February 28, 2006

Reasons for a Voluntary Pilot School Choice Program Between Cranston and Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

During today's proposal of a voluntary pilot school choice program between Cranston and Providence, Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey described the necessity of the program in stark terms; "Cranston is a success; Providence is a failure".

To support this assertion, Mayor Laffey presented the following facts...

  • In 2004, 38 of Providence’s 45 public schools were deemed “in need of improvement”, and 29 were deemed to have made “insufficient progress”. None of Cranston’s 25 public schools were similarly classified.
  • Providence's performance is borderline disastrous despite the fact that Providence's per-pupil expenditures are among the state's highest. In 2005, per-pupil expenditures in Providence were $13,537, while per-pupil expenditures in Cranston were $11,546, almost $2,000 less.
  • Differences in performance are not the result of demographics. Whether you consider African-American students, or Hispanic students, or economically disadvantaged students, or English language learners, Cranston students scored better than Providence students in math and English. Cranston’s African-American students scored better than Providence’s African-American students; Cranston’s economically disadvantaged students scored better than Providence economically disadvantaged students, etc. According to the statistics presented by Mayor Laffey, this is true at every level, elementary, middle, and high school.
After presenting these facts, Mayor Laffey posed the question "why should taxpayers across the state pour money into a school system that is clearly failing?"

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Outside of Cranston, Rhode Island citizens are receiving only a minimal return on investment from a level of per pupil spending that is the fourth highest in the country. The taxpayers in general and minority families specifically are getting badly hosed with respect to this abysmal record of educating the children.

School choice really comes down to an equity issue for poor families. Its primary constituencies are an interesting blend of the inner city poor and libertarians such as Milton Friedman. Suburban parents are, in general, neutral to negative on choice. The teachers unions (which make up 25% of the delegates to the democratic party convention) and the educational bureauracy are violently opposed. Thus, from a political standpoint, choice advocates have consistently faced uphill battles.

So we have Mayor Laffey, once again, in the customary role of protector of the taxpayer. Yet this time, he goes well, well beyond by positioning himself as a champion for the poor. Because, make no mistake, without a quality education in this day and age the poor are doomed to miserable lives. The ability to secure high-paying jobs continues to widen between those with good educations and those without. Middle class and rich people already have school choice - they vote with their feet to another public district or with their dollars to a private school. Is it fair that 25-40% of public school teachers send their kids to private school while their own students learn next to nothing?

Laffey's plan is not a panacea, but is a very good start. He wisely does not get into the political maelstrom of including private schools as part of his suggested choice program - at least for now. (Particularly smart in view of the recent Fla Supreme Court decision). This does need to ultimately be resolved in view of the limited capacity of the good RI public schools to absorb all these students from the bad ones.

The biggest impact of choice programs in the 14-odd states in which they are in effect is that they serve to dramatically improve education provision in the existing public schools. And this is exactly what parents want. They would much rather keep their kids in their existing schools than ship them somewhere else. Polls show that parents are actually biased toward their existing public schools.

The existing educational establishment needs to be shaken up - and choice does just that. Whether or not this Laffey plan ends up creating significant choice momentum (and I certainl hope it does), you can rest assured that as of right now Providence schools are gearing up for significant improvements. They better be.

Posted by: bountyhunter at February 28, 2006 8:26 PM


Can you tell me where on Laffey's website I can find something about school choice or how the arrest of Ms. Hernandez involves a discussion of school choice. I can only find a discussion about Laffey and school choice on this website, rifuture.org, the Projo, and TV. Maybe Mr. Katz has a point.

Posted by: Fred Sanford at February 28, 2006 10:12 PM

I would say Laffey's proposal today most certainly will get the momentum going towards an improved education system, starting with Providence. I just don't see how our capital city can continue to turn its back on the pitiful state of its public school system. If nothing else, Laffey's proposal on the implementation of school choice between Cranston and Providence (as well as the arrest made two weeks ago) has brought to the people's attention a dire situation in RI's education system that badly needs addressing.

