The Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund Gubernatorial Debate: Question About Education

The second question asked at Wednesday night’s debate hosted by the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund at CCRI’s Liston Campus Auditorium came from two young ladies from Classical High school and the Young Voices organization, who asked about Rhode Island’s low test scores for minority students, implementing the newly passed funding formula to get the state’s share of education spending to 50%, and funding for English-language learner programs.
In the first go-around, most of the candidates focused on the funding formula and general educational issues. During the follow-up phase, the moderator asked the candidates to focus on the issue of English language learners. Unofficial transcripts of the answers are available via the links below, in the order that the candidates spoke.

Todd Giroux: Parents always provide a leadership role…I think we should have healthy adult education, so they can provide strong role models for the children. I’ll be honest, I’m not a lifelong candidate, or a lifelong politician to know how we’re going to keep the funding formula up towards 50%, but I do know that my jobs plan to get people back to work is going to provide on-the-job training, so if folks volunteer themselves off long term unemployment, or these small business programs and low-interest loans to businesses, this is all going to funnel back into on-the-job training [which] promotes personal accountability and there’s satisfaction in that. Jump to Todd Giroux’s follow up.

Lincoln Chafee: I do believe that you have to have a past experience with having shown that you have education as a priority, and certainly as a Mayor, I continually put annual economic growth that we saw in our city, which we were fortunate to have over the course of my seven years as mayor, back into the schools, because it is a good investment. We want our schools to be the best in the country, and that’s going to serve our economy well. We all know that. So I have a record of haven taken our economic growth, and funneled it back to the schools, and as Governor I’m going to do that in two ways. Firstly, with the state aid to the cities and towns. I’m going to monitor the cities and towns to make sure they take good care of their schools. 70%-75%-80% of city and town budgets, of their property taxes, go to their schools. So if we withdraw the state aid, they end up cutting sports or music or raising property taxes, so as I said earlier, I’m not going to let that happen. And secondly, the governor is in charge of higher education, URI, Rhode Island College and CCRI, and as governor, I’m going to make sure that those cuts that have been coming down to higher education are going to stop. It’s going to go in the other direction. Jump to Lincoln Chafee’s follow up.

Ken Block: Your question really comes down to finances. Now that we having a funding formula, how do we make sure that the money necessary to go to that funding formula is there and is distributed appropriately. And it comes down to the need for financial stability in the state, and half of that equation is making sure that we ramp up our economy and the other half of it is making sure that the dollars we are spending in many different programs are actually going to the purpose which they are targeted in the first place. We have a lot of money that gets stolen from us effectively in Medicaid fraud, in many different ways, and as a technician and a software engineer, I know exactly what we need to do to put systems in place to turn off this fraud and literally save hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. I plan on doing that immediately upon taking office, and it’s one of the first things you need to do for the funding that you need. I have a third-grader and a first-grader. Education is crucially important to me. I am very supportive of teachers, I am not supportive of the current contracts that we have with teachers. I think we need flexible contracts, we need better flexibility in the schools. If we get that, we can begin to really make a difference and continue reforming our system. Jump to Ken Block’s follow up.

Patrick Lynch: Education, it’s got to be a priority…The only way we get to solutions and long term solutions and long-term sustainability of our state without further collapse, is to look at the education system. How do we prepare generations to come, and the only way we do that is with reform. The funding formula should be heralded, in as much as we’ve been waiting 15 years, and people have been working on it so well, but it is an imperfect mechanism. I’m very proud that it’s passed, but there’s more work to be done. The good thing is there some flexibility for it to be revisited over time, to see how it’s impacting and adjusted, and that should be heralded. In terms of curriculum, I think one of the best documents that has been presented is by Young Voices, and I want to congratulate them for it. It’s about communication, including the students at the table. When you talk about how is your voice maintained, I’m glad you have it today, but we need to maintain it going forward, because the only way we get it done is by keeping our eye on the ball, which is what is the impact on the student across the state, and that would be a priority in my administration. Jump to Patrick Lynch’s follow up.

Frank Caprio: The funding formula is a great first step, but now we need to take what’s been put into law and put the proper incentives in there so we’ll have the resources to stick to the formula. When I say the proper incentives, we have too much duplication in school departments across our state especially in the urban core. We have Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls; in Central Falls, 100% of the funding comes from the state, in Pawtucket and Providence, a majority of funding comes from the state. I’d like to see those districts, on the administration side, have an incentive from the state, that when they reduce costs by doing things together and efficiently, just like what would happen in your household or your business when you need to save money, and there would be obviously incentives attached to that. That’s the way we’ll have the resources to stay committed to the funding formula. Education is the key. I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it wasn’t for my grandfather who came here, couldn’t speak English, couldn’t read English, all he had was a strong back and he got up early and delivered that milk…and what he knew is that when his kids and his grandkids got an education, it would be a better day for them. Jump to Frank Caprio’s follow up.

John Robitaille: Personal empowerment is a very important part of education, and I strongly encourage you to keep that as an honorable goal. I too would congratulate those members of the General Assembly who are here, making Rhode Island, of course, the last state to have a school funding formula in the United States, it’s about time. To answer your question about how are we going to fund it fully 50%, it’s going to take time. And I think now when you look at the 39 communities, there were winners and losers in this funding formula, and it’s going to take about 10 years for it to balance out. Many communities will feel a significant impact due to the loss of those funds. But I think the concept of the money following the students is a very good concept, I think parents need more choices, and there needs to be more competition in education. If you look at either the NAEP scores or the NECAP scores, our kids are beginning to do better, at least in the 8th and 11th grades, in math and in English, however we still have a significant gap between the urban and suburban schools that we need to focus on. I support Commissioner Gist and what she is doing to fix the broken schools and fix them now. Jump to John Robitaille’s follow up.

