Raimondo’s “RI Promise” Free College Program’s Effectiveness Questioned by House Finance Chair Abney

Friday, December 14, 2018

 

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House Finance Chair Marvin Abney

Rhode Island House of Representatives Finance Chair Marvin Abney is questioning the initial results from Governor Gina Raimondo’s “Rhode Island Promise” free college tuition program, heading into the 2019 General Assembly session -- after Raimondo pledged to expand the program during her campaign

Abney made his comments during a wide-ranging interview with GoLocalProv.com News Editor Kate Nagle on GoLocal LIVE on Thursday, after the recent House Finance meeting which revealed that Rhode Island is facing a $48 million shortfall for Fiscal Year 2019 — and a projected $112 million shortfall for Fiscal Year 2020. 

"Just to give [the Promise program] a broad brushstroke, I don't think that really tells a story of what's happening," said Abney, after documents unveiled by GoLocal show that claims by the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) and Raimondo relating to the success of the free-tuition RI Promise program are not supported by school documents.

As GoLocal reported in October, "According to documents obtained last spring, 720 "RI Promise, non-Pell Grant" students entered the program in 2017, with 208 on track to meet the standards for an award in year two. CCRI, however, counted all 1,577 first-time, full-time students entering in 2017 as part of its "Promise" cohort -- whether they received free-tuition through the Promise program or not."

During her re-election bid, Raimondo pledged to expand the multi-million dollar program from CCRI to the state's four-year colleges and universities -- and Abney remarked how he needed more information to evaluate the efficacy of the taxpayer-funded program. 

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"Transparency about what’s happening is everything. We talk about how transparent we are, and you can take the number out of the program and do almost anything you want to do with them. I’m not nervous but I like to look deep into the numbers to see which kids are being affected and what the result of that effectiveness is, because just to give a broad brush…I don’t think really tells a real story of what’s happening," said Abney. "It is a good program but it only gets better when you can pinpoint specifically what you need to tweak and what you don’t need to tweak."

"But unless you know exactly what’s going on, it makes a difference. It makes me difficult to fund something in the future that I’m given broad numbers. I’m a fairly quiet guy but when it comes to sitting back and making sure I get this right I want to get it right the first time. As we used to say in the Army, you don’t get a second chance," said Abney. "I am concerned that if we don’t understand [this] now to the “Nth” degree it’s more difficult for me to add on to that because if you do — and you’re talking about increasing debt to the state — I get very concerned about that, even though I know the programs are important. Our role is oversight and the oversight means people have to come and tell us what they’re doing so we’ll know how to fund them."

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In December 2017, Abney said that the projected budget deficits "scared him to death" -- and said he is similarly concerned heading into the new session and crafting of the fiscal year 2020 budget. 

"So the numbers are always big…but they do scare me to death," said Abney. "Anytime you have numbers that are in the millions it freaks you out a little bit."

Abney expressed consternation that Raimondo administration department heads weren't present at the last House Finance meeting. 

"One of the disappointments is the there were no department heads at the [meeting] — our “A” team was there but the administration didn’t bring their A-game," said Abney. "It’s so important at the beginning of the year we get a sense of where we are."

"It leaves a big question mark in my mind — about how they handled the resources we gave them and what they really need in the future. So I was disappointed they weren’t there because they have valuable information that we need," said Abney. "It leaves me thinking that when they come and ask for more money in January, I’m really slow and hesitant about recommending to the Speaker that we fund [them] when we really don’t know why they aren’t on the mark. It’s not [our responsibility] to micromanage the government’s budget but we do have oversight."

Abney also spoke to the growth of state government, one-time budget fixes, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello's commitment to the elimination of the car tax -- and the question of sports gambling revenue.

"I do think it’s going to be a help in the future, but I don’t like to rely on it — because if you do and something goes wrong for a long period of time or you have a downturn in the economy, and people aren’t gambling as much, you’re setting yourself up for a problem," said Abney on sports gambling revenue. "I do think we have people looking at it in a methodical way, and I do know the beginning numbers will be high, [but] they will be soft. But I think it’s going to help in the long run."

 

Related Slideshow: CCRI Promise Report March 2018

 
 

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