Guest MINDSETTER™ Stewart: Why I Oppose Raimondo’s Free College Scheme
Friday, March 17, 2017
Guest MINDSETTER™ Andrew Stewart
Far be it for me to rain on everyone’s parade but I think the notion of Gina Raimondo, the best friend education privatizers ever had on Smith Hill, offering free tuition is simply not worth it. Anyone who does not recognize this as first and foremost a desperate re-election ploy and therefore a bid to further damage public education in Rhode Island is totally missing the point. The legend has it that the gates of Hell were marked with a sign that said“Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” and I do not see pearly gates on the horizon with this.
So let’s start with a basic fact, Rhode Island’s public education system, flawed as it may be, is one of the most robust and admirable in America hands-down. Which in corporate Democrat speak is translated to the word“jackpot”. Lest anyone forget, Raimondo’s husband, Andrew Moffit, is a charter school industrial player. His career began with a stint in the union-busting Teach for America, which engages in the sort of paternalistic missionary work of sending under-qualified and under-trained college graduates into urban public schools because, well, poor black and brown kids apparently don’t deserve qualified teachers who are looking for a lifetime career as opposed to a self-serving careerist looking for a resume stepping stone. Raimondo and Moffit have always seen public resources, such as the pension fund, as untapped wellsprings of capital for their paymasters in the 1%. Let’s not forget, the charter school industry is financed by the hedge fund sector Raimondo invested the pension in while Treasurer. These same hedge fund leaders like Paul Tudor Jones (a Raimondo backer, by the way) were responsible for causing the 2008 economic apocalypse. That in turn was built off a systemic level of predatory real estate loans in sub-prime mortgages that were viciously and deceptively marketed to black and brown folks nationwide. Public education for the 1% is a massive hindrance to their ultimate goal because it incidentally has manning it a white-collar union of college-educated professionals who are savvy enough to know a scam when they see it.
But besides those basic observations, what exact good has Raimondo done for our colleges while in office? She refused to say any kind words defending the second female president of Rhode Island College, Nancy Carrioulo, when she was ousted in a duplicitous and unsavory coup last year that stank of Smith Hill cronyism from the get-go (shows how far Gina’s faux-feminism will go). And then just coincidentally after that fiasco Richard Culatta, straight out of the pro-charter school Department of Education, was made a cabinet officer that is not held to traditional checks and balances because, surprise, he is working at the Rhode Island College Foundation. What exactly Culatta is doing remains opaque but, given how the Governor has of late gotten all gaga for computers, it seems logical to deduce he might be working to implement what is known as computer-based personalized learning. Don’t let that name fool you, however, it is much more creepy. Already in Florida we have students enter a classroom and sit in front of a screen for the entire school day as they are supervised by a proctor as opposed to a teacher. There are so many things that are wrong with this sort of anti-social arrangement. The school day is meant to be about a holistic development of the entire student, not just tapping on a keyboard, and the socialization that a child needs to properly develop psychologically and emotionally is fundamentally ripped away when they are in front of a screen all day. Oh, and that does not even begin the discussion about real physical impediments created by being on a computer all day, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, vision impairment, and other neurological factors science is still revealing to us regarding longtime exposure of youths to flickering screens. Does that sound like a good set of previous policies for education in Rhode Island?
Or what about the law-breaking Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, who in December violated state law and approved the expansion of Achievement First charter school in Providence, a move that City Councilor Sam Zurier said was a surefire way to “break” public education in the city? Raimondo has a confirmed “open door policy” with Wagner and it is blatantly obvious to anyone and everyone with their wits about them that she was supportive of such a move. Charter schools engage in advertising and recruitment practices that prey on the fears of the school-to-prison pipeline in black and brown communities, utilize brutal disciplinary methods, and take funding away from school districts to the detriment of special education and English as a secondary language students. Their teachers are unable to gain tenure and make far less than their public sector counterparts. They have a substantial level of corruption and malfeasance that no less than comedian John Oliver highlighted their massive flaws in a segment of his show Last Week Tonight. All this should dictate to voters that Raimondo needs to get away from public education immediately and go back to being a failed venture capitalist.
The real beneficial move for a public official to take at this point regarding public education, besides shuttering charter schools, would be to give debt relief to graduates. Rhode Island’s current economic doldrums are defined by the fact there is not enough demand in the local economy. Thousands of college graduates are currently living at home with their parents because they are living under crushing debt that eats up a sizable amount of their paycheck. If it were possible to offer debt relief, perhaps in exchange for a term of public service in unionized jobs, that would increase the amount of demand in the economy, meaning there would be growth. However, I highly doubt that the anti-public sector Raimondo would be able and willing to make a deceptive political grandstand out of such a notion and revive a tenure on Smith Hill that has been nothing but pathetic. Could maybe Seth Magaziner, our current Treasurer, use such a move?
Andrew Stewart is a member of the Rhode Island Media Cooperative, an organization created for freelancers by freelancers which you can join for free.
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.
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.”
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."
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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."
Long Term Care Funding
The Governor’s proposal recommends “redesigning the nature” of the State’s Integrated Care Initiative, by transferring long-term stay nursing home members from Neighborhood Health to Medicaid Fee-for-Service and repurposing a portion of the anticipated savings (from reduced administrative payments to Neighborhood Health) for “enhanced services in the community.” “The investments in home- and community-based care will help achieve the goal of rebalancing the long-term care system," states the Administration.
Cutting that program is tagged at saving $12.2 million; cuts and “restructuring” at Health and Human Services is slated to save $46.3 million.