Editorial: State priorities should be schools and jobs

Posted 1/17/20

Welcome to January, the season of rebirth, when all hope springs eternal …

Something seem amiss? It is.

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s State of the State address was easy to cheer. She …

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Editorial: State priorities should be schools and jobs


Welcome to January, the season of rebirth, when all hope springs eternal …

Something seem amiss? It is.

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s State of the State address was easy to cheer. She spoke with enthusiastic optimism about a robust economy, the best job market in Rhode Island history and the state’s lowest unemployment rate in three decades. She spoke about huge accomplishments in job training programs, affordable health care and commercial investments at Quonset and the former I-195 land in Providence.

All are true, and all are worth celebrating.

What she failed to mention is a nearly $200 million structural deficit in the state’s budget, and the many battles looming this spring between legislators, her office and lobbyists all trying to see their pet projects protected or enacted.

The harsh reality is that Rhode Island cannot afford to accomplish all things, especially all things on the governor’s to-do list, while protecting all that is already in place. The state cannot continue to offer free college tuition, pay back students’ college loans, build affordable housing, renovate the beach facilities, improve the state parks, rebuild hundreds of bridges, build new Pre-K facilities, send more money to the schools for mental health training and supports, etc. … while using its current $10 billion budget (and $200 million structural deficit) as a starting point.

It must prioritize the most important and cut or reduce everywhere else.

We suggest two areas of highest priority and urge state leaders to scrutinize every spending proposal to ask whether it truly supports either of those goals.

The first is education — not only fixing what’s broken but building a better system for the future. Specific ideas, both immediate and long-term:

• Invest in charter schools that are succeeding and encourage more educational innovation.

• Expand pre-K facilities, as the governor proposes.

• Demand more consolidation of public school districts and increase funding to districts only if they can demonstrate they are reducing overhead, forgoing capital projects or creating substantial improvements in curriculum and delivery of services.

• Eliminate or scale back out-of-district busing requirements to private schools.

• Streamline an overly complex teacher certification process, so capable educators can more easily get to work where they are needed.

• Invest in more specialized programs — like an ESL Academy (as Republicans suggest), technology centers or special education schools — so students find the best places to learn, and districts can create better environments for their core student populations.

Secondly, invest in the economy.

Continue the job training programs. Make the rail upgrades. Reduce the small business taxes. Continue loan programs for entrepreneurs. Invest in new industrial centers.

And reduce corporate welfare programs. Great schools, a strong economy and a beautiful coastline are more than enough to attract and retain top businesses.

Rhode Island cannot afford all things — education and the economy should matter more than anything else.

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.