June 18, 2008

House Debate on Article 38 (Education) Of the Budget

Marc Comtois

The House debated Article 38, Sub A of the Budget this evening. Below is my liveblog of the debate, for the record. (I see Matt covered it too, including a list of who voted how--wonder how he got the list so fast?).

SPOILER ALERT: Mayoral Academies were ultimately approved.

Rep. Constantino proposed removing the ability of the education commissioner to grant a variance to mayoral academies regarding section 16-77-11. Basically makes it compulsory for these schools to live by many of the same rules as charter schools, with a few key exceptions related to issues surrounding teacher's tenure and retirement. Passed almost unanimously.

Rep. Loughlin voted to amend to this section in an effort to allow local school districts to apply for relief from "unfunded mandates" by showing how they can effectively meet requirements outlined by mandates without following the proscribed outline. Rep. Gemma argued that this effectively allows School Committees to override the General Assembly. He pointed out that these groups already spend like crazy and then hand off fiscal problems to the City Councils and Mayors.

Rep. Smith praised the desire to bring local control back, but he had little faith in the ability of such bodies as the Providence School Committee to provide proper oversight. Rep. Mumford supported the amendment. Explained it allowed towns to review mandates and then identify which mandates they would seek relief from. She explained each city and town had different needs and some could abide by some mandates while others may not. The reason that no specific mandates were identified was to provide each locality the ability to identify those that were acutely onerous.

Rep. Gorham and Watson both pointed out that a vote for this measure would allow legislators to tell their constituents that they voted to hold the line on property taxes by seeking relief this way. The amendment failed 54-16.
Rep. Rice offered an amendment attempts to make Mayoral Academies abide by same rules as Charter Schools.

Rep. Constantino urged opposition, stating it essentially guts the Mayoral Academy bill. Pointed out that they've already taken out the ability of the Ed. Commissioner to waive several items (amendment offered by Constantino himself).

Rep. Savage extolled the virtues of charter schools, "incubators and laboratories" which should give us "an abundance of educational practices". Offered up examples of successes of business-supported schools such as the Textron Academy or the CVS Highlander School. Supports Mayoral Academies in concept, but opposes this legislation calling it a "carve-out of a carve-out" which would exempt them from even more than Charter Schools. Calls it an intentional assault on teachers and particularly disliked the fact that the teachers wouldn't be able to collectively bargain nor would they be considered public employees. (By the way, he's a Republican from East Providence and a retired school principal).

Rep. Fox stood up and said this was about leadership and thinking outside the box. Folks are so frustrated they just want to shake the box. He also extolled the virtues of teachers, but also pointed out that the state's current Charter School law didn't go far enough in allowing for innovation. This legislation would allow Mayors to take a leading role in the education of their citizens. Noted he and Rep. Constantino approached it as skeptics, but they couldn't deny the success in other places, such as Harlem. Also explained how current contracts stifle flexibility and innovation. Pointed out that there is no funding in the bill and that future funding has to be approved by the General Assembly. Alluded to various foundations that support this idea. Could they all be wrong? Hit on the point that we are trying to get our kids to compete worldwide and schools like these have done just that in other states. This amendment will kill all of that.

Rep. Trillo said he finally agrees with Leader Fox on something. Called the idea of Mayoral Academies a "lively experiment" and this amendment will tie our hands right out of the gate. Applauds Mayor McKee. Why would we be afraid of it? This could give us ideas that could be applied to our public schools. He recognized the unions have a problem with it. Accepting the amendment will just create another weak charter school. Rep. McManus also opposed amendment.

Rep. Singleton (Republican, Cumberland outgoing) supports the amendment and claimed most of the Legislature had no idea what they were doing. Blamed politicians for causing the problem and not fixing them on their own, but kicking the can to Mayors via the Mayoral Academies. Basically didn't like the idea that only a chosen few in his district would benefit and attempted to use the self-selectivity argument (the kids with interested parents would succeed, etc.). Said that the private money would dry up in a couple years. (By the way, he's moving to Massachusetts, too).

Rep. Walsh, a retired teacher, explained how she cared about kids. Takes the Mayoral Academy as an affront to teachers. Supported Rice's amendment. Claimed that Legislature didn't have enough time to hear about the particulars.

Rep. Gemma explained that City of Warwick investigated this. Said he was tired of dancing around the issue. It's all about the money. Explained how the people of Potowamut are trying to convert their now closed public school to a charter. 90% of all school budgets are salaries, pensions and benefits, 2% discretionary. Teachers had to buy paper, pencils. Marvelous people. The worst person to ask about charter schools is an educator. They have a particular point of view. Gives credit to Mayor McKee. Wants his Mayor to have the power over education spending. Gives him another option. Don't kill the idea in the cradle.

Rep. Coaty opposed the amendment. Stated we need to pass the bill unencumbered, unlike the charter school laws. Explained that Providence spends $13,000 on their students at Hope High and they don't have textbooks. How could that happen? This bill would help urban and at risk students. Now is the time to pass the bill. That it didn't come up in January is not a reason to kill it.

