Differences of What’s on the Table

Clarity on meaning is going to be absolutely crucial as competing visions are put forward to solve Rhode Island’s ills, and one pair of concepts that may have confusing overlaps in education policy is “statewide funding formula” versus a “statewide teacher contract.”
The former phrase, as came out in my discussion yesterday with Representative Joe Amaral (R, Tiverton/Portsmouth) refers to an equation whereby the state provides a predictable amount of money to districts based on set criteria. Such a formula could be devised fairly or unfairly, depending on how carefully the criteria are termed in order to benefit certain districts (such as Providence) according to a priori demands and on whether the formula makes unfunded mandates from the state less tenable.
The latter phrase appears to be the wishlist approach of officials in East Providence:

The school district has been running with a deficit for the last six years. The highest amount was over $2.7 million in 2004, but since then it has been reduced to as little as $1.3 million in 2006.
It’s back up again and school and city officials said this week that it will take multiple measures to rid the nearly $3.3-million deficit that will be a reality at the end of this fiscal year.
At a joint meeting Monday, the City Council and School Committee brainstormed a slew of cost-saving possibilities. They included reducing the state’s 36 school districts to five regional operations; privatization of some schools; selling or leasing the school administration building on Burnside Avenue; and pushing the General Assembly for relief and a statewide teacher contract.

Whether the state steps in to unify the districts or “just” to negotiate teacher remuneration via a single contract from border to border, the result would likely be catastrophic. All that such centralization would accomplish would be pulling the tax-draining practices of the education establishment (including the unions) further away from the voters and probably adding a few more layers of obscurity on the question of who should be held accountable for excesses.
My own preference would be for the state to act as little more than an escrow holder paying out tax funds to parents’ chosen schools. Until such a system becomes politically feasible, though, state disbursement of education funds ought to be as straightforward and evenly distributed as possible, with no demands that aren’t inherently tied to funds.

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Greg
Greg
13 years ago

Greeeaaatttt. So Montalbano can negotiate the statewide teacher contract ‘on behalf of the taxpayers’?
I think we’re going to get a shellgame that makes it sound like a great idea and ends up screwing us far worse and in ways that will take yet another FBI investigation to uncover.
Speaking of which, WTF is going on with “Operation: Waste of a Dollar”?

Monique
Editor
13 years ago

“They included reducing the state’s 36 school districts to five regional operations; privatization of some schools; selling or leasing the school administration building on Burnside Avenue; and pushing the General Assembly for relief and a statewide teacher contract.”
Respectfully, none of these will balance your budget.
You need to look at the largest expenditure item in it, see how you have been increasing it, choose a spending set point of, say, five years ago, and adjust it back to that.

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

1) Repeal the statute allowing teachers unions to exist in this State. The General Assembly could do this with the proverbial stroke of the pen … “for the children.”
2) Uniform per-child vouchers that follow the child to the school of the parent’s choosing – public or private.
3) Children in Rhode Island – no matter their family’s means or place of residence – will finally have an opportunity to receive a quality education and grasp that first rung of the ladder of upward mobility.

Mike
Mike
13 years ago

Disantling the Soviet-style “public” schools and starting a voucher system which increases for inflation only is the only way to strangle the unions and permanently control costs.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
13 years ago

Monique wants to roll back teachers’ wages to their 2002 level. TomW wants to ban unions and establish vouchers (as I recall, he wants the full dollar amount spent per public school child).
Is there any likelihood that either will actually happen? Is there any plan to accomplish these goals?
Instead, consider a more realistic alternative We could do almost everything that Mass .has done to make itself the #1 public education state in the country. Mass has collective bargaining and high salaries but, by copying what they do, we could make RI public education worth what we pay for it.
Here are some of the steps:
-Establish Pilot Schools. Give principals more power to fire bad teachers.
-Eliminate the absolute priority of seniority over qualifications and talent. In particular, eliminate :”bumping” based on seniority only.
-Create a state requirement that districts design and implement more rigorous evaluation of teachers. Make pre-tenure review more rigorous. Establish content-knowledge testing for teachers.
-Eliminate our very heavy reliance on property taxes. This would take the burden off retirees and others on fixed incomes and puts it on those better able to bear it.
Expect to see some or all of these things come to the floor of the General Assembly this Spring. When they do, write your legislators in support. If they don’t, ask your legislator why not. Please do not listen to those who say change is impossible. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy that only make us weaker. As well, please do not listen to those who say that no change is desirable unless it constitutes a radical overthrow of the current system. They are almost never right, and they rarely have serious plans to achieve their goals.

