Guest MINDSETTER™ Stewart: 2 Unrelated Emails That Speak Volumes About the Governor

Thursday, August 03, 2017
Guest MINDSETTER™ Andrew Stewart

Gina Raimondo
Sometimes news stories are the stuff of long nights doing serious shoe leather journalism in the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies of muck in need of some serious raking. And then other times you have them literally fall into your lap or, in this case, inbox.

Lest anyone be mistaken, or perhaps be inclined to suggest I might do well to consult an alienist, I hope to assure readers from the outset that such is nothing more or less than stating that which is obvious in a fashion perhaps not proclaimed before. Perhaps some might feel I am being a tad unfair in some of the judgments but ultimately one must recall the saying of the great Amilcar Cabral, “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.”

The first epistle of note, dated July 26, was transcribed by the good Evan England at the Office of the General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. With enthusiasm to match a proclamation of elder days regarding the release of a Hollywood epic directed by Cecil B. DeMille, we are told “General Treasurer Seth Magaziner today announced that Rhode Island's pension fund earned 11.62%[,] outperforming the plan's benchmark and growing to $8,041,060,035 in the fiscal year ending on June 30.” This can be attributed to, among other things, a “significant reduction” of the pension's investments in hedge funds.  Six days prior, Diane Bucci wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Providence Journal protesting that a July 9 column written by Mark “Pinky” Patinkin failed to give “Rhode Island’s pension reform its due.” Ms. Bucci and her Rhode Island Retired Teachers Association have audited the pension thoroughly with Ted Siedle over the past several years and exposed the fraud of the so-called “pension reform” that now-Governor Gina Raimondo enacted while Treasurer by investing it in the dubious hedge funds. Their work, as thorough as it is readable, is demonstrative of a perhaps-criminal series of policy moves that could be investigated by any number of federal agencies. Of course Peter Kilmartin also could investigate the dubious actions pointed out by Siedle with the use of the RICO act, but then again one should not have high expectations of him.

The second email I found was written by Carol Burris from the Network for Public Education. She writes with great exuberance “Something wonderful happened again at the NAACP convention. Despite enormous ed-reform and political pressure, the NAACP stood strong and issued a remarkable report in support of public schools that demands charter reform.” The report, written by the NAACP Task Force on Quality Education and titled Quality Education for All... One School at a Time is a tremendous condemnation of both charter schools and the continued under-funding of public schools that serve students of color. Let's pause here and remember that the hedge funds that Raimondo invested the pension in use that money to finance charters, meaning every week a teacher sees a pay stub deduction that finances the busting of their own union.

That one-two punch of this report is an obvious stab at both the elements within the debate who promote further proliferation of charters, such as current Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, but also the proponents within the public education side of the debate who have narrowly focused energy on employees and not much else. The report recommends to the NAACP Board of Directors:

  • More equitable and adequate funding for all schools serving students of color.
  • School finance reform is needed.
  • Invest in low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity to close the achievement gap.
  • Mandate a rigorous authoring and renewal process for charters
  • Eliminate for-profit charter schools

 

What do I mean by narrowly focusing energy on employees? Let's not kid ourselves, if there be a ghost of Banquo who haunts the charter school debate, it is that of the Cold War liberal anti-Communist teacher union leader Albert Shanker. His tenure over the course of nearly four decades saw him position himself and his locals on the wrong side of history with regards to everything from McCarthyism and Vietnam to the 1968 New York teacher strike and implementation of multicultural curriculum.

Labor historian Paul Buhle at Brown University wrote in a Summer 1997 polemic titled Albert Shanker: No Tears “Albert Shanker's chief historic role was to pour gasoline on the spreading fire [in urban Black/Jewish relations in the 1960s]. Another, very different kind of leader might have taken early pride in the levels of teacher unionization achieved, and spent the next era striving to cool tempers. It would have been an honorable if not morally unmarred history, and a very unlikely one in this case. Shanker had a personal stake in the spotlight, according to friend and foe, amounting to megalomania. Like the calculating Vietnam hawk-propagandist-priest John O'Connor who raised himself through connections within the post-Vatican II's New Right Church leadership into Cardinal status, Shanker was not just fighting for his political life. In his mind's eye, he saw his name carved upon the historical record. Joining the inner circle of George Meany's AFL-CIO cronies who regarded Martin Luther King, Jr., as an ingrate for pressing too hard on integration and for coming out against the Vietnam war, and shunning even the cautious reformer Walter Reuther for the hawk faction gathering politically around Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Shanker made himself a national labor figure.”

If ever there was a man who embodied the best way to not defend the privatizing of public education, it was Albert Shanker. His near-sighted, narrow focus on a notion of educators alienating themselves from their labor, meaning their students and communities they work in, much in the same way that an auto worker would leave a dirty, oily piece of machinery at their workstation and wash themselves obsessively clean of the residue, is exactly why public education has been able to degenerate in the past three-quarters of a century.

A local manifestation of this has been borne out by the number of unionized employees who used their union paycheck to finance their child going to Catholic schools. What sort of solidarity can you possibly expect when the social contract of unionism in Rhode Island led to the lowest levels of public school enrollment in America due to parochial schools creating a separate and certainly not too equal system in prior generations? These are unspoken yet obvious facts to understand when we engage in the charter school debate and those who feign offense or ignorance are either deluded or bad liars. The longtime practice of urban educators commuting in from other cities like Warwick, where even the pavement tastes like a bland vanilla, is not answered in simplistic terms, particularly with the advent of gentrification. But we must abide what Cabral said, “claim no easy victories.”

