PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo pledged Thursday to pay new educators more and overhaul Rhode Island’s teacher evaluation system if she’s elected later this year.
The ideas were part of the first-term state treasurer’s multi-pronged plan to improve public education in a state she says spends nearly as much per pupil as Massachusetts, “but with not as good results.” Raimondo also promised to establish a school building authority similar to the Bay State to repair’s some of the state’s crumbling schools and said she wants to provide all middle and high school students with laptops or tablet computers.
“I just think at the beginning end [of teacher salaries,] we ought to look at increasing because we need to find the best and brightest in teaching and we know that if it’s not above a certain threshold, some people [won’t enter the profession,]” Raimondo said during a press conference outside of East Providence High School.
The average starting salary for Rhode Island teachers ranges from $37,000 to $40,000 annually. Raimondo did not offer a price tag for much of her plan, but said she believes Rhode Island can afford to invest in its schools because it spends about $14,000-a-year per pupil, which ranks among the highest in the country.
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Raimondo is running in the Democratic primary for governor against Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Clay Pell. All three are Harvard-educated lawyers. On the Republican side Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is taking on businessman Ken Block. Incumbent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election after one term in office.
Raimondo called teacher evaluations too “cumbersome,” but did not offer a specific proposal for how she would like to change the system. She said she is opposed to the House bill that would limit evaluations to every three or four years for teachers rated effective or highly effective, but acknowledged that she doesn’t think they should be evaluated every year either.
Asked if she believes a report released by the Rhode Island Department of Education last year that showed 95% of teachers were rated effective or high effective was accurate, Raimondo called the results “awfully high.”
“You see the results that we’re getting in terms of student achievement and yet 95% are [effective or highly effective,] so again I just think we need a different approach about evaluations,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo said she was disappointed that the proposed $8.7-billion state budget extends the moratorium on school construction for another year, but pledged to lift the hold if she is elected governor. She said Rhode Island’s aging schools anticipate about $1.8 billion in school construction costs over the next two decades.
The treasurer said her plan to create a school building authority could be funded by reserving tiny percentage of the state sales tax for construction, similar to Massachusetts. Raimondo said doing so would also provide jobs to construction workers.
Raimondo said she supports moving to the Common Core State Standards as well as standardized tests, but indicated “we are doing a disservice to our students if we fail to align our testing with our standards and curriculum.” She has said previously she does not support the use of the NECAP exam for the state’s graduation requirements.
Of the Democratic candidates, Raimondo has now released plans for elementary and secondary education as well as higher education. Taveras has released a plan to create a universal pre-K program in Rhode Island and Pell has said he wants to provide free tuition to students at the Community College of Rhode Island.