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

>>Instead, consider a more realistic alternative We could do almost everything that Mass .has done to make itself the #1 public education state in the country.
Pat Crowley just flipped you the bird!
>>Is there any likelihood that either will actually happen? Is there any plan to accomplish these goals?
At one time the Soviet Union appeared that it could overtake the U.S., and until shortly before its end it seemed inconceivable that it would be relegated to the ash heap of history.
There are parallels. Like the Soviet Union, the teachers unions present an unjustifiable and negative presence – one which will fail if exposed to competition. Wherever they are present, the schools will not live up to their potential – even in MA.
For now the conventional wisdom is that the teachers unions are permanent and omnipotent in RI (and nationally). But by their very nature they will continue to overreach and … coupled with the fact that each year more and more citizens are wising up to them (how many Tiverton citizens have been appalled at the thuggish tactics there?) and … coupled with the fact that many teachers are embarrassed by they union and would like to regain true professional status and the public esteem that accompanies it, and … eventually a critical mass will be reached, the public will revolt and demand that NEA / AFT be banished from our schools.
BTW, speaking of MA, its performance looks good in comparison to U.S. averages, but since U.S. education is below average in comparison to OECD countries, emulating MA would certainly improve RI public education, but is hardly a stretch goal or aspiration to world class standards.

John
John
13 years ago

“…state disbursement of education funds ought to be as straightforward and evenly distributed as possible, with no demands that aren’t inherently tied to funds.”
Justin, what exactly does this mean?

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
13 years ago

I’m afraid I lack TomW’s confidence in historical inevitability. Therefore, I will continue to support plugging along in the hope of creating what incremental change is possible today, rather than waiting for an eventual revolt of the masses.
As for the US-OECD comparisons, Massachusetts came in 6th in math (behind 5 countries but ahead of 41 countries) and 8th in Science. That’s “world class”, yes? http://www.all4ed.org/publication_material/straight_as/12032007. I’d be very, very, proud of RI if we could achieve anything close to that.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

John,
Essentially, I’m agreeing with Amaral’s suggestion in my conversation with him that state funding ought to follow objective criteria that are openly applied and easy to track, and that the state government oughtn’t send unfunded mandates to the towns.

Monique
Editor
13 years ago

Thomas, the point is not what level of teacher compensation I prefer, it’s that East Providence officials are looking in all the wrong places for the source of their significant operating deficit. East Providence officials needs to look inwards, to the contracts which they signed.
In fact, generosity in teacher contracts is a statewide trend, as Marc Comtois cited with that recent study:
“Rhode Island teachers are the highest paid in the nation when compared with other similar professions in the state.”
In short, there is some room in East Providence and throughout the state for adjustment of compensation. This is a good thing because with that high compensation has come high taxes. Maxed out, in fact.
It’s a two way street, as the expression goes. Or at least, now that we have hit the ceiling in contracts, it needs to become two way.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
13 years ago

Monique,
We could try to pay less for what we’re getting, get more for what we’re paying or, possibly, pay less AND get more. I’m trying to focus on getting more. You focus on cutting costs.
I took you at your word when you said you wanted to roll back teacher salaries 5 years, and expressed my opinion that that was not a realistic goal.
As a practical matter, I would be very interested in hearing serious proposals for how we should set teacher salaries, as opposed to complaints that they’re too high.

Mike
Mike
13 years ago

In the least surprising obituary since Anna Nicole the “funding formula” is officialy dead. Anyone shocked? Guess the progressives legislative agenda is down to minimum doghouse housing—and another Darfur resolution, of course. LOL. School financing plan faces an uncertain future 01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, January 16, 2008 By Jennifer D. Jordan Journal Staff Writer PROVIDENCE — An unlikely coalition attempting to develop a statewide school-financing formula has broken apart just as the state grapples with a $600-million budget gap over two years, leaving the future of the ambitious plan in jeopardy. A hearing to discuss the formula was scheduled for 1 p.m. today at the State House. The House Finance Committee was to hear from a consultant hired last year to help lawmakers develop the formula. Members of the Joint Committee to Establish a Permanent Education Foundation Aid Formula said they hoped the meeting would resurrect the discussion. But it is unclear if there is enough political support to approve the formula this year. Governor Carcieri, who supported the concept last year, says it is not a priority. “The coming year will be a very difficult time to be discussing increased state funding for local communities, and, in essence, that is what you are talking about when you talk about a school-funding formula,” said Carcieri’s spokesman, Jeff Neal. “Unfortunately, this is probably not the year it can happen.” But Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline says that he and other municipal leaders have not given up. “This is an extraordinarily difficult budget year, and it will be hard for legislators to find money to invest in a variety of important things,” Cicilline said. “But we can still move forward with the concept and plan to phase it in over a number of years.” Last year, groups that often disagree with… Read more »

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