OP-ED

The speaker's shortchanging of our students

By ALLAN W. FUNG
Posted 7/31/20

I must respond to the recent opinion piece on education funding written by one of "e;Mattiello's Minions,"e; Rep. Robert Jacquard, who has lived off Cranston taxpayers as a pensioner, who pays nothing for his healthcare, and who even got his

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OP-ED

The speaker's shortchanging of our students

Posted

I must respond to the recent opinion piece on education funding written by one of “Mattiello’s Minions,” Rep. Robert Jacquard, who has lived off Cranston taxpayers as a pensioner, who pays nothing for his healthcare, and who even got his law degree at the taxpayer’s expense. His recent column distorts the true reality of state education funding that has been sorely lacking for decades for which both he and Speaker Mattiello deserve some of the blame.

When I was in high school in 1985, the General Assembly promised that education funding would be an equal 50/50 partnership between the state and municipalities. However, the state failed to keep its promise. Year after year, city leaders pleaded with the General Assembly for more money to take the pressure off property taxpayers. Cities and towns and their respective school departments called for a fix through the enactment of an education funding formula that properly funded our students and their needs.

It was an embarrassment that we were the last state in our country to adopt a funding formula in 2010. Let’s be clear, Rep. Jacquard, Speaker Mattiello and the General Assembly did not vote for the education funding formula because they wanted to do the right thing. They were forced to or else they would have lost out on millions in federal “Race to the Top” funds.

When I first took over as mayor in 2009, the Cranston taxpayers were paying a crushing 70 percent of the cost for the city’s schools. On top of this, Cranston schools were in a financial hole, and owed the city close to $9 million. With the passage of the education funding formula, the state began slowly increasing its share for the financial cost of supporting our local school districts. But even with the new state education funding formula, city taxpayers are still funding about 60 percent of the entire education budget. We’re still not adequately funded by the state and have a long way to go to reach the 50/50 goal set generations ago.

The city has tried to make up for the state’s failure. During my tenure as mayor, the city has provided $10.5 million more to the school’s operating budget, forgiven over $1.3 million in past debt, and last year alone committed nearly $13 million in capital improvements. I have continued my commitment to fund the schools, even during these tough COVID times which has wrecked many municipal budgets.

Rep. Jacquard also lauds the millions for our city’s schools from the federal coronavirus relief funds. What he failed to state was that the state cut the same amount of dollars from what was already owed to cities and towns. This is the typical slight-of-hand trick to rob Peter to pay Paul that is infamous during Rep. Jacquard’s 27-year career of walking the marble halls of the State House. Plus, the additional funds that they did provide isn’t enough to compensate the school district for the increased mandates coming from the state on transportation, PPE, and other guidelines to ensure a safe school environment. This is yet another area where the state is shortchanging our students.

The lack of faith in Mattiello and his Minions on this critical issue of school funding by members of his own party is striking. All four Democrat members of the Cranston City Council voted to remove the line item in the city budget for the expected funding formula increase because they did not have enough trust that Mattiello’s team would come through with that crucial investment in the education of our students. Instead of stepping up during a crisis, the General Assembly has sat back and refused to meet for months – even virtually like municipalities have done. This has left school committees and superintendents across the state without an idea of what their final budgets will look like, with what will be the most technically difficult reopening in history staring in front of them.

I will just end by saying that I know Rep. Jacquard is trying to defend Speaker Mattiello and his record on education just like he tried to defend another “Mattiello Minion,” former representative John Carnevale. Jacquard tried to convince the Providence Board of Canvassers that Carnevale really did live in the basement of a house in Providence and used his tenant's bathroom. In the end, people did not believe Carnevale actually lived in a Providence basement. Likewise, people will not believe that Mattiello and the state have really kept their promises to our students.

Allan W. Fung, a Republican, is the mayor of the city of Cranston.

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