To the Editor,
Governor Raimondo is proposing to use state funds to pay for two years of college tuition at state schools for Rhode Islanders regardless of their family income. When fully implemented the Governor estimates this will cost the state $30million per year. Free university education is a laudable goal. However first there needs to be a realistic discussion of fairness and the public good, and then a progressive taxation system established. This could be a long time coming for Rhode Island.
According to Rhode Island Kids Count about half of Rhode Island students who graduated from High school in the class of 2012 immediately enrolled in college. In 2014, 58 percent of Rhode Island public school seniors took the SATs. Average scores were 483 in critical reading, 484 in math, and 471 in writing. Students with scores of 500 or better in each section are more likely to enroll in and succeed in college. It is clear that a large portion of Rhode Island high school graduates do not possess the requisite academic skill to succeed in college upon leaving high school. In most cases there is a significant disparity in college readiness between inner city students and students in the suburbs, with the inner city students coming out short changed.
At another corner of this discussion is the school dropout rate for Rhode Island schools which is by any standards abysmal. Finally, this discussion should include the approximately half of high school graduates who plan to be gainfully employed and not attend college. So if you had 30 million additional dollars to spend each year for Rhode Island education where would you spend it? If you follow the logic of the Annie E. Casy Foundation, Rhode Island would be better off investing the money by insuring that all third graders leave third grade reading at third grade level.
Nationally 67 percent of all third graders and more than 80 percent of third graders from low income families are not proficient readers by the end of third grade. Rhode Island third graders fair no better. It is well know that third grade is often considered the moment in a student’s life where he/she makes a transition from learning to read to reading to learn–a make or break period for academic success. It is a clear cause and effect. Teach third graders to read at third grade level and they are able to read to learn. This yields better academic success, better jobs, better health, better citizens and a better democracy.
In the report “Early Warning! Why Reading by the end of the Third Grade Matters” by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Leila Fiester emphasizes the role that reading proficiency plays in determining outcomes of children, families, communities, and the nation. She states, that in an increasing global and technical economy, US employers struggle to find enough educated, competent, and accountable workers.
The bottom line is that if we don’t get dramatically more children on track as proficient readers, the U.S. will lose a growing and essential proportion of its human capital to poverty, and the price will be paid not only by individual children and families but by the entire country. Before free university education for all, insure that all students are proficient readers by the end of third grade. Invest the additional state money in all children so that all children can succeed.