On Monday, April 19, 2010, RIPEC releasd the 2010 edition of its report “Results: Education in Rhode Island”. This report examines, in one publication, student performance in conjunction with a number of factors that have an impact on education in the Ocean State.
A quality education system has broad positive effects – both for the individual and for society at large – that go beyond the creation and retention of jobs. For example, data from the United States Census demonstrates that, on average, reliance on the social safety net by individuals without a high school diploma or equivalent cost the state $4,385 in 2005, while individuals with a Bachelor’s degree or higher contributed $11,339 to the state on average (available at the RIDE Office of Adult Education website). In a separate analysis, the Alliance for Excellent Education indicates that dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost the state almost $955 million in lost wages over their lifetimes due to the difference in earning potential between a high school graduate and a high school dropout.
The Rhode Island Department of Education and the Board of Regents have developed a comprehensive education reform strategy that resulted in the state coming in 8th out of 41 states competing for the funds. In June, Rhode Island will have a second shot at receiving funds from the federal “Race to the Top” initiative. These funds have the potential to strengthen the education system in the state by allowing for targeted investments where they are needed most. More importantly, the process has helped Rhode Island outline a stronger education agenda and has pointed to areas where the state could improve.
The state’s success in the “Race to the Top” application, which was closely aligned with the Department’s strategic agenda, supports the contention that education reform in Rhode Island is on the right track. However, if the state is to be successful in Phase II of the “Race to the Top” initiative it, along with all stakeholders, must work to demonstrate that the funding is used wisely to achieve these goals, and create real change, rather than to simply supplement the current system.
Based on the most recent nationally comparable data, Rhode Island ranks 5th highest in the country for per pupil education expenditures, but ranked 38th highest in 8th grade NAEP mathematics performance, and 37th highest in 8th grade NAEP reading performance. Further, Rhode Island underperforms relative to the national and regional averages on the SAT and has a higher percentage of adults without at least a high school diploma than the other New England states and the nation.
RIPEC projects that per pupil education expenditures are expected to increase to $20,408 in FY 2015, or $2.6 billion total, reflecting growth of roughly 125 percent per pupil and 86 percent overall since FY 2000. Investments in education are undoubtedly investments in a state’s economic and civic future. This report will help aid in discussions about whether both those served by and those who support the educational system in Rhode Island are getting the best return on their investment.
Improving the state’s educational system is also critical given the current fiscal situation. Rhode Island is currently facing the second-worst financial crisis in its history and, by most estimates, will take longer then most other states to recover. If the state is to compete in the 21st century economy, it will need a well-prepared workforce that can adapt to a fluid job market requiring a wide range of skills: developing and sustaining an affordable and high-quality education system is paramount to the state’s eventual economic recovery.