on Thursday to discuss my dip into new hires by Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo.
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.
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.
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.
Universities may be beginning to recognize that they need to offer their students more exposure to conservative ideas, but seeing it as “affirmative action” indicates that they don’t really want to change.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, the topics were Mattiello’s PawSox change of heart, NY “free tuition” and Raimondo, Gina’s change of heart on pot, and Whitehouse’s strange relationship with campaign money.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Budget season has arrived in Rhode Island, which means it’s time for credulous journalists to pass along spin from powerful insiders preaching the need for more taxpayer funding. Here’s Linda Borg, in the Providence Journal:
Rhode Island ranked 41st in the nation on state spending per student in public higher education during the 2015-16 school year.
Among the six New England states, only Vermont and New Hampshire spent less on their public colleges, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research institute in Washington, D.C.
The latest data also show that Rhode Island’s support for higher education declined 23 percent from 2008 to 2016. By contrast, the national average dropped 15 percent.
Two factors make this line of argument highly misleading, to the point of spinning things around backwards from how we ought to look at them. First, as I’ve written before, a business model is absolutely bizarre if an increase in customers creates a shortfall in revenue. To the extent that each additional student’s tuition exceeds the marginal increase in costs per student, higher enrollment should mean more money. And to the extent that the student’s tuition falls short of the marginal increase, the increased enrollment indicates room to increase tuition.
The CBPP’s “drop” in funding is calculated per student. That means that states with big increases in enrollment will show a “drop” in funding, even if funding goes up substantially.
Second, as I’ve also written before, Rhode Island has a high percentage of out-of-state students. Here again, success would show as failure by CBPP’s measuring stick. Out-of-state students should be a source of additional revenue helping the public colleges and universities fulfill their primary role of providing educational opportunities for the people of the state. Yet, the more we attract, the lower our funding will appear to be per student.
In summary, if our colleges and university are being successful, attracting more students from in state and out of state, they will appear to be losing public funding. If it weren’t government, these arguments would be a scam.
Relationship of government to the people, with cheese sandwiches, welfare, probation, and campaign finances.
It’s difficult to believe that Bob Plain isn’t trying his hand at parody with an interesting article on RI Future today about “lunch shaming”:
It’s known as lunch shaming. Students are subjected to special, sometimes embarrassing, treatment because their parents didn’t pay the school lunch bill. “Some provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich,” according to a recent NPR story. “Other schools sometimes will provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped or wear a wristband showing they’re behind in payment. And, some schools will deny students lunch all together.”
The so-called cheese sandwich policy seems popular in suburban Rhode Island: Bristol/Warren, South Kingstown, and East Greenwich all use it.
From Bob’s article it appears that we’re talking debts in the amounts of $5 or $10, which seems like a paltry amount that districts could find some way to accommodate. I’m trying to imagine a working-to-middle-class private school taking such steps. In a transaction in which one side actually has the option to leave, other approaches have to be considered, whether a mandatory up-front fee, a deposit of some kind, a credit card on file, mandatory use of a payment processor that handles the collection, or a slight increase to all lunches in order to generate a reserve fund that provides a buffer for this sort of “debt.”
Putting aside the “what would the private sector do” comparison, though, think of what this little story says about the relationship of government to the people. Adults in position of authority over school districts with budgets in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars are agonizing over ways to embarrass children so as to extract a few owed dollars from their parents. That doesn’t indicate a mindset of provider-client or public-servant–beneficiary. Rather, it indicates the dynamic of ruler-subject similar to a Dickensian orphanage.
Suffice to say it takes a series of monumentally bad social and public policy decisions to get us to the point at which the proverbial lunch lady is scornfully handing a child some bread and cheese over $5 owed. We should start unraveling those decisions.
For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, the topics were my column on the “free tuition” plan, Raimondo’s free branding help from the Providence Journal, and more on the PawSox scheme.
Click full post link for audio.
I’ll be on again Tuesday, April 18, at 2:00 p.m.
(Note: Graphic parody of the Providence Journal‘s free promotional work for Governor Raimondo.)
Way down in his weekly roundup column, Ted Nesi highlights another point from the recent RI Kids Count report:
One statistic that stood out: Rhode Island now has the fifth-lowest birth rate in the country, following a 15% slide in the number of babies born here over the last decade. What does that mean for the state’s future? It’s already having an effect on the economy, with Care New England saying the decline in births is hurting revenue at Women & Infants.
That’s an understated example of the effect of this dynamic. Indeed, it would be difficult to overstate the effects of an increasingly sterile population.
To touch on one narrow political matter: As I’ve pointed out in Tiverton and for the state as a whole, our public schools have generally lost about two full grade-levels worth of students in the last decade. Picture no fourth and no fifth grade students in the entire state; that’s how much enrollment has decreased. This leaves a bureaucratic, unionized, and expensive education establishment demanding increased budgets to educate fewer children, which its partisans do against a taxpaying public that has less and less actual use of the schools. That battle alone will be huge in Rhode Island.
But even an issue of that magnitude is as nothing to the reorientation of a society with fewer children. The way people think and interact with the world will change on that basis. Indeed, not having children (or not having multiple children) takes pressure off of people to become full adults, making them more susceptible to the pitch of the “government plantation” advocates to look to central planners as parents to us all. It also makes us vulnerable to people from other cultures in which Peter Pan has been held at bay.
Yes, of course we should be interested in having government-driven programs be free of waste, fraud, and abuse, but this sure does seem like a political attack on a policy that helps disadvantaged students escape failing government schools and secure real opportunities through private schools. According to Emma Brown, in the Washington Post, three Democrat Senators are asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate states’ tax-credit scholarships, which allow businesses to donate money for scholarships in exchange for some percentage back as a tax credit.
Naturally, Rhode Island’s upper crust U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is one of the three signatories. The emphasis of the letter on whether such programs “pose a risk of waste, fraud, abuse, misconduct, or mismanagement” indicates that the objective is to attack the programs, not simply to learn from them. Note, especially, that the letter doesn’t ask the GAO to look into the positive results of the programs.
One wonders where Whitehouse sent his own children to school.
Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, Republican state representative Robert Lancia (Cranston) has submitted legislation that would increase the cap on Rhode Island’s tax credit scholarship program and implement a feature that would allow it to grow according to demand. His bill (for which I offered feedback based on a review of other such programs) would also make scholarships more predictable, by prioritizing continued funding of scholarships for students already receiving them.