Without getting too off-topic---I tuned in this afternoon to the Dan Yorke show where he addressed the Laffey/Scherza press conference on school choice. Am I the only one out there getting annoyed with Yorke's vile hatred towards Laffey? I can't stand listening to his excessive ranting anymore. For the 20 minutes I tuned in, he just yelled and yelled about everything Laffey does being some self-serving publicity stint.

What he isn't saying is that Laffey has mastered the art of PROMOTING HIS IDEAS SO THEY GET HEARD. For whatever reason, this obviously is not kosher with Yorke: whenever Laffey gets some press, he immediately takes the contrarian position by screaming about him being some self-serving, egomaniac...

Big ego or not, Steve Laffey is the only politician around who develops practical solutions to problems (ie. non-resident students exploiting taxpayer dollars) that sorely need addressing.

I don't know what Yorke's vendetta with Laffey is, but 20 minutes of today's show was all I could take. It's fine to have an opinion, but the obvious anger and resentment he shows towards Laffey has soured all interest I had in listening to his show.

Posted by: ian at February 28, 2006 11:23 PM

Kudos to Mayor Laffey, not only for bringing this discussion of school choice out into the open, where it belongs, but also for causing Dan Yorke to have an on-air nervous breakdown. I used to be a regular listener, but I just can't take listening to him anymore -- I usually just put 105.1FM on instead. One minute he's your best friend, the next minute, he wants your firstborn. He's gone from generally unpredictable to just plain weird.

I did just check the mayor's website at www.electlaffey.com and as best I can tell, I don't see anything specifically talking about school choice on there. However, I do appreciate the discussion that has since ensued about it on forums such as this. Once again, Mayor Laffey is setting the public agenda, and everyone else is responding to it.

From what I've read of his plan, I like it. While I'd prefer private schools to be a part of the proposal, I do understand the rationale for omitting them. Now, whether or not Providence will part with their precious tax money to make sure kids actually get a minimal education, is another story all together. I give great credit to Mayor Laffey for taking Providence's education lemon and making Cranston lemonade out of it.

PS If you think Dan Yorke lost it this afternoon, I can only imagine what Mayor Cicilline was doing!

Posted by: Will at March 1, 2006 1:13 AM


I hate to be an I told you so, but ...

Posted by: Will at March 1, 2006 1:15 AM

The comments on Dan Yorke are actually interesting. Dan Yorke is imploding. The guy's ratings are down and a particular problem he has is with women - as in women just do not listen to him. That must be a problem with advertisers.
As I was going to a meeting with a woman co-worker, I started the car and the radio was on 630. It was Yorke screaming and the woman said to me, "who is that vile individual?" I told her it was Yorke, and she said, "I thought he liked Laffey." He did, but now he doesn't, I told her. She said, "the man needs prozac" as she changed the station. Little wonder his ratings are down.

Posted by: JSheehan at March 1, 2006 6:30 AM

Just so long as the topic has moved to Dan Yorke, to his credit, he DID mention AnchorRising yesterday and remarked that it was a reliable source for news and information.

We already have seen that Bob Walsh reads and posts to AR, maybe Mr. Yorke does as well. (Although judging from yesterday's show, I don't think he does so under the name of Fred Sanford)

Posted by: johnb at March 1, 2006 6:53 AM

Just so you know in case you didn't,

Mr. Yorke has a problem with Mr. Laffey due to a an appearence by Mr Laffey on a Boston radio talk show, you can guess who's, where Mr. Laffey engaged in a personal attack on a member of Mr. Yorke's family.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at March 1, 2006 8:41 AM


Your statement is totally false. The host of the radio show in Boston made a disparaging remark about Yorke while Laffey was a guest. This remark was made at the VERY END of that show and went OFF THE AIR before Laffey could disagree with said comment or chastise the Boston host for making it.

