Please, Rhode Islanders, start paying attention to the evidence.
If you’re thigh deep in the muck of Rhode Island politics, as I am, you may find something about the local society inexplicable. The game is so locked up, in Rhode Island, that it isn’t clear whether anything can shake the stranglehold of insiders and special interests. Consider two recent stories.
On the National Education Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, Rhode Island — which, let’s remember, is near the top of the country for education spending — is about average nationally and low for New England. Democrat Governor Dan McKee appears to be hiding the state-specific proficiency scores until after the election, but we can be confident they won’t tell a better story than the NAEP.
Rhode Island spends a lot for inferior results in the area of society that many people consider to be the single most important: education of children. Why is this not a pivotal, election-changing issue? Well, McKee is now the political property of the labor unions, including the teachers’ unions, which are little more than progressive activist organizations that use labor management to raise money and secure votes, and most journalists (whether they’ll say so publicly or not) share the progressive agenda.
Still, that doesn’t excuse the rest of us. Where are you all? The lives of Rhode Island’s children are being stunted. Shame on us.
I’ve done enough independent research over the last two decades to make a relevant observation in this context: Many of the movers and shakers who might otherwise advocate for Rhode Island children long ago simply concluded that they must live in just the right districts or utilize private, including Catholic, schools, where the level of education is still good. As even the “good” public districts have deteriorated and housing costs have become such that even some elites can’t live in the right zip codes, charter schools have filled some of the gap.
In short, RI insiders are buying themselves the flexibility not to advocate for all Rhode Island children. They can ignore the bad results because it doesn’t affect their children.
The other recent story that ought to be making more waves is Rhode Island’s return to the bottom 10 of the Tax Foundation Business Tax Index. Progressives can poohpooh such metrics as free-market propaganda, but they do measure something worthy of consideration, and they do affect the impressions and decisions of people across the country.
We’re going in the wrong direction, and there will be a price to pay (even for insiders). So why doesn’t anybody seem to care?
In my decades (now) of asking variations of this question, I’ve concluded that Rhode Islanders (by which I mean you) are in one of four groups. The first includes those who are in on the take. Plenty of union members, for example, will agree with me politically, ideologically, and culturally, but their life plans are now dependent upon supporting the system as it is, and so they do.
The second includes those who have the resources to counterbalance the imposed detriment for themselves and their families. Whether they are ideologically sympathetic with the ruling progressives or remain in the state for some other reason, they can buy their way out of the ill effects of public policy. This group deserves the lion’s share of the shame.
The third group is simply ignorant. Maybe it’s a culpable ignorance, and they actively avoid learning that which should require action, or maybe it’s not, but they simply don’t know what’s going on.
The fourth group includes those who see what’s going on and would change it if they could but have concluded that it is beyond their power to affect, so they’ve made plans for exit. This group, frankly, I can’t blame.