December 1, 2008

Tasked with Tiptoeing Around the Solution

Justin Katz

Yet another task force, this time addressing education in Rhode Island, has convened and tossed some suggestions out into the public breeze:

Expand the school day. Offer preschool to all students. Allow students to earn a high school diploma by taking night classes or enrolling online. ...

The task force also recognized that the state, which faces a massive budget deficit and is tied with Michigan for the highest unemployment rate in the nation, can no longer afford to throw money at the problem of low-achieving urban schools.

"In these difficult economic times, we can't rely on the public sector to create the system we need," Simmons said in an interview last week. "The education system needs to be bailed out by both the public and the private sectors."

As a result, the group’s recommendations rely heavily on partnerships with higher education, the business community, nonprofit organizations and the faith-based community. ...

The task force doesn't put a price tag on an early-childhood program. It does say that pre-K should be offered in a variety of existing settings, including daycare, Head Start and public schools. The state Department of Education is already planning a pilot pre-K program.

With both the preschool and night school proposals, the panel is suggesting substantial expansion of the student base of urban schools, even as it acknowledges that changes must be accomplished within a static (or decreasing) education budget. Considering that the greatest cost per student is for instruction, what the panel's proposal requires either that teachers do more work for the same pay or that the workload is spread out in a teacher pool that, in aggregate, makes less money. Two steps would accomplish this goal, while increasing the efficiency and (I'd assert) the quality of the regular ol' public school system:

  1. Create a voucher system that enables more parents to send their children to the schools of their choice. Political realities would likely prevent such vouchers from covering the cost of even less-expensive private schools entirely, so this step would have the added benefit of drawing more money into the total for childhood education, as parents and charities react to the incentive to pay more out of pocket to fund private school tuition.
  2. Introduce into state law, in such a way as to supersede local contracts, increased discretion for school administrators when it comes to hiring and firing. As public schools lose some of their funding based on children withdrawn from their student bodies, and to compete with each other and private institutions, principals will need greater leeway to excise teachers who burden the system and bring in those with a promise for progress.
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.

If private schools get tax money via vouchers as you have described will they be subject to the same federal and state mandates and testing that public schools currently are burdened with?

Posted by: Phil at December 2, 2008 7:18 AM

Why should they be? Public schools are, more specifically, public-run schools. That's the justification for mandates. There's no reason that parents shouldn't be able to access at least some of the public funds allocated for their children's educations for the schools of their choice, if they believe those schools to be better run.

It bears mentioning that, if they believe that public schools could be better run, then it falls to them to advocate for changes via democratic means.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 2, 2008 7:28 PM

Why should private schools not meet the same burdens of accountability as public schools? Why would they get tax dollars and a free ride?

Posted by: Phil at December 3, 2008 6:29 AM

Public schools are accountable to the public because they are run by the public, for the public, and within the public budget. Private schools, by their nature, are accountable to shareholders and the parents who pay the tuitions.

Moreover, vouchers don't give private schools funding; they ensure accountability by giving parents the money and ability to choose schools.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 3, 2008 7:46 AM


Tax dollars given to indivuals as school vouchers would in affect flow directly to private schools. So why are you splitting hairs. Can someone with school age children take the money and not use it for tuition? If my tax dollars are being spent for educating a child at a private school should I not know how that money is being spent. Would there be any accountability and transparency?

Posted by: phil at December 3, 2008 6:10 PM


Does (or should) the government make demands with respect to the stores that welfare recipients patronize? How about disability or any other public benefit?

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 3, 2008 8:03 PM


We are getting offtrack but since one of us needs to answer the questions , I will attempt to answer yours.
Government at one time did limit the products available to those on assistance with its farm commodities. It should be noted that agricultural businesses did quite well. That changed and having never recieved those benefits I could not tell you more about the current program. I don't imagine that folks on assistance can buy tobacco or alcohol but I could be wrong. In the mid 70's I recieved federal unemployment benefits and was required to meet with State officials and prove that I was actively engaged in seeking work. My benefits were terminated based on their assesment of my performance.
Also and again I may be wrong but people recieving federal disabilty benefits are limited to the amount of compensation they can earn from work.

The public's support of public schools assure all of us that the population we live amongst are educated at a level as to live and work in a modern democracy. The accountability and democratic processes that allow us to moniter the tax supported schools are in the public interest. Private schools now occupy a comfortable niche and would have to expand and build to accodate new students. If they do this with tax dollars they should be made to clear the same hurdles that public schools do.
The public would have the same interest in those students as they do in the public school students.

Posted by: Phil at December 4, 2008 6:38 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.