The Laffey School Choice Program is the School Funding Reform that Rhode Island Needs

In an op-ed published in Monday’s Projo, Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey makes his case for using school choice to increase the educational opportunities available to Rhode Island students. Here is the Mayor’s description of the first step, a voluntary pilot school choice program for Providence students…

This program will let students in Providence’s failing schools enroll in better schools in Cranston or other neighboring communities that choose to participate. At the same time, Cranston (or other accepting districts) will be reimbursed by the failing school district. The program lets parents choose the school that best fits their children’s needs and injects competition into the system, inducing failing schools to make real and tangible improvements.
Providence Mayor David Cicilline has expressed a different view of how to best improve the education of Providence students. In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Cicilline expressed dissatisfaction with the growth-rate of state aid given to the city of Providence…
Republican policies at the Federal level have amounted to a political sleight-of-hand that has transformed politically expedient federal tax cut programs into destructive property tax increases in nearly every city and town in America.
And at the state level the Governor offers the same approach. Every year — a decreasing share of school funding from the state. Every year — a little more weight the property tax payer must bear.
Note that Mayor Cicilline decries the “share” of aid given to Providence, not the absolute amount. State education aid to Providence has either gone up or stayed the same every year for at least the last four years. In 2006, Providence was budgeted to receive about $20,000,000 more than it did in 2002. All through that period, and continuing to the present, Providence has received a disproportionate of state aid on a per-student basis. According to the Rhode Island’s fiscal year 2006 budget (see page 442 of the Program Supplement), Providence received about $185,000,000 in aid for about 28,000 students (about $6,600 per student), while Cranston received about $34,000,000 for a little over 11,000 students (about $3,000 per student). Despite this, Mayor Cicilline’s position is that the Providence school system needs more.
Getting more education resources to Providence students can only take a few forms. The first would be to have Providence provide more for Providence students…
  • Raise property taxes in Providence.
This is a non-starter, at least in direct form. Data compiled by the Rhode Island Department of Administration bears out that Providence is already being taxed to the hilt.
If additional resources cannot come from Providence, then they have to be taken from somewhere else. That leads to two possibilities…
  • Raise taxes in other Rhode Island communities to subsidize Providence schools.
  • Cut services in other Rhode Island communities to subsidize Providence schools.
Both plans are on the table, in the guise of income-tax or sales-tax increases targeted to transfer wealth from the rest of the state into Providence, or in the guise of education aid formula changes that give Providence an even larger share of state aid, while other towns must either raise their own property taxes or cut services to make up the difference.
Now, there is now a third option on the table, the school choice option…
  • Distribute existing resources directly to the schools that Providence parents and students have chosen as best meeting their needs.
A school choice program is the education funding formula change needed to improve the opportunities available to Rhode Island students. School choice is a formula for organically adjusting resource allocation to the needs of parents and students, not to the interests of legislators, lobbyists, and bureaucrats.

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18 years ago

Once again, it is Steve Laffey bringing forth real solutions to real problems. Cowardly politicians like Cicilline don’t want to address the problem – that is too difficult and he is gutless. Like so many RI politicians, he wants to stick with the same old failed policies. Like an ingrateful guest, he simply demands more, more, more of our money.
It is time to realize that we need new leadership, and more Steve Laffey’s, to change they way we do business.
Continuing along the same path only gurantees the same failed results.

18 years ago

Laffey is all about Liberty!
Laffey is about smaller, less intrusive goverment. Smaller government means less tyranny over our lives.
Laffey is about letting us keep more of what we earn. Lower taxes mean more freedom!
Laffey is about strong national defense…protecting our liberties.
Laffey is about school choice. School Choice means more competition, better schools, a smarter, freer America!
Laffey is about fighting special interests who hijack our goverment for their own selfish purposes.
Economic Freedom and Personal Liberty are the foundations of opporunity in our great country. They are the common thread in every one of his policy position statements.
You won’t see any other candidate fighting for our freedom the way Laffey does!

18 years ago

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Educating children is the duty and concern of parents and the welfare and prosperity of the nation depends on it.” – John Locke
Unfortunately, the school children of Providence are largely ignorant and clearly not free. Why? Because parents are not give a choice. The educational establishment thinks it can dictate to the parents. This is what happens when there is no check and balance of the marketplace. This is Soviet style stuff, minus the Politboro. Cicilline is acting like Kruschev, pounding the shoe on the table for more money. K-12 education is a monopoly of the government’s creation. If AT&T and IBM can be broken up, why not dissolve the most vile monopoly of them all – namely government’s iron-fisted yet ham-handed control of education.
The Laffey proposal doesn’t go that far and in a perfect world would generate almost no controversy. It does not mention vouchers for private schools (which is the best solution) and would only end up covering a limited number of students because of public school capacity limitations. However, the Laffey proposal serves as a wonderful appetizer to what could be truly substantive educational main courses for our children.
Laffey has come under a certain degree of fire in these quarters and others regarding theatrical and grandstanding issues. Kruschev/Cicilline has been particulaly vocal, as one would suspect of someone without a plan that doesn’t involve grabbing at the till harder. What people are missing is that school choice is an issue with very little political capital – unless one cares about disenfranchised, poor minorities in the inner cities. Steve Laffey does. Does Cicilline? Probably not.

Mark Lucas
18 years ago

School Choice is exactly what is needed to reform our misguided educational funding process.
To illustrate this point, I would call your attention to the plight of Horton Elementary School in Cranston.
The Cranston School Department is hell-bent on closing this high-performing neighborhood school, ostensibly to save money.
If we had a school choice program, parents would be rushing to enroll their children at our wonderful, tight-knit neighborhood school.
Horton outperforms many of it’s peers, yet shortsighted school officials want to kill it. Where is the logic in that?
School Choice is a dynamic way to address the needs of parents and their children’s educational needs, versus the existing satic approach that puts the needs of the School Administration ahead of all others.
“Kids First!” should be the motto of everyone who cares about our children’s future.
Mayor Laffey sees that and is stepping up to the plate with bold leadership and a vision for the future.
I commend Mayor Laffey’s actions and urge other officials to grow a backbone and stand up for our children.

Carl Elliott
Carl Elliott
18 years ago

Mayor Laffey’s school choice plan is a giant step in the right direction. Bringing more competition to our public schools is a key element in increasing the performance of our public schools. Like Mayor Laffey, I am a graduate of Cranston Public Schools and would not be where I am today if it weren’t for Cranston Schools. I believe that education is the “silver bullet’ for economic advancement and ultimately it is critical that good public schools help to train the workers of tomorrow so that we can keep our competitive edge.
But school choice (even an expanded one from the Laffey Plan) is only the beginning of the real answer to better public schools. We must break the teacher’s unions in RI if we are ever going to provide a quality education at a reasonable price. The first step is choice, the 2nd is for the RI General Assembly to pass Laffey’s “Tax Relief Act of 2006′. Only by making local school committees accountable directly to the taxpayers for the contracts they sign will we be able to reign in the unions.
In order to save our students we must change the way that education is delivered (through choice) and how it it is funded (through the Tax Relief Act of 2006).
If we can help Mayor Laffey achieve these two bold initiatives, then our educational system in RI will be the envy of the Nation.

18 years ago

So let’s get busy. It seems that Mayor Laffey has scored a bulls-eye with this idea, so what do we have to do to make it happen?
It’s an election year, as if you didn’t know, and we the people have more power now than we will in a year from now.

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