POLICY BRIEF: Catch-UP ESAs Give Students Immediate Support

Innovative Program Would Fill Major Gaps in the Providence Plan

Providence, RI – With the goal of obtaining immediate educational support for students who may have fallen behind after schools were shut down this past spring, an innovative policy idea would tap unspent federal funds to empower parents to customize supplemental programs for their children.

Called Catch-up ESAs in Rhode Island, and described in a policy brief published today by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, this policy idea has been formally submitted as legislation in Pennsylvania and is being considered in other states as well. 

The Catch-up ESA concept was publicly supported by Ray Rickman on a recently taped episode of In The Dugout with Mike Stenhouse, a new video interview series by the Center, especially if it can be targeted to low and moderate income families. Rickman heads Stages of Freedom, a nonprofit that works with hundreds of minority families.

“Instead of families being forced to consider spending their own money to augment their children’s schooling, or not being able to afford at anything at all, programs like after-school enrichment classes, online classes, or private-tutoring could become immediately within reach and would greatly benefit students who may have lost ground by not being able to attend in-person classes this past spring,” said Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. 

These one-time Catch-Up ESAs, available to all qualified students in the state, would also immediately fill major gaps in the five-year Providence schools reform plan, by addressing current student needs. The program would be funded by unspent federal CARES Act funds. The full policy brief can be viewed here.

All In The Dugout interviews can be found on the Center’s website, RIFreedom.org/in-the-dugout/ .

Jobs April 2020

Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), April 2020: A First Glimpse of the Chasm

The unemployment chart from this snapshot gives a sense of the shock that April brought to the country’s economic system, but delays in the other data points that make up the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) make this just a taste of the full bitterness. Rhode Island dropped one spot in its overall ranking to 48th in the country, but that was arguably due to weakness at the end of pre-COVID 2019. Data for 10 of the 12 datapoints of the index except TANF and federal taxes were updated for this iteration.

Jobs based in RI fell a whopping 19% from the originally reported number for December, and employment fell 18%, nearly 100,000 in both cases, and the labor force fell 5%. Medicaid enrollment (as of January) increased about 0.7%, while SNAP (foodstamp) enrollment was down 1.8% (as of February). Because the COVID-19 hit came all of a sudden, the Ocean State managed to improve on long-term unemployment (as of March), but experienced a 4% increase in marginally attached workers and another 18% increase in those working only part time because more work was not available.

Perhaps of more concern, because it reflects data from December, personal income in the state fell 1.0% on an annualized basis (a little under $500 million). At the same time, state and local taxation increased 1.7%, or $63 million.

The first chart shows RI remaining last in New England on JOI, at 48th. New Hampshire slipped two spots, to 3rd nationally. Maine fell three, to 20th, while Vermont managed to hold at 21st. Connecticut overtook Massachusetts by maintaining its 37th place while the Bay State plummeted five spots, to 41st.

The second chart shows the gaps between RI and New England and the United States on JOI, and the third chart shows the gaps in the official unemployment rate.

Results for the three underlying JOI factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (optimism that adequate work is available): RI fell nine spots, to 36th.
  • Freedom Factor (the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI fell three spots, to 44th.
  • Prosperity Factor (the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI remained 47th.
With about one-billion dollars in anticipated revenue shortfalls for RI, the Center publishes a new report with proven budget strategy.

DECISION OF THE CENTURY: New Report Lays Out a 2021 Budget Strategy for Prosperity


A 2021 Budget Strategy For Long-Term Prosperity
Legislative Leaders Not Understanding the New Reality?

Providence, RI – With about one-billion dollars in anticipated revenue shortfalls, and with recent statements from leading Rhode Island lawmakers indicating a general feeling of helplessness, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today published a new report with proven budget strategies that can help put the state on a long-term trajectory towards prosperity. 

Virtually all recent comments from public officials indicate an undue reliance on federal bailout funds in the hope that status quo spending levels might be maintained. This is not a budget strategy. 

Compiled after numerous discussions with colleagues in other states, as well as with state budget experts with national organizations, the Center’s report, Decision of the Century, is premised on the understanding that the decisions soon to be made by lawmakers in dealing with the pandemic-caused revenue losses, will set the near and long term trajectory for the Rhode Island economy; whether our state will experience a “V”, “U”, or “L” shaped recovery and what our Ocean State’s business climate will look like in the years and decades ahead. 

“The budget problems we face did not come down from the heavens; they were government-made and they can be reversed. Lawmakers should not feel helpless, nor should they rely on the federal government. Many states are taking proactive steps to prepare their state economies for rapid recovery … and we must do the same,” advised Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Lawmakers have to understand that they can no longer hide from the responsibilities and difficult decisions they were elected take on. The status quo budget approach – tax, spend, and borrow – will not work in response to this pandemic crisis.”

