Rhode Island Policy Reporter

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A look at the lousy situation Rhode Island is in, how we got here, and how we might be able to get out.

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Fiscal Derring-Do!
Economic Jiggery-Pokery!

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RIPR is a (paper) newsletter and a weekly column appearing in ten of Rhode Island's finer newspapers. The goal is to look at local, state and federal policy issues that affect life here in the Ocean State, concentrating on action, not intentions or talk.

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whole site RIPR back issues

Available Back Issues:

  • Aug 09 (38) - How your government's economic policies have worked against you. What a fake nineteenth century nun can teach us about the tea party protests.
  • Jun 09 (37) - Statistics of optimism, the real cost of your government. Judith Reilly on renewable tax credits. Review of Akerlof and Shiller on behavioral economics.
  • Apr 09 (36) - Cap and trade, the truth behind the card check controversy, review of Governor's tax policy workgroup final report.
  • Feb 09 (35) - The many varieties of market failures, and what classic economics has to say about them, review of Nixonland by Rick Perlstein.
  • Dec 08 (34) - Can "Housing First" end homelessness? The perils of TIF. Review of You Can't Be President by John MacArthur.
  • Oct 08 (33) - Wage stagnation, financial innovation and deregulation: creating the financial crisis, the political rhetoric of the Medicaid waiver.
  • Jul 08 (32) - Where has the money gone? Could suburban sprawl be part of our fiscal problem? Review of Bad Money by Kevin Phillips, news trivia or trivial news.
  • Apr 08 (31) - Understanding homelessness in RI, by Eric Hirsch, market segmentation and the housing market, the economics of irrationality.
  • Feb 08 (30) - IRS migration data, and what it says about RI, a close look at "entitlements", historic credit taxonomy, an investment banking sub-primer.
  • Dec 07 (29) - A look at the state's underinsured, economic geography with IRS data.
  • Oct 07 (28) - Choosing the most expensive ways to fight crime, bait and switch tax cuts, review of Against Prediction, about the perils of using statistics to fight crime.
  • Aug 07 (27) - Sub-prime mortgages fall heaviest on some neighborhoods, biotech patents in decline, no photo IDs for voting, review of Al Gore's Against Reason
  • Jun 07 (26) - Education funding, budget secrecy, book review of Boomsday and the Social Security Trustees' Report
  • May 07 (25) - Municipal finance: could citizen mobility cause high property taxes? What some Depression-era economists had to say on investment, and why it's relevant today, again.
  • Mar 07 (24) - The state budget disaster and how we got here. Structural deficit, health care, borrowing, unfunded liabilities, the works.
  • Jan 07 (23) - The impact of real estate speculation on housing prices, reshaping the electoral college. Book review of Blocking the Courthouse Door on tort "reform."
  • Dec 06 (22) - State deficit: What's so responsible about this? DOT bonding madness, Quonset, again, Massachusetts budget comparison.
  • Oct 06 (21) - Book review: Out of Iraq by Geo. McGovern and William Polk, New rules about supervisors undercut unions, New Hampshire comparisons, and November referenda guide.
  • Aug 06 (20) - Measuring teacher quality, anti-planning referenda and the conspiracy to promote them, affordable housing in the suburbs, union elections v. card checks.
  • Jun 06 (19) - Education report, Do tax cut really shrink government?, Casinos and constitutions, State historic tax credit: who uses it.
  • May 06 (18) - Distribution analysis of property taxes by town, critique of RIEDC statistics, how to reform health care, and how not to.
  • Mar 06 (17) - Critique of commonly used statistics: RI/MA rich people disparity, median income, etc. Our economic dependence on high health care spending. Review of Crashing the Gate
  • Feb 06 (16) - Unnecessary accounting changes mean disaster ahead for state and towns, reforming property tax assessment, random state budget notes.
  • Jan 06 (15) - Educational equity, estimating the amount of real estate speculation in Rhode Island, interview with Thom Deller, Providence's chief planner.
  • Nov 05 (14) - The distribution of affordable houses and people who need them, a look at RI's affordable housing laws.
  • Sep 05 (13) - A solution to pension strife, review of J.K. Galbraith biography and why we should care.
  • Jul 05 (12) - Kelo v. New London: Eminent Domain, and what's between the lines in New London.
  • Jun 05 (11) - Teacher salaries, Veterinarian salaries and the minimum wage. Book review: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
  • Apr 05 (10) - Choosing a crisis: Tax fairness and school funding, suggestions for reform. Book review: business location and tax incentives.
  • Feb 05 (9) - State and teacher pension costs kept artificially high. Miscellaneous tax suggestions for balancing the state budget.
  • Dec 04 (8) - Welfare applications and the iconography of welfare department logos. The reality of the Social Security trust fund.
  • Oct 04 (7) - RIPTA and DOT, who's really in crisis?
  • Aug 04 (6) - MTBE and well pollution, Mathematical problems with property taxes
  • May 04 (5) - A look at food-safety issues: mad cows, genetic engineering, disappearing farmland.
  • Mar 04 (4) - FY05 RI State Budget Critique.
  • Feb 04 (3) - A close look at the Blue Cross of RI annual statement.
  • Oct 03 (2) - Taxing matters, a historical overview of tax burdens in Rhode Island
  • Oct 03 Appendix - Methodology notes and sources for October issue
  • Apr 03 (1) - FY04 RI State Budget critique
Issues are issued in paper. They are archived irregularly here.

