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Guest MINDSETTER™ Stenhouse: DeVos as Sec. of Education - National School Choice Around Corner

Saturday, December 03, 2016

 

How many Rhode Island families have moved away? How many other American families have chosen not to make our state their home… because of a lack educational opportunity and economic prosperity?

The die has now been cast: School choice is all about expanding educational freedom for families; those who oppose choice are all about preserving the status quo system. With aggressive education reform ideas to come from the White House beginning next year ... only one side will prevail. 

In announcing his intent to nominate philanthropist, entrepreneur, and education reform leader, Betsy DeVos, to serve as his administration’s Secretary of Education, president-elect Donald Trump has selected a talented woman who will place the interests of students and families above the interests of the government-run school system. A proven innovator, Betsy DeVos will ostensibly work with states and with Congress to implement the new president’s bold national school choice initiative.

I have had the pleasure of personally meeting Ms. Devos in attending multiple education reform conferences sponsored by the American Federation for Children (AFC), of which Ms. DeVos has been chairman, and I have chatted with her over dinner. I know that she will support reform of America’s broken educational system by removing barriers to change and by seeking to create an environment where our children can be better prepared for college, for work, and for life.

“The status quo in education is not acceptable. Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential,” said DeVos, in accepting her pending nomination. For decades, she has been helping underserved children gain access to a quality education by working to break the bureaucratic system that is holding back far too many of our children.

It is the mission of educational leaders like Betsy DeVos to provide students, trapped by their zip code in a failed school, with the opportunity to attend a school of their family’s choice. Such choices include expansion of charter school seats, educational scholarships that can be used to attend private schools, and private mentoring programs.

Our RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has similarly advocated for Bright Today Educational Scholarships, which would empower parents in our state with the freedom and financial capacity to choose the best educational path for their children - public or private schools, or even home-schooling - if they are not satisfied with their zip-code assigned public school. Our Center produced reams of research that clearly demonstrated that such a program would not cause harm to students who remain in public schools: In fact, a detailed financial model (created in conjunction with an economics professor from Providence College) showed that by funding such scholarships with state money only, and leaving 100% of local education dollars for exclusive use in local public schools, there would actually be more money available per public school student. 

However, the powerful interests who control much of what happens when it comes to educational policy on Smith Hill, were able to convince lawmakers not to give serious consideration to our legislation. Unfortunately for Ocean State students, similar school choice programs have proven to be enormously successful in other states and have given hundreds of thousands of American families new hope for their children. Without political leadership and courage, private school choice cannot become a reality for Rhode Island families.

The president-elect, however, seeks to provide that leadership. His vision for increased educational freedom is slightly different. He plans to re-prioritize $20 billion of existing federal education funds to be used for a national school choice program for children living in poverty. Under the program, states would have the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the school of their family’s choice - public or private. I estimate that tens of millions of federal education dollars may be available for this purpose in Rhode Island. Our state can ensure receipt of these funds - that will directly benefit children in disadvantaged families - if we opt-in to the program and if we encourage students to participate in private school choice and charter school programs.

Two Major Challenges

However, two major challenges must first be overcome before Rhode Island families can be empowered with more options for their children’s education.

First, it will be a challenge for Betsy DeVos to develop the specifics around this program and make the case to states that the program will benefit real children who are trapped in failed schools. Simultaneously, she must also develop a strategy that will help states increase the overall quality of our local public educational systems, including a fair and measurable national standard that is not Common Core.

Once we see the details that DeVos puts together for a national school choice program, our Center will likely recommend that matching state funds be added into the mix so that more students can be afforded scholarships can transform their lives. Depending on the size of the scholarships, public school districts can actually save money!

Second, and even more difficult, it will be a major challenge for RI lawmakers to make our children their number one consideration, to accept the new president’s and education secretary’s leadership, and to ignore the perfunctory and frivolous protestations by those who will surely defend the failed status quo. A major challenge indeed.

Virtually all political, community, and business leaders mouth the talk that better-educated graduates lead to a better-qualified workforce, which, in turn, leads to greater individual and statewide economic prosperity. Yet very few of these leaders are actually willing to buck the system and walk the talk. In the coming years, they will be put to the test.

Our Ocean State ranks a dismal 48th in the broadest national measure of family prosperity, the Family Prosperity Index; weak performance in education, dismal entrepreneurship rates, high illicit drug use, and a steady stream of people leaving our state in search of a brighter and more hopeful future for their families are just some of the major factors why we rank so poorly. Education reforms - along the lines of what a Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will likely usher in - can directly improve each of these factors … and will improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders. 