However, this does not therefore mean that the public school is a lost cause in America. Instead, we need to understand what it truly means. For this, begin with guidance from Abraham Gutman, who advises looking to “the first few pages of The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B Du Bois’ communist manifesto, published in 1903.” In that volume, the co-founder of the NAACP emphasizes that the nucleus of America's social uprising is not a soviet or labor union or red guard. Rather, it is in his second essay, Of the Dawn of Freedom, where he describes the cultural revolution. “The greatest success of the Freedmen's Bureau lay in the planting of the free school among Negroes, and the idea of free elementary education among all classes in the South. It not only called the school-mistresses through the benevolent agencies and built them schoolhouses, but it helped discover and support such apostles of human culture as Edmund Ware, Samuel Armstrong, and Erastus Cravath. The opposition to Negro education in the South was at first bitter, and showed itself in ashes, insult, and blood; for the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent.” To further augment, I suggest a point raised by Black historian Rob DG Kelley, “the coming revolution was not posed in terms of capitalism versus socialism...but in terms of the complete and total overthrow of a racist, colonialist system that would open the way to imagine a whole new world.” In other words, the public schoolhouse is the location where it is possible to tear away from the failings of this Trumpified world and start anew with every pupil in every school day.

The potential in such another world being possible is demonstrated by these clear instances of Gina Raimondo's policies being throughly repudiated. Her successor in Treasury has finally been able to overcome her dreadful investment decisions and begin accruing money for the pension again, though it still has a long way to go. The NAACP has substantially rebuked the policies of her Education Commissioner Ken Wagner and husband Andrew Moffit.

If you cannot hear that gavel banging right now, I think it is the verdict of history.

Andrew Stewart is a member of the Rhode Island Media Cooperative, an organization created for freelancers by freelancers which you can join for free.

  • Winner

    Criminal Justice Reform

    Per recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, the Governor is proposing nearly $1 million in investments such as the public defender mental health program ($185,000), improved mental health services at the ACI ($410,000), recovery housing ($200,000) and domestic violence intervention, in her FY18 budget. 

     
  • Winner

    English Language Learners

    Under the heading of “promoting 3rd grade reading,” Raimondo proposed adding $2.5 million to make English Language Learning (ELL) K-12 funding permanent.  The Governor’s office points out that RI is one of four states that doesn’t have permanent funding.

    The suggestion was one made by the Funding Formula Working Group in January 2016, who said that “in the event that Rhode Island chooses to make an additional investment in ELLs, the funding should be calculated to be responsive to the number of ELLs in the system and based on reliable data, and include reasonable restrictions to ensure that the money is used to benefit ELLs — and promote the appropriate exiting of ELL students from services.”

     
  • Winner

    Car Owners - and Drivers

    Governor Raimondo wants to reduce assessed motor vehicle values by 30% - a change that would reduce total car tax bills by about $58 million in calendar year 2018. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, however, has indicated that he might want to go further in its repeal.  

    In her budget proposal, Raimondo also put forth adding 8 staffers to the the Department of Motor Vehicles to "address wait times."

     
  • Winner

    T.F. Green

    The “Air Services Development Fund” would get an influx of $500,000 to “provide incentives to airlines interested in launching new routes or increasing service to T.F. Green Airport.” The Commerce Corporation set the criteria at the end of 2016 for how to grant money through the new (at the time $1.5 million fund).

    Also getting a shot in the arm is the I-195 development fund, which would receive $10.1 million from debt-service savings to “resupply” the Fund to “catalyze development & attract anchor employers.”

     
  • Tie

    Minimum Wage Increase

    An increase in the state minimum wage is part of Raimondo’s proposal, which would see it go from $9.60 an hour to $10.50 an hour.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort in 2016 to bring it up to $10.10 — it was June 2015 that she signed legislation into law that last raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage, from $9 to 9.60.  

    The state's minimum hourly wage has gone up from $6.75 in January 2004 to $7.75 in 2013, $8 in 2014, and $9 on Jan. 1, 2015.  Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business however have historically been against such measures, citing a hamper on job creation.  

     
  • Tie

    Cigarette Tax

    Like the minimum wage, Raimondo is looking for an increase - in this instance, the cigarette tax, and revenue to state coffers.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort to go from a tax of $3.75 to $4 last year. Now she is looking for an increase to $4.25 per pack, which the administration says would equate to $8.7 million in general revenue — and go in part towards outdoor recreation and smoking cessation programs.  

    The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups have historically been against such an increase, saying it will hurt small businesses - i.e. convenience stores. And clearly, if you’re a smoker, you’re likely to place this squarely in the loser category instead. 

     
  • Loser

    Hospitals

    As often happens in the state budget, winner one year, loser the next. As GoLocal reported in 2016, “the Rhode Island Hospital Association immediately lauded the budget following its introduction, and addressed that while it is facing some reductions, that it "applauds" this years budget after landing on the "loser" list last year.”

    This year, it falls back on the loser list, with a Medicaid rate freeze to hospitals, nursing homes, providers, and payers — at FY 2017 levels, with a 1% rate cut come January 1, 2018. 

     
  • Loser

    Online Shoppers

    The taxman cometh — maybe.  Raimondo proposed an “Internet Sales Tax Initiative” — which would purportedly equate to $34.7 million in revenues.

    "Online sales and the fact that online sellers do not collect sales tax has created a structural problem for Rhode Island's budget — our sales taxes have been flat," said Director of Administration Michael DiBiase, of the tax that Amazon collects in 33 states, but not Rhode Island. "We think mostly due to online sales, we’re able to capture the growth. The revenue number is $35 million dollars — it improves our structural deficit problem. It’s an important fiscal development."

     
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