The Warwick Beacon: Rhode Island Education Needs an Overhaul, Not a Shifting of Costs

Hurrah for the community newspaper!
Unlike the news department of the Projo, which uncritically builds into its coverage the assumption that a new “funding formula” can somehow magically solve Rhode Island’s education problems, the editorial board of the Warwick Beacon takes a more questioning view…

Problems in Rhode Island’s educational system indicate the state doesn’t need to raise revenues to fund schools or shift the costs from one place to another; it needs to overhaul its educational system.
According to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the state spends the ninth highest amount of money on per pupil expenditures in the nation, while its students score well below the mean average on various standardized tests, such as the SAT.
So it appears the state’s education problems don’t stem from a lack of revenue, but from a system that is faulty at its core. After all, a company with a flawed business model wouldn’t succeed even if $1 trillion were invested in it. The same is true of a flawed school system.
To reform schools, the state should start by looking at teacher contracts, which lack incentives for effectiveness. Teachers are paid according to the same scale, regardless of performance….The same is true of the schools themselves.
But there is a solution to that problem.
Milton Friedman, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976, coined the idea of “school vouchers” in the 1950s. Friedman’s idea was to give parents a voucher, equal to the price of educating a student in a public school, and allow the parent to use it at the school of their choice.
The notion would result in schools being forced to compete with one another for students. The high performing schools would thrive, as more students would flock to them, while the poor performing schools would be forced to close, as students would avoid them.
The vouchers system is especially appealing to lower income parents. A parent of a student who normally wouldn’t be able to afford to send their child to a private school would be allowed to use the voucher.
Vouchers aren’t the only possible reform that could be used to improve the allocation of resources and spur educational reform in Rhode Island. Other possibilities include cross-district choice, removing the state-created barriers to charter schools and tax-credits for school tuition.
Any of these programs would be superior to a centrally planned “funding formula” which, as it would be implemented in RI, would quickly become a program of raising taxes on communities with good school districts as a means of subsidizing underperforming municipal bureaucracies in other communities.

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Marc Comtois
16 years ago

Beat me to the punch, Andrew! For what it’s worth, I’ll also point to Julia Steiny’s latest in the Sunday ProJo, too.: There are four ways to offer parents options among schools…. The first strategy is what we’ve had all along — people with resources buy their way into private school or into a neighborhood with good public schools. Americans have sorted themselves into homogeneous communities and drawn district boundaries around them. Parents with money can choose. Socio-economic segregation thrives, concentrating low-income kids in schools no one would choose.The second strategy is to give families tax-financed vouchers for tuition at participating private schools.European countries use vouchers liberally, even paying for private religious schools. But those countries require all students to take national tests no matter where they go, holding private and public schools equally accountable for student results. American private schools administer their own tests and are not held publicly accountable to anyone, so it’s impossible to see what they’re doing right or wrong according to tests or other comparable data. Some private schools would be happy to conform to public accountability, but voucher initiatives never ask them to. Parents need good information to make informed choices.Charter schools, the third strategy, are publicly accountable, along with everyone else in the public system — same tests, same statistical reports on demographics, spending, school climate and the rest. Charters have been a huge shot in the arm to American education. Granted, they are not a panacea. Some are mediocre, and states have closed down about 5 percent of them either because of fiscal mismanagement or academic failure. But successful charters often do innovative work in a more personal, welcoming atmosphere that parents deeply appreciate. Often they have a higher-than-average share of challenged students. Charters have been a mercy for many parents, but… Read more »

16 years ago

Vouchers are the stake in the heart to the leftist {Inflammatory commentary not helpful to advancing the dialog deleted.} AFT and NEA. It is way past time to dismantle our Soviet style “public” schools.

16 years ago

Please don’t feed the above troll.

Tom W
Tom W
16 years ago

Cross-district choice is probably better than nothing.
But the reality is that Barrington, East Greenwich etc. will make sure that they don’t have more than the barest token amount of spaces available, not to mention the transportation issues.
If this is implemented it’ll be as a PR gimmick to take the pressure off while continuing to keep as many children as possible trapped in the public school oligopoly, and as many unionized teachers as possible employed and paying NEA / AFT dues.
The only hope for improving RI’s educational system – and for upward mobility for inner city youth – is to break the oligopoly currently held by Edu-crats / teachers unions by offering universal vouchers and/or tax credits.
Talk of reform / improvement within the current “public education” regime is merely pabulum intended to divert public pressure by making it appear that they’re “doing something.” Well, McWalters et als. have been doing something for decades now, haven’t they?
RIDOE and its local edu-crat bretheren, and the teachers unions, will never bring quality education from within – monopolies and oligopolies don’t work that way. Change will only come when forced from outside by a critical mass of genuine competition.

16 years ago

Kudos to the Projo and particularly the Warwick Beacon for giving the other side of the debate.
The public school system in RI won’t improve until the focus is put where it belongs: on the children.

16 years ago

“The public school system in RI won’t improve until the focus is put where it belongs: on the children.”
Amen to you, Budd … er, Anthony.

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