Posted by: Leon Berg at March 1, 2006 8:55 AM

This Bobby guy is a loose cannon who regularly makes false statements. He still owes me a data source on his assertion that the dems are ahead by 30 points in the Va Senate race. He also claims that vouchers have never worked anywhere. Let's see him back that one up too.

Posted by: bountyhunter at March 1, 2006 9:02 AM

Just wanted to point out that Chafee now has a national debt clock on his website. He's stealing Laffey's ideas!

Also, in the press release that the Chafee campaign put out criticizing Laffey for introducing school choice in Rhode Island, the word "unnecessary" was misspelled. Maybe Ian Lang wrote the press release after he got drunk at the Follies Friday night!

Posted by: Leon Berg at March 1, 2006 11:39 AM

Bobby Oliviera,
Please get your facts straight. The issue that Dan Yorke is mad at has to do with comments that John Depetro made about Dan Yorke's wife on his show in Boston. The comments were definitely out of bounds and shameful. On the particular day they were made, Laffey was a guest on the show.
The comments were made at the end, when Laffey was already off the air.
If Laffey was actually on the air at the time, he probably would have scolded Depetro - but he wasn't.
Yorke seems to think that Laffey should have done something, but he couldn't.
Aside from all of this, Yorke just hates DePetro and vice-versa, some professional jealousy that exists between the two. Laffey just happened to grow up with DePetro (remember, you are in RI) and Yorke is frankly being a petty twit about this all. I mean, come on, Yorke used to LOVE Laffey, now he hates him. Did Laffey change? Nope.

So many people who have listened to Yorke, and don't anymore, think that Yorke has the problem. Now Yorke likes to say Laffey had a big ego. Have you seen anyone with a bigger ego than Yorke.

Dan Yorke should just get over it. Yorke is the one losing out here, because he doesn't have Laffey on his show. It sure doesn't hurt Laffey, he is still in the news as much as ever.

Posted by: JSheehan at March 1, 2006 11:52 AM

Lang the lackey must also have been drunk when he created "Linc's plan to balance the budget" for the website (directly underneath that annoying clock), which is also a response to Laffey's learned and detailed policy prescriptions. Here is the Chafee scheme - and brace yourselves for the intellectual rigor: "Don't spend it if you can't pay for it". That's it. That is the entire "plan". It is not a plan; it is a statement. At least he did not spell any of the words wrong. Perhaps that is because none of them are more than one syllable.

Posted by: bountyhunter at March 1, 2006 12:08 PM


{Part of message (not related to the rest of this message)deleted. The moderators reserve the right to remove off-topic personal information about commentors willing to use their real names}

Leon knows the truth about the Yorke vendetta and I'm glad he posted it here for everyone to see.

The fact is that Laffey knows how to work the media and shine the light on the issues. School choice is one of the most important issues out there, and kudos to Laffey for putting it on the front page.

Posted by: oz at March 1, 2006 12:36 PM

The version of events stated by Leon and JSheehan is essentially correct. Basically, Yorke holds against Laffey what he didn't say to defend his [Yorke's] wife, after Depetro had some unkind things to say about her. The problem was that Laffey never had the opportunity on the show to distance himself from Depetro's remarks, so Yorke took it as Laffey agreeing with their substance. I'm pretty sure this was around the same time that Yorke and Depetro had their near slugfest last year on the air.

Posted by: Will at March 2, 2006 1:15 AM

Dear Berg and Sheehan,

First of all, I don't have a horse in this fight.

Secondly, you all do and your version is not the way my friends in Boston who monitor that show tell it (they indicate Laffey was an "agitator" - we'll have to get the tape to straighten this one out) but I'll take your word for it for now. I think it suffices that the two won't be sending xmas cards this year.


Give it up. (By the way, it was 20, not 30) I gave you those links. Again, show me the program that works (and yes, I'm prepared if you try to answer Milwaukee). Also, don't be surprised when you see my name on Laffey's contributor list.

As far as Chaffee goes, again, he proves to be his own worst enemy.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at March 2, 2006 1:16 PM