Money Isn’t the Problem
Among the encouraging opinions that Education Commissioner Deborah Gist gave during our discussion was that she thinks Rhode Islanders already contribute enough money to their education system to have all of the programs that those of us over thirty enjoyed in public school — sports, gifted/talented, music programs, math clubs, and so on — and to meet baseline education requirements. A just-released study from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council supports that conclusion, as far as the dollar amounts go:
Nationally, Rhode Island ranks fifth highest in per-pupil costs, spending $13,453 per student in 2006-2007, significantly above the national average of $9,703.
As for whether Rhode Island can bring its students up to acceptable levels, well, the report suggests that there’s still much work to do:
Yet national test scores such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the SAT show Rhode Island stuck in the middle of the pack, and lagging behind its higher-achieving neighboring states in New England.
As I’ve pointed out, before, Rhode Island’s private school students do well on the SATs, but the gap down to the scores of public school students is among the highest in the country, which is one of the factors behind my conclusion that public schools should seek to attract high-performing students back into the fold.
I’m afraid, though, that we’re going to be too busy fighing budget battles over the next decade to really start down that road. Consider:
The report estimates that even taking into account a declining student population over the next five years, the state’s per-pupil costs will continue to rise and could exceed $20,000 a year by 2015, based on an analysis of the increase of education costs over the past decade.