Similar to what the state of Washington adopted years ago, the report, co-authored by professor Dennis Sheehan and research director Justin Katz, highlights proven budget strategies that are flexible enough to navigate the unpredictable and massive deficits that lay ahead, while allowing the freedom for economic growth. The three key components of this strategy are:

  1. Establishing “Core Principles of Government” – to ensure that the most-vital functions of government are clearly defined as guidelines for the budget process
  2. Adopting a “Revenue-Constrained Spending” philosophy – committing the state to spending only those moneys that are actually taken in, at current tax and fee rates
  3. Setting “Priority Based Spending” targets – such that specific spending categories or programs are pre-prioritized and will be funded only as actual revenue receipts are realized

The primary decision for lawmakers will be to determine what budget strategy path Rhode Island’s financial recovery will take. Will it go down the road of a centrally “planned economy”, with lawmakers arbitrarily making political tax and spending decisions that impose more government control over our lives? Or, will the “invisible hand” of the free-enterprise system be allowed to work, increasing prosperity and paving the way for more rapid economic, jobs, and income growth?

This critical decision will determine whether the Ocean State is to become a more or less hospitable place to raise a family and build a career; and whether families, graduates, retirees, and investors will continue to flee our state. 

“In these unique times, a reality-based budget strategy is required. There is no time to pretend that the same old budget approach … one that has created the worst state business climate in the nation … can work for us now,” concluded Stenhouse.

More information and budget posts from the past years can be viewed at RIFreedom.org/Budget.

The Flanders Legal Center for Freedom issued a letter to RI Governor Gina Raimondo urging her to rescind existing orders based on religious rights.

Flanders Legal Center Issues Religious Rights Demand Letter to Governor Raimondo

Governor’s Phase-2 Rules Are Likely Unconstitutional
Burdens Churches With Special Restrictions Not Imposed Elsewhere

Providence, RI – One day after America celebrated Memorial Day to honor those who sacrificed for our freedoms, including religious liberty, the Flanders Legal Center for Freedom issued an open letter to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo urging her to rescind existing orders and to amend any contemplated orders and regulations that discriminate against churches and church-goers. 

To avoid a potential legal challenge to the State, the letter from the Flanders Legal Center for Freedom, an initiative of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, advises that the religious community must be provided with the same opportunities to safely assemble (and worship) that are provided to secular entities.

“Your … recent public statements that indoor restaurants and other secular venues may re-open at up to 50% of their capacity, while churches and other faith-based venues may only re-open at a 25% capacity … are unconstitutional,” writes Robert G. Flanders, author of the letter and chairman of the legal center. “Today, we call on you to amend your orders to recognize the essential services provided by our churches.”

Earlier this month, the Flanders Legal Center published a legal analysis addressing the many legal limits of the Governor’s emergency powers under the law.

Flanders, a board member of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, is a practicing attorney and former Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The legal center’s volunteer team is also composed of attorneys Matthew Fabisch, Richard MacAdams, and Patrick Reynolds.

The nonpartisan Flanders Legal Center expects to provide ongoing legal commentary, submit friend of the court briefs, and potentially engage in select litigation cases.

The media is invited to contact the Center to arrange for interviews with former Judge Flanders.

We Want Our Summer Back!

MEDIA RELEASE: Center Launches #WeWantOurSummerBack Campaign – with catchy new Jingle!


Citizens Encouraged to Take Action to Save Summer
Governor Had No Legal or Data Basis to Cancel Group Fun
Listen to the #WeWantOurSummerBack Jingle here 

Providence, RI – Responding to overwhelming feedback from Ocean Staters angered about the Governor’s unjustified summer shut-down, and who are asking what they can do … the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity answered the call and today launched its #WeWantOurSummerBack campaign.

The campaign, which includes a home webpage and a catchy new jingle, initially provides three action steps citizens can take to raise public and legislative awareness:

  • Submit for website posting, the event or family activity that the Governor has cancelled for you or your family
  • Contact your lawmaker to encourage them to reconvene, and utilize their power to end the Governor’s over-cooked declared state of emergency
  • Sign an online petition to fully #ReOpenRI, as all businesses and jobs are essential

“This Governor’s arbitrary summer lock-down is not supported by the data and was not even legal,” declared Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Many Rhode Islanders feel that the Governor unjustifiably shut-down our summer fun.  The General Assembly can be heroes and give us our summer back.”

Imagine no graduation parties!

The #WeWantOurSummerBack campaign is premised on two critical claims:

  1. The Governor provided no data or scientific justification for shutting down group summer activities. To drive home this point, Stenhouse yesterday published a detailed video analysis of the state’s Covid-19 data.
  2. In April, the Governor exceeded her 30-day limit on emergency powers when she canceled parades, weddings, and other traditional summer time activities. A legal analysis by the Center’s Flanders Legal Center for Freedom clearly makes this point.

Words to the #WeWantOurSummerBack 20-second “jingle” include:
We want our summer back… the WaterFire, the Fourth of July, the Gaspee parade, the Del’s at the beach…