March 28, 2007

Be Wary of the Regionalizers III

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at RI Future, State Representative David Segal (D-Providence) endorses Stephen Alves-style school regionalization, which goes beyond consolidating administration, and could involve sending students from schools in currently high-performing districts to schools in lower performing ones…

Pick up a few more tens-of-millions by consolidating the schools, with the added benefit of increasing equity and socioeconomic diversity, and it’ll be a new day for Rhode Island — we’ll be showing surpluses, as far into the future as we can see.
The view on regionalization described by Senator Alves and Representative Segal, as well as the general tenor of Rhode Island politics, should serve warning that some Rhode Island legislators are actively pursuing novel ways of allowing big cities to tap the property tax revenues from surrounding cities and towns, in this case by placing school funding for smaller communities under the control of urban-dominated regional authorities. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The problem with Representative Segal’s call for “equity” is that Rhode Island’s state education aid formula is highly inequitable in a way that already benefits the urban core. Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsocket all get over $6,000 per-pupil in state aid. Many of the smaller cities receive aid in the range of $2,000 - $4,000 per student, while towns like Barrington and East Greenwich receive less than $1,000 per student. You do have to admire the chutzpah of a State Rep from Providence who claims that this system can be made more equitable by giving an even bigger proportion of money to Providence!

There are several ways that strong regionalization might be used to manipulate the distribution of school funding further in favor of the cities, all in the name of equity...

  • A regional school authority could reduce funding to the non-urban schools under its jurisdiction and direct the money from the cuts to urban ones.
  • A regional school authority could force tax increases on the non-urban communities under its jurisdiction and spend the bulk of the additional revenues on urban schools.
Under either scheme, “equity” is code for transferring an increased share of tax revenue to the control of the urban education bureaucracies that are already doing the least with the most state aid. If these kinds of plans are not what Representative Segal is suggesting, then how else can he hope to achieve "equity"?

Actually, there is one other option…

  • A regional school authority could also make provisions for students -- and money -- from failing urban schools to go to the better schools within its district, effectively defunding the failing schools.
However, this would be a non-standard use of the term "equity" in the debate about school funding. Talk of "equity" is generally reserved for discussions of how to guarantee all geographic-monopoly education bureaucracies the same basic level of funding, regardless of the quality of education they provide.

But, ultimately, regionalization is not necessary for implementing a student-focused funding scheme, which can be better achieved through public choice and/or vouchers.

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Lower the cost of Government as long as it is not in my back yard, is that how it works Carroll.
We need reform state wide on every level from the Scholl system all the way to the Govs. office.

Posted by: David Davis at March 28, 2007 5:56 PM


The strong regionalization being proposed by Sen. Alves/Rep. Segal isn't a plan to cut the cost of government. It's a plan to shift funds away from smaller communities and into larger ones.

Propose something that actually reduces costs, and then we can talk again.

Posted by: Andrew at March 28, 2007 6:29 PM

Andrew - I think your argument is disingenuous because a school district that is economically disadvantaged AND has 73 languages being spoken at home (parents need to be involved say family values advocates) needs much more per pupil expenditures. Obviously, a school district like Barrington doesn't have the same ESL and Special Ed. needs. By the way, regionalization makes sense in so many ways and in so many areas in RI government - not just education.

Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at March 28, 2007 7:58 PM


According to the most recent data from RI DOE, even after you take generous special-ed and “Limited English Proficiency” subisides out of the mix, Providence still spends more than the state average per-pupil on general education. Neither big spending on special programs nor big spending on standard educational programs is working for Providence.

The real problem is that urban political machines have no clue how to manage education programs, and expanding the reach of those machines through a regional education authority would be a disaster for education statewide.

I know I’m not going to convince you to support vouchers anytime soon, but why can’t you at least get behind the idea of choice within the public system, where funds can quickly be directed to the schools that have figured out how to make things work, and fewer students will be trapped in bad schools simply because they live at the wrong address? Given the choice of...

  • Giving students the freedom to go to a school system that works, or
  • Reducing support to school systems that work, thereby forcing more students to go to school systems that don’t,
...doesn't it make sense to choose the former?

And one other thing, while you're accusing me of being disingenuous: how do you reconcile the fact that you've just associated ESL learners with higher education costs for lesser results with your non-acceptance of the idea that mass immigration imposes large costs on society? (I'm assuming here, of course, that most ESL learners are recent immigrants, and not fourth-generation Americans who have forgotten English.)

Posted by: Andrew at March 29, 2007 10:39 AM


most immigrant students in the providence school system - from my experience - are documented (legal) immigrants. however, i admit that assimiliation of immigrants imposes a cost on our society - in fact, a cost that is too low (we should be spending MORE on youth and adult ESL programs!).


i join with alan greenspan in standing by the assertion that undocumented people in the USA pay more in taxes than they receive in services (thus, while there is a cost, it is still small in comparison to the money that undocumented workers pay in state and federal taxes, not to mention keeping our SS system flush). it's simple math that I know your side ignores because it takes away your ability to scapegoat immigrants for your 'high taxes.'

Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at March 29, 2007 11:44 AM

>>i join with alan greenspan in standing by the assertion that undocumented people in the USA pay more in taxes than they receive in services (thus, while there is a cost, it is still small in comparison to the money that undocumented workers pay in state and federal taxes, not to mention keeping our SS system flush). it's simple math that I know your side ignores because it takes away your ability to scapegoat immigrants for your 'high taxes.'

That assertion is ridiculous on its face.

Even when illegals work above the table, a janitor (or whatever) doesn't even GROSS what they (and their progeny) consume in taxpayer-financed services: RIteCare / emergency room care, education for their anchor babies, etc.

We're not stupid Matt. Illegals, e.g., in New Bedford, come nowhere near paying the taxes necessary to even "break even" what they cost the taxpayers.

Illegal aliens are a MASSIVE drain on our economy.

Posted by: Tom W at March 29, 2007 12:32 PM

So Tom, why did Alan Greenspan say that he believes more immigrants will improve our economy?

Posted by: Kiersten at March 29, 2007 3:50 PM


In the quote you cite, Greenspan didn't say more immigration would be good for the economy. He said more immigration would be good because it will help depress American wages. (We posted an item on the statement here)

Hey, it's his logic, not mine.

Posted by: Andrew at March 29, 2007 4:03 PM


We should be spending MORE on youth and adult ESL programs!
That’s fine. The problem comes when you want to use a strong regionalization scheme to shut down general education programs in smaller communities in order to pay for ESL in the cities.

If that’s not the plan, then where is the money for “more” going to come from?

Posted by: Andrew at March 29, 2007 4:21 PM

Reading down in Kiersten's cited Bloomberg article it jumps out at you bringing us full circle:

>>Greenspan did say that an inadequate education system in the U.S. had exacerbated income inequality.

``By the time they get to high school, they are at the bottom of the international heap,'' he said. ``Our education system takes a big hit'' as responsible for the income gap, he said.<<

So long as our schools rank behind other industrialized nations, the income gap is going to continue to widen and low income earners will continue to be taken advantage of.

Hopefully everyone can agree that education is power and it is our best weapon against inequality and exploitation.

Posted by: T. Shevlin at March 29, 2007 8:36 PM
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