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The Rhode Island Policy Reporter is an independent news source that specializes in the technical issues of public policy that matter so much to all our lives, but that also tend not to be reported very well or even at all. The publication is owned and operated by Tom Sgouros, who has written all the text you'll find on this site, except for the articles with actual bylines.


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Wed, 26 Jul 2006

Bush administration preserves welfare

Demonstrating that it really is all about power, the Bush administration held fast to its insistence that it not cut farm subsidies to US agriculture (story). Partly as a result, the Doha round of WTO trade talks have collapsed. This probably isn't all bad, since trade liberalization has been responsible for a tremendous amount of displacement and angst in both the developing world and in our world, but since the farm subsidies are in large part welfare for red states, it does show where the priorities really lie.

11:36 - 26 Jul 2006 [/y6/jy]

Fri, 21 Jul 2006

Comparing private and public education

An NCES report using real statistics to compare public and private school education. The prevalence of NAEP testing required by NCLB means there is now much more data with which to make these comparisons. That is, it once was the case that after you factored out race and class from the equation, there wasn't enough data left to make a comparison. But those days are past, for better or worse. A similar study came out earlier in the year, and was featured in The Shape of the Starting Line. See Lubienski and Lubienski (2006) here.

22:31 - 21 Jul 2006 [/y6/jy]

Mon, 17 Jul 2006

A peculiar critique

Valerie Forti, of the Education Partnership, had an op-ed in today's Projo attacking my report, The Shape of the Starting Line. But it's a peculiar critique, for a few reasons.

First, she suggests that I omitted mentioning the negative impacts of unionization in schools. But the findings she said were omitted about unions are right there on pages 33 and 34, in the section on unions, and there are four citations you can choose from for corroboration -- Eberts and Stone, Milkman, Argys and Rees, and Sanders and Rivers. Furthermore, I would dispute her characterization of Eberts and Stone's (and Argys and Rees and Milkman) findings that unionization has only "slight" effects. "Statistically significant" is indeed a term of art, but it doesn't mean "slight." Rather it means "large enough to remain measurable after discounting other effects."

Second, I appreciate her admiration for Linda Darling-Hammond, and her work on teacher quality, but discussion of teacher quality is in this report. Should she have looked on page 29, Ms. Forti would have seen that the report clearly does address teacher quality, and cites authors that differ with her interpretations only in degree. Hanushek, for example, cites teacher quality as second only to economic status in the UTD/Texas study, and Sanders and Rivers point out that teacher quality is worth as much as 50 percentile points to poor students, in a study of Tennessee schools, and those are both described in more detail in the report. The UTD and Tennessee data are, in my opinion, the best available to make these kinds of judgments. Perhaps a couple of mentions makes the report "virtually silent" on the issue, but it's as much mention of the issue as is made of many other important issues in the report. More likely, I suspect, she overlooked these citations in her reading. It's an understandable mistake—it's several dozen pages, and there's no index, for which omission I apologize. Nonetheless, "cherry-picking" and intellectual dishonesty are weighty charges, and I think people who make them should do better homework to back them up.

But the really peculiar part of the editorial is it's complaint about the report findings. As pleased as I am by it, it is little more than an elaborate bibliography, reporting on the hard work of many researchers across the nation and world. With that in mind, a reasonable response to its findings would be to cite other findings in disagreement, or to explain how my interpretations of others' research might have been incorrect. Forti doesn't really do either, so I can't respond effectively to her other points.

The findings of the Starting Line report are essentially a description of how the world is: poverty has an effect on kids, as do good teachers, poor housing, early childhood education and good after-school programs. Ignoring the findings reported there is simply ignoring the state of the world. Denying the findings without citing other research is simply silly, like denying the saltiness of the ocean. The challenge we face isn't to spar over data and university affiliations, but how to learn from the data that's out there to create policies that really address the needs of our children. It doesn't hurt to know how salty the ocean is before you set out to build your desalinator, and I don't see how the data and findings presented in the Starting Line report can hurt in the effort to improve education in Rhode Island, and I am puzzled by her insistence that it will.

00:29 - 17 Jul 2006 [/y6/jy]

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