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Mon April 12, 2010
Scott MacKay on a "listless legislative session"
By Scott Mackay
Providence, RI – So far, the Assembly has elected a new Speaker, Rep. Gordon Fox of Providence, and held a slew of hearings. Saints Patrick and Joseph have been toasted, the local basketball teams have been honored and several sessions were cancelled while half the state was under water.
The truth is little of significance has been done. The Assembly did raise the limit on charter schools when it looked as though that was the fulcrum for victory in Rhode Island's Race to the Top quest for federal money. Alas, Rhode Island didn't win but the state's giddy education establishment declared victory anyway.
Education Commissioner Deborah Gist addressed lawmakers last week with a tone that mixed the cheerleading of a corporate motivational speech with the banality of a commencement address. She piled up the platitudes, actually saying things like, our state "must dare to be great" and be "ready to lead and succeed."
Bust Gist gave few specifics as to how poverty-stricken school districts could improve. She made the usual bows to classroom teachers, saying teachers are the "single most important factor in education."
But she didn't say we need more teachers or smaller class sizes. And she didn't say we need fewer bureaucrats, consultants and curriculum specialists, or those college education professors who teach people to teach people. One wonders: If you aren't the superintendent and you don't cook or sweep, just what are you doing in a school? And how do the taxpayers measure your performance?
To be fair, the Finance Committee has held its hearing and scrutinized the red-ink filled state budget. It will do its cosmetic budget surgery, a nip here, a tuck there. But without the millions in federal stimulus money that have flowed from Washington, the state would be bankrupt or taxes would have to soar.
Lawmakers meeting in committees have held many hearings but have yet to take action on most bills. So far, they have sought advice voraciously but taken it abstemiously.
One controversy has been Cranston Rep. Peter Palumbo's attempt to force all welfare mothers to be drug tested before they qualify for benefits. This folly has been shoved aside because experts say it could cost more than it would save, and is probably unconstitutional.
But maybe Palumbo's idea ought to be expanded to include lawmakers. There must be some reason for their months of lackadaisical work habits, followed by their manic annual rush to pass hundreds of bills in wee hour sessions before adjourning in June or July.
On Smith Hill, that old chestnut is always true: The more things change, the more they stay the same.