Rep. Baldelli-Hunt supports McKee's plan and opposes the amendment. Vouched for Mayor McKee's pledge to spend the next 10 years working on education for RI kids. Argued that these schools provide opportunity for students who aren't cookie cutter.

Rep. Smith ( a public school teacher) wondered if we'd be talking about Mayoral Health Care facilities or Mayoral Gas Stations down the line. Basically opposed the idea because not all kids would be provided the same opportunity. Argued that teachers should have a say in more items via collective bargaining, not less. Said teachers in Providence were held accountable for a lack of a curriculum. Also complained that there was only one hearing then the Mayoral academy plan was in the budget.

Rep. Brien opposed amendment. Referred to a letter he received stating that the Mayoral Academy proposal needed to be removed and listed a bunch of opponents. Referred to NEA President Bob Walsh's ads in local newspapers. Called this amendment the poison pill. This is about allowing parents the opportunity to choose where they send their kids. Cited Beacon Charter in Woonsocket as one of the best in the nation. Addressed the accountability issue: charters are more accountable. They participate in regular oversight as well as re-authorization process. If they don't perform, they are closed down.

Rep. Lima supports new ideas, thinks school system is in trouble, but the problem with this idea is that we'd be taking public dollars away from majority of students and giving it to the lucky few. {Again, the class warfare argument}. Said she support it if we took public funds off the table. Pension costs and salaries are too high? Lets address at the collective bargaining table, not this way. Let private companies do it, not public money. Supports amendment.

Rep. Menard, whose wife is a teacher, says Mayoral Academies are saying we need a third tier of schools. Public schools, charter schools and now Mayoral Academies. Explained the hard work his wife does, how he and his wife provide educational resources. Talks about fixing the current problems in public and charter schools instead of adding a new one.

Rep. Vaudreuil re-focused on the central point that the bill was to allow the creation of a plan, not an actual school.

Rep. Rice added that she appreciates innovative ideas and choice. Said this amendment said this doesn't prevent anything, but puts them on the same level playing field as other charter schools. Then moved the goalposts and said this doesn't need to be passed now, anyway, because the deadline isn't until November 2009. Also wondered why these Mayors didn't focus on the students they have now (huh?). Parrotted Lima's argument that if it was just private money, she'd be fine. Wan't comfortable with the idea that they didn't know what it would be.

Rep. Mumford opposed amendment. Also a teacher. Explained that RI's charter schools were the most restrictive. Mayoral Academies have bi-partisan support aiming to help students. Even with their hands tied, charter schools are succeeding. Let's see what happens when we untie the hands of just one Mayoral Academy.

Rep. Savage stood up again and noted that the success noted by fellow legislators at our charter schools were staffed by public school teachers. As far as charter schools being too restrictive, then lets work towards loosening those restrictions. Says we are talking about public funding of private schools. Seems to believe that only public school teachers can do the job.

Rep. Gorham stood up to glad hand everybody for a good debate and for the sort of bipartisanship being shown. Yet he didn't expect that the passage of an idea would encounter so much opposition. This is basically a study commission. No funding involved.

Rep. Silva opposed the amendment and supported the idea of Mayoral Academies.

Rep Gablinske opposed amendment and asked sponsor on whose behalf it was sponsored. Rep. Rice refused to answer the question. Mayoral Academies are a response to the pendulum swinging too far to the left. Our schools have become about adult comfort not educational achievement.

Rep. Constantino noted that House Finance Committee had this bill and got testimony and hearings. As year went on, they knew the budget cuts would hurt many people. Explained that Charter Schools association now supports the Mayoral Academies. Remembers how teacher unions opposed charter schools. Knows how labor unions helped teachers 40 years ago and how that seemed radical then. This doesn't depreciate teachers. This gives RI kids the opportunity to be educated differently. Of all the things in this budget, this one idea gives a child hope. Urged to vote against argument.

Rep. Menard questioned whether Charter School Association was for it, remembered that they testified against it in hearings. What did Rep. Constantino know that he didn't and why did they all of a sudden support it. Constantino responded that their Board took a vote and now support it. Menard questioned that.

The amendment failed 30-41.


Rep. Savage had three amendments. One he wasn't going to offer and he answered that this particular one was identical to Rice's and that it came from "my mind." Offered another amendment attempting to make Mayoral Academies privately funded only.

Rep. Constantino urged opposition.

Rep. Gemma called it even worse than the other amendment.

Amendment failed 26-41

Rep. Savage decided not to offer up final amendment.

Rep. Menard moved to vote on sections 2 and 3 of the articles separately.

This idea passed relatively easy.
Article 38 prevailed nearly unanimously (only 8 opposed).

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.


What's the difference between the amendment that Rep. Costantino offered (at the start of this post) and the one he opposed later on?

Posted by: Andrew at June 18, 2008 10:24 PM


Can't speak for Marc and I missed part of the debate so I am not sure I've got all the details right, but it seems from the debate that Costantino's amendment removed a bunch of exemptions relating to student safety, race & sex discrimination, etc.

