Working Toward Education Reform
It being the end of the year, the ProJo produced a piece detailing the public policy goals of various Ocean State political leaders. Among the topics was education reform:
Lawmakers dole out more than $699 million in school aid to their home cities and towns, but it has been years since the state had a fixed formula for determining who gets what.
Since school costs are a major component of local property taxes, House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox said, there has to be a discussion of “what is adequate funding of education.”
Fueling the discussion will be a legislative study commission’s report on education financing, due March 1.
Fox expects it “will come with a high number of what you need per pupil to adequately educate a student,” and that will force discussion about a whole array of cost-saving issues “that people sort of whisper about, but really haven’t wrapped their arms around and tackled.” He cites as an example: how much can be saved by “regionalizing or centralizing” school purchasing.
“I don’t think you are going to see anything substantive coming this year based upon the timing of the report,” but “I think there is going to be enough information generated … where we will be remiss if we don’t begin those discussions.”
Does that mean the lawmakers are open to discussion about a single statewide teachers contact? “Absolutely.” A single health insurance contract? “Absolutely.” A further consolidation of school districts? “Absolutely,” Fox said.
Montalbano and Paiva Weed agreed it might be difficult to implement changes in the same year the report comes out, but they expect it to lead to action by 2008.
Asked about a statewide teacher contract, statewide health insurance contract for teachers and consolidation of school districts, they didn’t close the door, but Paiva Weed said, “Generally speaking, the executive branch has taken the lead on those issues.”
For his part, Carcieri also wants to continue to focus on education – but don’t expect him to head to lawmakers for much in that area. Instead, he plans to push officials at the Department of Education to implement more changes through their own rule-making procedures to – among other things – improve English skills, especially in the urban school districts.
He also envisions a closer link between the Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls school districts. Last session, he proposed and lawmakers rejected, a combined district. This time, the governor says, he wants “some type of cooperation.”
“Let me put it that way,” Carcieri said, “because when you talk about consolidation everybody gets nervous. But clearly the state’s got the biggest stake in all of those systems.”
But when it comes to consolidation, Montalbano, whose district includes a slice of Pawtucket, said: “I don’t see that happening this year.” Those districts “have very difficult populations to begin with,” he said.
Looks like a lot of talk and no action in 2007. Meanwhile, Julia Steiny writes about a new report, “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” put out by The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Steiny quotes specifically from the Executive Summary and also provides analysis regarding some of their proposals. The New Commission recommends more local control at the school level–though funding would still be dispersed, if more equitably, through the state. That would mean that teachers and parents would decide how money was spent and how to design the curriculum (so long as state and federal guidlines were followed). According to the report, however, the current system has inherent roadblocks that make any reform extremely difficult. That is why The New Commission is basically calling for a complete restructuring of our nation’s education system. As Steiny concludes:
Opponents of site-based management and charter schools, which are self-managed, fret that autonomous school personnel might make a lot of horrible mistakes and crash the car. Too late. The car already crashed.
But as the report says, “The problem is not with our educators. It is with the system in which they work.”
Bureaucracies are great at organizing food service, transportation and back office functions. But they are no good at caring for kids.
In the end, the commission believes that applying a 19th century industrial mindset to the organization of schools in the 21st century is no longer tenable if the U.S. hopes to compete in the global marketplace. For Rhode Island, it’s high time our Legislature come up with an equitable, student based funding structure. It’s an attainable goal and will be the first step in much needed reform. It’s also time for adults to put their egos aside and stop worrying about who controls what and how much and from where. The goal is to provide the best possible education system for our children. What adults “get” is secondary.