Blake A. Filippi is leader of the Rhode Island House Minority Caucus. Michael W. Chippendale is whip of the caucus.
Gov. Gina Raimondo is right to push for full in-person learning. Remote-learning largely does not provide an adequate education or the crucial social interaction our children need.
Many parents are forced to stay home from work so that their children aren't alone in an empty house, putting families in financial peril and further hampering our frail economy. A recent McKinsey and Company report echoes what thousands of Rhode Island parents have experienced first-hand: remote learning isn't working.
Sadly, it did not have to be this way. Beginning in the spring, our state leaders should have used a portion of the $1.25-billion in federal CARES ACT funds to aggressively upgrade our empty public schools, including proper ventilation systems. Instead, state leaders decided to hold back much of the CARES ACT money in the hope Congress will allow it to be used to bail out general state government operations. The continuation of bloated state government has taken precedence over our children's education and the economic security of Rhode Island families.
With the prospect of remote-learning-only in many school districts, we believe that parents must be empowered to control their child's education until full in-person learning is possible.
First, Republicans propose to establish state Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to support at-home learning for any child who does not have in-person learning. ESAs, managed by families, are restricted receipt accounts that are given preferential tax treatment. ESAs will be funded by existing per pupil school district monies and supplemented by parents. ESAs and existing CARES Act funds may then be utilized for tutoring, technology, supplies and other extra help measures. With this support network in place, parents can continue with remote learning, or opt to home-school their children, individually or in pods.
Second, parents in school districts that do not provide in-person learning despite a state determination that their community has a low COVID-19 transmission rate, will be further empowered to send their child to other public schools that offer in-person learning and have excess capacity. Under this proposal, a child would be able to attend a public school in another school district for the entire academic year. Existing per pupil school district monies and CARES Act funds will also pay for this program.
Both the ESA at-home learning and pubic school choice programs would be temporary, existing only until the end of the school year in which the COVID-19 state of emergency terminates.
We readily acknowledge that full in-person public school learning is best. Yet, this is not going to happen this academic year for thousands of children, who will undoubtedly be harmed by it. Our primary duty is to our children, and Republicans believe we must immediately act to protect them. The future of our children demands no less.
The Providence Journal
Posted: September 14, 2020
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