Would increasing school choice improve the state’s economy?


Imagine a working class family with young children looking to move into Rhode Island for a job opportunity. What would be their first consideration? The public education system of course! How many times has that search caused parents to change their minds about moving into Rhode Island? When that family learns that only 33% of Rhode Island public school students are reading at or above grade level, they may think differently about their intended move.
We need and deserve a stronger educational system on which to build a stronger economy in Rhode Island. In its October 2020 report, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth declared “Public investments in education can spur equitable growth, pay for themselves, and create jobs for a stronger economic recovery.” Students who excel academically tend to become strong citizens who add value to the overall community. So, what embellishments could be made to provide every RI student a first-class education?
Is applying more funding to our already heavily subsidized educational system the right answer? In March 2021, the Boston Globe reported that Rhode Island overspends on K-12 education. Michael DiBiase, the CEO of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, stated that Rhode Island is ahead of the national average in spending on K-12 education. DiBiase also reported that despite being “relatively generous” in K-12 spending, “student outcomes are average to below average, so questions arise about whether we are getting a return on investment.”
While providing more taxpayer dollars may seem like a solution, let’s look at the facts. The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) reports that the state spends over $2.3 billion dollars annually on public education. Yet, on average, graduation rates are in the 84th percentile, while urban populations have even worse graduation rates. So, is simply putting more funding into the mix the right answer? Perhaps not.
School choice could be just the ticket to success. States which provide a variety of taxpayer funded educational options have seen a more competitive educational environment. School choice is like the rising tide that lifts all boats when schools must become competitive and realize that enrollment numbers are not necessarily guaranteed.
Rhode Island parents want more options for their children. reported on February 3, 2022, that “Parents want options when it comes to school choice, a survey shows.” Let us become more proactive in Rhode Island and empower Rhode Island families to select the quality educational options that best suit the needs of their children. When a child enrolls in an educational program where he/she feels wanted and supported, that child tends to grow and reach their full potential.
The Ocean State currently has very limited options for school choice. One option is the education corporate tax credit scholarship program. Corporations doing business in Rhode Island are able to apply for a business tax credit. If selected, they then make a comparable donation to a scholarship organization which, in turn, uses those contributions as tuition assistance to needy families to attend schools of choice like our fine Catholic Schools and other faith-based institutions. More information about this program can be found at any local Catholic School. This great program should be increased to allow more families and more businesses to take advantage of this program.
Students who do well in school go on to become active, professional individuals who tend to give back to the community. They become parents who advocate for their own children, and become better citizens and neighbors who actively participate in the state’s economy. Giving students more educational options leads to a stronger more vibrant economic climate in which to grow. It’s time to demand equal access to all forms of quality educational options for every student in Rhode Island.
Ed Bastia is the director of RI Families for School Choice, a not for profit group of volunteers who seek to advance the mission of equal access to all forms of quality education for every student in Rhode Island.