October 4, 2010

The Rhode Island House of Representatives on Education Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

There have been a series of related educational reform developments in Rhode Island over the past several years, including the Race to the Top application, the events in Central Falls, the passage of the "funding formula", the expansion of charter schools and the creation of a new public governance structure for public education, the mayoral academies spearheaded by Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee. Charter school and mayoral academy advocates have been successful in advancing their program via the RI legislature, this year convincing them to raise statutory cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Rhode Island from 20 to 35, with the House voting in favor by a vote of 69 - 3 (see pg. 5). However, support for structural education reform in the legislature hasn’t always been so lopsided, as the vote tallies below will show.

Initial legislation authorizing Mayoral academies was passed in 2008. During the floor debate, two amendments intended to water down the new structure were proposed on the House floor; one sponsored by Rep. Amy Rice which would have required Mayoral Academies to comply with many district and/or state level personnel policies, e.g. prevailing wages, tenure, etc. (see pg. 175), and one sponsored by Rep. Jack Savage which would have denied public funding to Mayoral academies (see pg. 176). Both amendments failed.

In 2009, a vote was taken on using 1.5 million dollars in state education funds to get the first year of the Mayoral Academy in Cumberland (and another charter school in Central Falls) underway (see pg. 33). Had this appropriation not been passed, Rhode Island's eligibility for certain Federal education aid would have been seriously damaged. This amendment passed.

This first set of tallies on these votes refers to legislators present for the 2008, 2009 and 2010 sessions:

14 current legislators voted against structural education reform in all three instances, i.e. they voted to restrict Mayoral academy autonomy, to deny them public funding in general and to deny them the specific appropriation needed to get them started...

Ajello, DeSimone, Fellela, Ferri, Handy, Lima, Menard, Pacheco, Rice A, Savage, Segal, Ucci, Walsh, Wasylyk.
Another 4 reps voted with the reformers in 2008, but didn't follow-through to vote for the last 1.5 million dollars to get the program up and running in 2009...
Caprio, Jacquard, Melo, Naughton.
5 other reps changed their positions in the other direction, voting in favor of the failed attempts to water down Mayoral academies in 2008, but then voting for the 1.5 million to set them up in 2009...
Diaz, Palumbo, Sullivan, Williams, Winfield.
Finally, 28 reps voted for all three pro-reform measures associated with the Mayoral academies...
The Honorable Speaker Murphy, Almeida, Baldelli-Hunt, Brien, Carter, Coderre, Corvese, Costantino, Ehrhardt, Fox, Gablinske, Gallison, Gemma, Jackson, Kilmartin, Loughlin, Malik, Mattiello, McCauley, McNamara, O'Neill, Petrarca, Serpa, Silva, Trillo, Vaudreuil, Williamson.
There were a few other odds-and-ends positions taken. Robert Watson voted in favor of allowing Mayoral academies autonomy, but also in favor of denying them public funds, but also in favor of the 1.5 million dollars in 2009. Donald Lally voted to restrict their autonomy, but in favor of their receiving public funds in general, but against the 1.5 million in 2009. Joanne Giannini and William San Bento voted against autonomy, against the 1.5 million, and did not vote on the public funding question. Brian Kennedy voted against autonomy, and did note vote on the other matters.

In the case of representatives who took office for the first time in 2009 (and Rod Driver), we have only the vote on the 1.5 million dollar appropriation to look at; of this group, 11 voted in favor of the final money needed to implement the first Mayoral Academy (and the Central Falls charter school)...

Driver, Edwards, Fierro, Hearn, Marcello, Martin, Newberry, Pollard, Ruggiero, Shallcross-Smith, Slater.
...and six voted against...
Azzinaro, Carnavale, DaSilva, Guthrie, MacBeth, Rice M.
Also, Rep. Gregory Schadone did not vote on the 2008 amendments and voted for the 1.5 million in 2009.

9 members of the strongly pro-education reform group have already lost their legislative seats, either through retirement, or through the loss of a primary (and Elizabeth Dennigan, who voted with the reform side in all three votes, has been replaced by anti-reform dead-ender Mary Duffy Messier, one of the 3 in the 69-3 vote mentioned in the first paragraph). This means that the reforms that have been achieved so far -- depending heavily on the composition of the new legislature elected in November -- are vulnerable to the damage that an inattentive or unimaginative legislature could do, especially when the current chairman of the state's Democratic Party, Ed Pacheco, cast his votes with the strongly anti-reform group.

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And there was also House Bill H7415: < a href="http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText10/HouseText10/H7415.pdf" target="_blank">http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText10/HouseText10/H7415.pdf which would have really added an unnecessary overhead nightmare. Segal, Fierro, Ajello, Walsh, and MacBeth allo wanted to make the mayoral academies into an "opt out" rather than an "opt in". Even though it could be argued that they already are an opt-out, by their choice to not apply.

The bill states that children would be selected by a random draw and then the family would have the option to accept or reject the spot.

A few posts ago, Andrew mentioned that MacBeth seems pretty conservative fiscally and then goes off the deep end to the left with some other things. For the most part, the other things really just include the mayoral academy. This bill was a great example.

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