Saturday, November 28, 2009

School System Reform Plan Revealed

Matthew Kazas

Recently a plan to reform the Rhode Island school system was unveiled by state education officials. The hope of this reform is to increase student proficiency, revamp failing schools, improve teacher quality and shrink gaps between low-income and middle-income students.

State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist and her staff have been working on the 20-page draft of the reform plan for four months. The draft contains how Gist plans on improving this school system over the next three to five years.

The Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education on reviewed the draft on Thursday; they are expected to endorse it at a Dec. 3 meeting.

"We need to keep our eyes wide open and be flexible," she said. "In many ways, it represents not just the work that’s happened since I’ve been here, but also the work that’s gone on for several years. We are getting a little more ambitious and emphasizing … the sense of urgency we have about this work."

Gist also said that the plan is a "living document," and will be updated or modified as they progress, and as education officials gather more information.

The plan will consist of several large changes to the school system, including increasing the state’s high school graduation rate from 70% to 80% by 2012, and to 85% by 2015. It also relies on making it harder to become or continue working as a teacher in Rhode Island, and paying the best teachers more, based on data that shows that have improved student performance.

Other changes that should take place are the reduction of achievement gaps by 50% among low-income and minority students, the expansion of online courses and the development of a statewide virtual high school. Transforming failing schools, particularly in low-performing urban districts, and developing data systems that help teachers improve their instruction are also on the long list of changes.

"This is our plan, regardless of whether additional resources come into play," she said. "We are confident we are organizing our staff and redirecting the resources we already have to these priorities."


Pocket Constitution Project Hits The Streets

Mike Ryan
Ben Ryan

Today a number of young citizens were seen in various places in downtown Providence distributing pocket-sized United States Constitutions. The Pocket Constitution Project is the first major operation by the Civics & Arts division of Rhode Island Hope, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to increase awareness of the rights of U.S. Citizens and to keep alive hope for a better future.

The project was inspired by the group's shared experience interviewing many elected officials and public figures over the course of the last year. One question always asked of the person interviewed was: "When was the first and last time you read the U.S. Constitution?" The answer was almost invariably "high school." This prompted regular discussion as to how the American People can secure and protect their rights If they don't even know them. So, armed with several hundred Constitution booklets, the group spread out downtown and freely handed them out to anyone who wanted one.

Though the response was generally positive and several hundred copies were welcomed, they were both surprised and distressed at the number of pedestrians who turned down a handy portable copy of the American Citizen's most fundamental working documents. One man wondered aloud why at the age of 56 he should learn or even care about the Constitution at all; several others passed on grounds that they knew their rights already. A woman insisted that she didn't need one because she works in the legal field.

Rhode Island Hope will be out again braving the biting cold and wind to hand out copies of our founding documents in the near future. For more information visit their newsblog at, or tune in to their radio show on Tuesday mornings at 10:00 AM on WNRI-1380 AM.

At the request of Rhode Island Hope, pocket Constitutions were donated by the taxpayers of Rhode Island via the offices of James Langevin, Patrick Kennedy and Sheldon Whitehouse (Jack Reed's office refused to donate on the grounds that Mr. Reed only distributes them to "special constituents").

Friday, November 20, 2009

State Expects Fiscal Year To End Badly

Matthew Kazas

Last Monday afternoon the governor’s budget office released the deficit projection, which is based on revenue and spending levels across state government through the first three months of the budget year. The first-quarter report confirms that the state is on its way to ending the current fiscal year $219.8 million in the red.

Rosemary Booth Gallogly, Carcieri’s budget officer, cited three primary causes for the current year deficit projection of the first quarter report: reduced revenues of $130.4 million, overspending by the state departments of $34.9 million, and an opening deficit of $61.8 million.

Last week state government’s top budget officials agreed to reduce revenue estimates of six months earlier. Top losses included the sales and use tax, which went down $64 million; the income tax, which went down $44 million; and the business corporation tax, which went down $18.9 million.

As more and more Rhode Islanders become jobless, the Department of Human Services’ budget is overdrawn to a higher extent. This year it is expected to overspend its budget by $17 million, due primarily to the rising number of low-income Rhode Islanders on Medicaid. As the unemployment rate grows that number will rise, along with the cost to the state.

"The state has taken significant measures over the past several years, and still revenues are below estimates" said Amy Kempe, Governor Carcieri’s spokeswoman. Kempe described the current financial situation as "one of the most, if not the most, difficult fiscal environments the state has seen."

Sources: Providence Journal

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cory Shea

Gretchen Ryan-O'Connor

Federal law states that being buried Veteran’s Cemetery with your son or daughter who has died in war is not allowed. The only people who can be buried with a solider are a spouse or minor children.

Denise Anderson, a local Massachusetts mother, had to bury her 21-year-old son, Cory Shea. He was killed in 2008 while in Iraq. Cory was never married and had no children. Denise asked to be buried with him. She hadn’t known about the federal law.

Denise has enlisted the aid of Congressman Barney Frank in starting a petition to allow her be with her son. Shea was buried in National Veteran’s Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts, and still has three empty plots available to him.

When Denise was interviewed October ninth on NPR, she was asked why she wanted to be buried with him, even after knowing about the law;

“Because he was my only son, and he sacrificed his life for his country. I sacrificed every day getting up without him, without knowing where he is…”

Denise only wants the law to be changed for the parents whose child has died without marrying or having kids. Having this law changed could ease the hearts of parents. “I know he’s with his brothers-in-arms right now, but I want him to be with family," she said. “I don’t want him down there alone."

“The disproportion between what this country owes her and what she is asking is just as large as can be," Frank said. “She lost her son. She has a request that she would rather be buried with him when that day comes. The disproportion can only be embarrassing. I hope we can accommodate this."

Barney Frank is making a bill to try to change that law, and hopefully reunite a mother with her son.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Healthcare Reform Rolls Along

Jake Wolf-Jensen

The clock is ticking on healthcare reform for Senate Democrats, though they are close to getting the necessary 60 votes that would ensure the passing of the bill, which would include an option for government-backed insurance, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

President Obama has made overhauling the healthcare system his top domestic priority, and has laid out an ambitious goal of passing reform legislation before the year's end. He has also set a cost limit of $900 billion on the bill, though there is speculation that he would be willing to go up to $1 trillion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is leaning towards proposing a bill that would make the government option optional for individual states, said Schumer, while on NBC's Meet the Press last Sunday.

“The liberals, they'd like it stronger, but are willing to live with [the opt-out bill],” said Schumer. “The more moderate Democrats - there are some who actually like it. As long as it's a level playing field, they are comfortable with it.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is also optimistic about the bill, and that it will pass by the end of the year, as Obama hopes.

“If we get some of the more moderate senators like [Nebraska's] Ben Nelson and [Indiana's] Evan Bayh and [Connecticut's] Joe Lieberman in the fold, it would not surprise me to see the few remaining moderate Republicans come along,” said McCaskill last Sunday, while on ABC's This Week, though Nelson has said that he is not ready to support a government-run option, even with the opt-out provision.

“I'll take a look at the one where states could opt in if they make the decision themselves,” said Nelson, during an interview on CNN. “I think the states can make decisions on their own about their citizens. And so I certainly would look at that.”

An aide for Joe Lieberman said that, while he doesn't necessarily support the public option, he would be “inclined” to vote for the bill.

Even Senate Republicans are predicting some success for the health care bill, such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who said that the Democrats “have the votes” to get the bill through legislation. “It's likely they will get something through, but it's not clear to me what it is,” said McCain last Sunday, while on CBS's Face the Nation.

Sources: Providence Journal, Associated Press