The Amendment by Amy Rice that Costantino opposed (which was just this moment defeated 40 something to 30 something) would have required the Mayoral Academies to follow ALL the rules of 16-77-11 (like all charter schools) which can be found here.

Savage just introduced an amendment that private funds only, and No public funds be used to support the academies. It went down.

The article just passed.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at June 18, 2008 10:43 PM

Andrew, Thomas has it right.

Posted by: Marc at June 18, 2008 10:53 PM

Marc says, Amy Rice....also wondered why these Mayors didn't focus on the students they have now (huh?).

If I may, I think the argument is roughly this:

1.These Mayoral Academies (MA's) will admit some number of students by lottery, leaving some much larger number behind in public schools. (It's unclear to me at this point whether MA's should be considered public schools, though they will be funded by tax dollars).

2. The MA's will, unless total education funding is increased, take funds from currently existing public schools.

3. We should be focusing on improving public schools, rather than creating a small number of lifeboats, while increasing the chance that the big boat will sink.

At least I think that's the argument.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at June 18, 2008 11:02 PM

The problem with Rep Rice's statement is that the power of Mayors in most RI communities to influence education policy is extremely limited, i.e. mayors have no students to influence.

I won't presume to speak for Marc, but I'm huhing at the same place he did.

Posted by: Andrew at June 18, 2008 11:11 PM

The problem with Rep. Rice's statement is that the power of mayors in RI communities to influence education is extremely limited, i.e. mayors have no students to focus on.

I'd never presume to speak for Marc, but I certainly would be huhing in the same place he did.

Posted by: Andrew at June 18, 2008 11:13 PM

Maybe I didn't "huh" because here in Providence we have an appointed school board, so the Mayor certainly does have influence.

On the other hand 1) I can't verify that Rice said "Mayors" and 2) you can substitute "the General Assembly" or "cities and towns" or "the people of RI" for "Mayors" and the point remains.

(Whether the M.A.'s actually do this or not is another question, on which I'm not yet prepared to take a position)

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at June 18, 2008 11:18 PM

Marc -

Not to stifle the creativity of your conspiratorial mind, but I was able to get a list of who voted in favor and who voted against Rep. Rice's amendment by simply hitting "pause" on my DVR and typing in the votes as they appeared on my TV screen.

You too can do this from the comfort of your own home as well.


Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at June 18, 2008 11:27 PM

You can't reconcile Rep. Rice's statement with reality by substituting one branch of government for another. Mayor McKee is volunteering to try and solve a problem that the GA and local school committees are not dealing with.

Posted by: Andrew at June 18, 2008 11:44 PM


Maybe Rep. Rice meant what she said when she used the word "mayors". Maybe she misspoke or just didn't choose her words carefully. I have no idea, and it really doesn't matter to me.

On the substance, I fully agree that "Mayor McKee is volunteering to try and solve a problem that the GA and local school committees are not dealing with". and I give him credit for it. I'll note that the Mayor of Providence was one of the supporters. Whether MAs are the right solution is another matter. I wish I knew enough to say but, since it passed, I hope they are.

Of course, we're going to have to wait a few years to know, and what the actual implementation will look like is unknown.

FWIW, I think Rep. Singleton (R?I?D?) made one good point in the debate. I suspect that few of the members had more than a scant understanding of what this article actually does.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at June 19, 2008 12:06 AM

Re Matt's comment:

Pausing the DVR is to get the roll-call is clever. Having that be the ONLY way to get the roll-call in a timely way is sad.

OK, you can scan the House Journal when it's eventually published. But if the NY Times can publish Congressional roll-calls the next day, why can't the ProJo? And why cant the GA publish on the web. Well, they can of course. Why WON'T they?

This seems to be one of those things that the donkeys and elephants, wing nuts and moon bats should be able to get together on.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at June 19, 2008 12:18 AM

Rep. Savage opposes this legislation calling it intentional assault on teachers.

What a moron.

TEACHERS are NOT the problem. It is a school and we need and want teachers.

What we do NOT want is UNION Teachers. There is a Big difference.

Teachers teach. UNION Teachers strike, whine, bankrupt districts, "work-to-rule" and could care less about children, students or teaching.

They fear the Free Market like a mouse fears a cat. The wet their pants at the mere thought of competion, accountability, performance measurment and merit based pay.

Most of all, they can't imagine being independent minded and self-reliant. Like an infant, they whine and cry at any attempt to wean them from the public tit.

Posted by: George Elbow at June 19, 2008 8:26 AM

Matt, I didn't mean to imply a conspiracy, I just wondered how you got it in so fast. I didn't have the TiVo running myself (duh) and I also don't know if I could legibly read that vote board on my TV, either! Anyway, thanks for TiVo tip.

Posted by: Marc at June 19, 2008 8:51 AM

Marc, great job live blogging this.

Posted by: Monique at June 20, 2008 11:18 PM
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