Rhode Island must keep pace, nationally, or we will continue to be an even less desirable state to raise a family and build a career. In a state that has a history of accepting virtually every dollar of federal funding it is offered, it would be a cruel and tragic irony if Rhode Island’s political class were to refuse the one source of federal funds that could have the most beneficial direct impact on the future of our children … and of our state.

The die has been cast … 

 

Mike Stenhouse is CEO for the nonpartisan RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity

 

Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers - 2016 Election

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Winner

Joe Trillo and John DePetro

While most Republicans in Rhode Island were hiding in the bushes, Trillo (the former GOP lawmaker) and DePetro (the WPRO talk show host) were loyal advocates for Donald Trump from the beginning and through the rough spots.

Both could be big winners and could score slots with the administration -- want to go to the White House? You now know the rings you need to kiss.

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Winner

Donald Trump, President of the United States

The most unlikely candidate pulled off the biggest victory in Presidential history. The billionaire developer was underestimated which set forth much of his success during the primaries and in the election. The next four years will never be dull.   

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Winner

General Michael Flynn

The Rhode Island native and URI grad will have a major roll in the Trump Administration and America's foreign policy. As top GOP consultant Ian Prior wrote in GoLocal in July about Flynn when he was on the VP shortlist:

Of course, there are any number of national security experts that can prosecute the case against Hillary Clinton, but Flynn is unique. He is a registered Democrat that was appointed by President Obama in 2012 to serve as Director of the DIA. Even more importantly, he resigned two years later over what he believed to be a misguided approach by the administration as it concerned ISIS.

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Loser

Nellie Gorbea, Secretary of State

This year's election was one of the the most mismanaged in modern Rhode Island history. First, the Chief-of Staff of the Secretary of State's office gets into a battle with talk show host John DePetro on social media. The action seemed inappropriate at best for the head of the office administering the election.

Then, the state's Presidential election hit a number of rough spots with faulty equipment and a failed repair and triage system that lead to long lines and frustration in a number of communities across the state.

The job of Secretary of State has three major components:

1) Take care of the State's achieves

2) Maintain a database of businesses

3) Run the state's elections

She needs to assure voters that she understands the problems and correct the mistakes.

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Loser

Brandon Bell, GOP Chair

Both Democratic Congressional candidates won big. The GOP had a net loss in the legislature.

Bell went all in on taking out Speaker Nick Mattiello -- a pro-business legislator, instead of recruiting a large number of competitive candidates. If Mattiello delivers of paper ballots like his campaign claims - Bell will have wildly miscalculated at every level and will have left the GOP a weaker party.

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Losers

Cicilline and Langevin

A Trump win greatly increases the likelihood that Rhode Island will lose a Congressional seat in the next federal redistricting. Rhode Island will be more like Vermont and Delaware -- two Senators and just one House member. This will mean a big loss for Rhode Island's clout in D.C.

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Winner

Allan Fung, Republican Mayor of Cranston

Fung had just the kind of night he wanted to have. He ran up big numbers against Democrat Mike Sepe and put parkinggate in his proverbial rear window.

The margin of victory is impressive -- Fung ran up 68% of the vote and has established himself as one of the top Republicans in Rhode Island.

Now, the personable Fung is the GOP frontrunner to challenge Raimondo as it does not look like she is going to Washington, D.C. now.

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Loser

RI's Broken Technology Infrastructure 

No money, no car, and no vote.

Lets see if we got this right. You have to wait in line to vote in some locations for as much as two hours because not enough scanners were deployed. Some days you can't register your car because the Hewlett-Packard system is not deployed and the state is now suing the company. And, tens of thousands of folks most in need have not been able to get their most critical benefits (or the from benefits) because the UHIP technology was flawed despite hundreds of millions being spent. 

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Winner

Speaker of the House, Nick Mattiello

If Mattiello does hold on to his House seat, he will be a stronger Speaker than ever before. He has added more Democrats to his majority and was the architect to many of the Democrats victories. 

The simmering stress between Mattiello and Raimondo will turn into a vibrant boil over during the next two years. Raimondo was no help to Mattiello or House members -- they had to clean up for her truck tolls and absorb her unwillingness to release 38 Studios documents.

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Loser

Gina Raimondo, Governor

Raimondo's options and national political network just took a major blow. No longer can Raimondo jump to the Clinton Administration to avoid a difficult reelection. Moreover, national Democratic connections are now in Siberia as the Presidency, the House and the Senate are all in Republican hands.

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Loser

Peter F. Neronha United States Attorney District of Rhode Island 

In a short period, it is highly likely the Neronha and a few other high profile political appointees will be replaced by the Trump White House. 

The impact of Ray Gallison and others is an unknown.

 
 

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