Legislature Manages to Get Governor Carcieri and NEA On Same Side

Thanks to the “flat-funding” (or maybe not) of education that is included in the House’s budget plan, Governor Carcieri and the NEA find themselves on the same side of an issue.

Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said….“There is no doubt…that Governor Carcieri has grave concerns about the House Democrats’ short-sighted plan to balance the budget by raising taxes, using one-time revenue sources and shortchanging local schools.”
Teachers’ unions have also come out swinging against the Assembly’s spending plan, which eliminates a 3-percent across-the-board increase in state education aid. Legislative leaders have called on the unions to shoulder some of the burden by renegotiating existing contracts.
The National Education Association reacted with a $10,000 radio advertising campaign urging the Assembly to rescind Senate bill 3050, passed last year, which lowered the maximum annual increase to a community’s tax levy to 5.25 percent this year and will reduce it one-quarter percent per year until 2013. Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, prime sponsor of the tax-cap bill, said through a spokesman that there are no plans to repeal the act.

I doubt the Governor thinks repealing Senate bill 3050 is a good idea, either. Meanwhile, Education Commish Peter McWalters invokes the “perfect storm”:

“It’s the perfect storm we have all talked about,” said Peter McWalters, Rhode Island’s commissioner of education. “Districts are really struggling right now, because they can’t go back to their tax base and ask for more money. The legislature did warn them again and again (not to count on a 3-percent increase), but that doesn’t change their dilemma.”

Some of the rising school costs are tied to teacher contracts, but some stem from factors beyond district control, McWalters said, such as high-cost special education and out-of-district transportation.
“This perfect storm is a conscious decision on the part of the legislature saying to communities you have to go reopen your [teacher] contracts,” he said. “But realistically, can you do that all at once with 36 separate districts?”

But perhaps the solution will come from the courts (surprise!)

State law requires communities to provide “an adequate education,” according to Department of Education spokesman Elliot Krieger, and allows school committees to file complaints in the Superior Court when they believe they have been shortchanged. School advocates such as Tim Duffy, head of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said he expects the lack of state aid to prompt several court challenges this year.

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Frank
Frank
14 years ago

You certainly can open all of the teacher contracts at the same time. It’s no different than opening up a single district contract. The obstacle is that the teacher union has to agree to it. What’s not realistic is opening any teacher contract in order to exact concessions, though it has happened.

SusanD
SusanD
14 years ago

Great post. Perfect storm is right.
Much to comment on but I cannot let the following pass:
“but some stem from factors beyond district control, McWalters said, such as high-cost special education”
Wrong. Twice as many students in Rhode Island have been diagnosed special ed as the national average. This was done deliberately and has played a significant role in the jump in school budgets.
Further, it’s an open secret that this over-diagnosing was accomplished by “identifying” students who really were not special ed. So when local school districts look at where to adjust their budgets, they have a starting point.
If the Legislature wanted to help, they would mandate that special ed dollars in local school budgets cannot exceed the national average. Presumably this cannot be legislated as I understand local School Committees have the final say in how budget dollars are spent. But it can be controlled by adjusting the following year’s state aid on the basis of the city/town’s special ed funding in the prior year.

Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

We’ve overfunded our public schools systems up to grade 12 and underfunded the state’s post-secondary system. The result? Smart kids graduating from RI’s high schools go to quality out of state colleges and stay there. The smart ones that remain usually go to a private school like Brown or PC. And URI gets left in the dust. What’s amazing is that RI’s educational expenses per student are so high, when so little of it goes to building new schools. RI’s expense per pupil is far above the national average. But in many other states, particularly those with increasing populations, a significant amount of the educational budget is spent on construction, land purchases and other items needed to support increasing student populations. RI doesn’t have that problem. In ’04, RI spent $11,533 per pupil and the national average was $9,414 per pupil, about 18% more than the national average. But when you remove capital outlays, RI spends $11,078 per pupil while the rest of the nation spends only $8,248 per pupil or about 26% more than the national average! RI spends more in virtually every administrative category except food services. Yet RI’s 4th and 8th graders’ reading proficiency level is only average and our 4th and 8th graders’ math proficiency levels are lower than the national average. This is despite the fact that fewer RI students are economically disadvantaged than the national average (usually there is a link between educational achievement and economic status) and a greater percentage of RI students speak English than their national counterparts. The only area in which RI students have a disadvantage versus the national average is that 6% more RI students have been diagnoses as “disabled”, usually a codeword for special ed, which as SusanD points out, leads to more government funding. These stats are… Read more »

Marc Comtois
14 years ago

Anthony, Good info. Here’s the link to SchoolMatters info for RI.

Michael
14 years ago

” Twice as many students in Rhode Island have been diagnosed special ed as the national average. This was done deliberately and has played a significant role in the jump in school budgets.”
“Further, it’s an open secret that this over-diagnosing was accomplished by “identifying” students who really were not special ed. So when local school districts look at where to adjust their budgets, they have a starting point.”
A lot of these kids come into the system already diagnosed as “special ed.” Families receiving governmental assistance get more money for a child with a disability. The looting of the treasury is well thought out by those here to exploit the generosity of our programs. If there is a benefit to be had, there are thousands who know how to get it and social service employees who will tell those who don’t how to get on the gravy train. The fact that inner city school systems have a higher percentage of special ed students is nothing more than the result of a segment of our society completely in tune with how to squeeze every nickel out of our system they can, without giving a penny back

Frank
Frank
14 years ago

RI would never have been allowed to over diagnose kids as learning disabled if it didn’t benefit the teachers union. The benefit: more specialized teachers, multiple teachers in a single classroom, lower than necessary teacher to student ratio, more union dues. And to pay for it all we soaked the taxpayers and watched all the gifted student programs disappear.
If I ever hear something that seems genuinely positive about the teacher unions it will be the first time.

Mike
Mike
14 years ago

As I have said the answers are simple. Raise class sizes and trim benefits. Go to 401k’s.
That’s it. Otherwise, this is the real RI FUTURE:
Here is their general plan for the next 5 or so years according to a
well-known Pawtucket legislator who must remain nameless here.
1. Tiny raises for state workers; some attrition reductions. NO cuts
in pensions or other benefits. NO 401 K’s.
2. Burn up all tobacco money till the market won’t buy anymore bonds.
3. Raise sales tax to 8%
4. Raise capital gains tax to match Mass.
5. Flat tax will be frozen after this year.
6. “Some” welfare/medical/babysitter cuts.
7. The kicker-as a last resort-a statewide property tax to “provide an
education stream”. It will start very small and with many exemptions.
However, it could then annualy be “adjusted” as needed. They are
already laying the ground by proposing a constitutional amendment to
guarantee “every child gets a quality education”.
They are fully aware this will bring RI to the much coveted (LOL) gold
medal platform of taxes. They are banking on getting away with it if
done slowly and smoothly enough.
You heard it from me first. June 10,2007.

Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

It’s not the parents who are getting kids classified as special ed. They don’t get benefits from it. It’s the teachers and administrators.
Years ago, it was just thought that some kids were high energy. Now these same types of kids are diagnosed with ADD and medicated with drugs. The kids become less of a behavior problem for the teachers and the school department gets more money.
I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t kids with legitimate ADD, but I do think it overdiagnosed. Teachers and administrators have a warped incentive to get kids classified as special ed under the existing system.

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