Democrats for School Choice…
…two of them, anyway. The two would be North Providence City Councilman (and Mayoral Candidate) John Sisto and North Providence School Committee Chairman Donald Cataldi. According to WLNE-TV (ABC 6) news reporter Jim Hummel, Councilman Sisto’s grandson, who lives in Providence, has been attending school in North Providence. Hummel has a week’s worth of video showing the Councilman picking up his grandson at his Providence home and driving him to a North Providence elementary school. (This being Rhode Island, Mr. Sisto uses a town-owned car to take of family business). Chairman Cataldi is quoted as saying he sees nothing wrong with the arrangement.
Although the reporting on the story is first rate, it does not belong under the WLNE’s “You Paid for It” banner. Providence receives about $7,000 per-pupil in state-aid, funded through taxes on all Rhode Island residents while North Providence receives only around $4,000 per-pupil. Most of Rhode Island, therefore, is actually contributing less to a student who enrolls in North Providence instead of Providence. To really make the deal work for everyone (except the city of Providence’s ineffective education bureaucracy) all RI needs to do is compensate North Providence taxpayers by transferring a portion of the state aid associated with Councilman Sisto’s grandson from Providence to North Providence.
Councilman Sisto’s explicit defense is that his grandson lives with him in North Providence, but his implict defense is more interesting and more compelling. Why should his grandson be forced to go to an inferior school, when a better alternative is easily available? The counter is that Sisto’s grandson can’t attend school in North Providence because as a resident of Rhode Island, he is a serf, tied to the land that he tills for his lord… OK, maybe I went a bit over the edge there, but what exactly is the counter argument? Julia Steiny had an excellent column in the Projo from two Sundays ago noting how public schools seem more designed to instill compliance with authority than to provide an education. Isn’t that also the message we’re sending at the macro level, that it is more important for families to be compliant with geographic monopoly districting rules than it is to find the best education alternatives for their children?
Finally, if Councilman Sisto and Chairman Cataldi think it’s a good idea for a city councilman’s grandson to be able to choose the public school his child goes to, shouldn’t they be in favor of extending that right to every family in Rhode Island? If school choice is good for the families of our pols, shouldn’t it be good for the families of regular citizens too?