In the weeks since the COVID crisis forced Rhode Island’s already struggling economy to functionally close its doors, the Mattiello-led General Assembly has been finding excuses not to …
In the weeks since the COVID crisis forced Rhode Island’s already struggling economy to functionally close its doors, the Mattiello-led General Assembly has been finding excuses not to meet. Mattiello even had the audacity to say he was “a little more bored” than usual in a recent interview with the Providence Chamber.
I can tell you who isn’t bored. Our state’s superintendents, school committees, and teachers are hard at work while waiting for the General Assembly to awaken from their slumber. They are preparing for one of the most technically difficult school openings in history, with no idea if the General Assembly will meet their obligations to fully fund the tenth year of the state’s educational funding formula. This is scheduled to include an additional $30.5 million for local school districts. These dollars are non-negotiable to parents who want their children to be better prepared for the jobs in the fourth industrial revolution that is upon us.
Cranston’s schools have Pre-K, special education, and general programming funding of nearly $4.2 million hanging in the balance, but the urgency felt now in the virtual corridors of Rhode Island schools is not mirrored in the empty hallways of Smith Hill. Schools are also facing the added COVID-related expenses like face masks for staff and the children, copious hand sanitizer, an enormous amount of cleaning supplies, and additional online technology infrastructure to handle distance learning in the case of a localized outbreak. Yet last week the Democrats and Republicans of the Cranston City Council unanimously voted to set aside the $4.2 million increase in state education aid as they had no confidence in the Mattiello-led General Assembly coming through for our city.
While Mattiello is bored at home and clearly distracted by the ongoing grand jury investigating him, it doesn’t mean that the students of the state and Cranston need to suffer. He needs to buck up and do his job by getting the General Assembly to return to work, even if virtually, to address our children’s needs.
The federal government has thrown billions towards education during this crisis. The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, passed over two months ago, established the Education Stabilization Fund which included $13.2 billion dollars for elementary and secondary schools. Rhode Island is due to receive a minimum local education aid disbursement of $41.7 million through this Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief portion of this program. These dollars can be utilized for a plethora of programs including purchasing educational technology, mental health programs, programs for students with disabilities and those in foster care, and providing principals with a wide breadth of resources necessary to address the needs of their individual schools. Gov. Raimondo is also scheduled to receive another $8.7 million in discretionary funding for education.
While reprioritization of certain areas of the state budget is not only prudent, but long overdue, education is quite simply an area that Mattiello cannot shortchange. He needs to be working now to ensure that every single one of these federally appropriated dollars is allocated quickly so that our schools can spend less time on contingency budget plans and more time on planning for classroom logistics that protect our children’s health and safety to ensure that learning continues. It’s time that the supposedly most powerful person in RI politics stops acting like the most defeated man in politics, and finishes this session’s essential work.
Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung is the wife of Mayor Allan Fung and an announced candidate for State Representative in District 15.