“Rethinking our approach to education,” a Dec. 19 letter from Peter A. Filippi, needs a rebuttal. Mr. Filippi suggests regionalizing and privatizing our public education would save millions of dollars. Mr. Filippi offers some suspect numbers and fails to compare apples to apples.
He suggests Rhode Island's private schools educate students for $14,417 per year and parochial schools approximately $12,000. If Moses Brown, the Lincoln School and Portsmouth Abby are educating students for $14,417, their tuitions of $40,000 and up are uncalled for. The parochial schools have tuitions closer to the average Rhode Island cost per student but the schools are often subsidized with revenue from other sources.
But that is only part of the story. The $17,500 average statewide cost of educating a student includes two significant costs and some associated hidden costs not borne by private or parochial schools. Factored into the Rhode Island average cost are special education and transportation costs.
Special needs students in districts comprise 15 percent to 20 percent of the student population. Special needs costs vary widely across the state but are always considerably higher than “regular” students. Included are the tuition costs for out of district placements and the costs of serving the special needs of these students within the district. These cost skew the average dramatically. Private and parochial schools are not required to educate special needs students. If they do enroll such a student, the public school district is required to provide special needs services for that student. It costs the private school nothing but increases the “average” cost for the district.
Tuitions to private and parochial schools do not include transportation. In fact, public school districts are required to transport private and public school students to schools within their district. So, the average cost of a public school student not only includes the cost of his or her transportation but also the cost of transporting students to private and public schools. Districts are also required to provide textbooks for private and parochial students.
Our public schools are too often bashed by individuals who grasp random numbers and give those numbers meaning way beyond what the numbers actually mean. Privatization is not the answer to reducing education costs. If one thinks privatization is the answer, one should look at the debacle created by privatizing our prisons. Is that what we want to expose our children to?
Joseph H. Crowley is co-author with Albert Colella, Ph.D, of “Poverty & Despair vs. Education & Opportunity.”