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.