Victor Moffitt: Well, now that we finally have a funding formula, we have a certain amount that’s going to be given to every student in the state, it’s time to tackle the real problem. We all know what it is, we have 36 school systems in our state. We need to talk about that dirty world, regionalization. I’m probably the only one that’s been talking about it, mostly for the last three or four months. We all know what needs to be done. It’s time to stop competing between our towns and cities and unify the state. I have a detailed plan to break the state into four regionalized school districts, East Bay, West Bay, North and South…When we unify and regionalize, what we do is we bring the quality of education up to a certain level. We take the lowest schools, and bring them up to a higher level by putting them with better school districts. This is the problem. Now that we have the funding formula, let’s fix the real problem and talk about regionalization once and for all, and start getting our education system into the twenty-first century. Let’s stop acting like California and start acting like Rhode Island, one school district. Jump to Victor Moffitt’s follow up.

Todd Giroux: We have a tremendous amount of contracts of convenience in our school systems. We have large out of state corporations that are bidding on contracts and sending millions of dollars outside of our state borders. I fully support language enhancements to adult learning, so they can be stronger role-models for the children.

Lincoln Chafee: There is a great deal of research on what gets English as a second language students faster towards the goal of getting a degree and graduating from high school, and how that best works with being taught in their native language, as opposed to immersion in English. A lot of research is always being developed about what works best, and I certainly support the findings of those studies, and it’s all over the country that this is taking place. The goal, of course, of anyone who wants to be good in math and science, they know they have to learn English in particular to succeed in this country. Ultimately, that’s the path to success. We all know that. And how to best get there quickly? As far as the continuing debate we’re having about the funding that’s being passed down, either cuts in state aid to cities and towns, or the cuts to our higher education, I didn’t create the $400 million deficit that’s coming in the 2012 budget. I was a United States Senator, I was global level, but some of the candidates up here were in the General Assembly at the time that this catastrophe was upon us, a $400 million dollar deficit…and I’m the only one who has a plan to address that.

Ken Block: English language development for those who don’t speak English primarily is crucially important. I think it highlights the need in our educational system for flexibility, and the need to teach different students in different areas to their needs. We need flexibility within our educational system and I know that there are many teachers who want to be flexible and ultimately I lay at the feet of the contracts that both sides have agreed to over time for putting us in the scenario we are in…We need contracts appropriate for teachers whose primary mission is the education of kids, as opposed to a contract that’s most appropriate to the blue-collar assembly line manufacturing of widgets. We need to redo our contracts up and down the line, we should have a 15 page teachers’ contract, that’s about the professional job of teaching our children, period, end of story. Compensate the teachers well, and give us the flexibility that we need at the educational level for teachers and administrators to adjust and adapt and to best teach our children. We need it desperately, and it’s time to change it.

Patrick Lynch: In terms of English language programs being available for assimilation, it’s not just about assimilation. It’s not about the well-being of that one person, child or adult…It’s literally about their family, our community and our state, because if we fail to provide that opportunity, we’re failing our community as a whole, where other costs will come up and we’re not allowing them, whoever that person may be, to reach their potential, as a result, we all lose, so we have to fight to maintain those and strengthen those programs….We have to tie in companies, and have them give opportunities to those in high school so they are presented with a view of where the opportunities lie, so that instead of getting out of school and saying I have to leave the state, so instead they begin to see and companies will begin to show that there are opportunities presented here, if you prepare yourself.

John Robitaille: It is critically important that our young children become proficient in English quickly. English is the language of the United States. International airline pilots speak English, most international business transactions are conducted in English. Our children need to learn English quickly and early. It will give them a better advantage towards learning as they climb the ladder in school. We must focus on it, we must give our youngsters every opportunity that we can to help them learn English quickly, including additional online learning [and] access to tutoring. It will have a positive impact on our children’s scores and schools, once they learn English.

Frank Caprio: When it comes to English in the classroom, and having students arrive at our schools without strong English skills, I am a strong supporter of getting resources into the classroom to ensure that the kinds can get up to grade level. But I also believe that we should also use this resource we have in our community of so many Spanish speaking families in our system. We should make available to all families across our state, if they would like, the ability for their children to start learning a foreign language much earlier than we offer, middle school or even high school is where they first get that opportunity.
Also, since Mr. Moffitt already went, and Senator Chafee wanted to talk about deficits: Senator, every year we balance the budget in this state. That’s the law. When you were in Washington, you had no problem leaving us with $400 billion deficits year-in and year-out, so if you want to talk about balancing budgets, I think you have look at your own record.

Victor Moffitt: Obviously, English is our primary language in this country. We need to get everyone on board. But I think that one of the places that we fail, not only here in Rhode Island, but throughout the whole country, is that we don’t teach our young people alternative languages. This is a big disadvantage for students coming out of high school and college, where they basically only have one language. We’re an international business community today. I think even in the first, second and third grade, they could be introduced to other languages, whether it be Spanish, German, French, etc. This would give them a great advantage, because it is so easy for young children to pick up a language. When you get to be my age, it is much more difficult to try to learn a foreign language. But when you are in the first, second or third grade, you are never too young to be able to learn a new language. I know my son goes to school over at Old Saybrook Connecticut, and his children, by the Third Grade, have already been introduced to three foreign languages in their first three years of grammar school. We can do something like that here in Rhode Island.

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13 years ago

I’m tired of the racial and ethnic divisiveness that’s going on in our country. Either one is an American or one is not. Choose.
I’m white and it’s hard to talk about what’s happening without being cast as a racist,even though I,my husband,my children and my grandchildren can be deliberately disadvantaged because of our race.. People who cater to the racist and ethnic divisions don’t deserve our votes.
And I do mean none of them.

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