I have previously written that the defense economy is vital and critically important to Aquidneck Island, Newport County, Rhode Island and our national defense. As stated in the Tebaldi Report prepared for the Defense Economy Commission I co-chair, in 2013 the defense sector, which includes the military defense infrastructure and the private defense industry, supported approximately 33,000 jobs, which equates to 6.2 percent of the state’s total employment. Additionally, our defense economy added approximately $3.7 billion to the state’s economic output. And, it generates approximately $105 million annually in tax revenue for the state, including $47 million in personal income tax revenue and $58 million in other tax revenue.
Critical to ensuring this most important sector of the state’s economy remains strong, sustained and growing, is targeted investments in education, from pre-K to 16, specifically in the STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics) subjects. These continued, targeted investments in education are needed now more than ever.
Over the last two years, the General Assembly, in collaboration with Gov. Gina M. Raimondo and the Executive Branch, has begun the process of targeted investments in education. Some of these targeted investments include the following:
- Continued funding of our pre-K-12 education funding formula, including increased funding for all District 12 school districts in fiscal 2017
- Free PSAT and SAT for all 11th and 12th graders
- The PrepareRI program, offering free college courses for students while they’re in high school
- The Pathways in Technology Early College High (P-TECH) School Initiative, affording students the ability to earn a high-school diploma and associate’s degree, ultimately leading to an initial job
- The RI Promise Scholarship program, making it more affordable for Rhode Islanders to pursue a postsecondary degree or credential
- The Wavemaker Fellowship program, offering tax credits to defray student loans to college graduates who live and work in Rhode Island
- The Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) Initiative, making Computer Science education available to every student in all of Rhode Island’s schools by the end of 2017
- The National Mathematics and Science Initiative “… improving how STEM subjects are taught and fostering student interest in math and science … ”
- Enactment of a performance-based funding formula for higher education
- Career Readiness for all Rhode Island students
It is paramount we remain vigilant in our oversight of these investments, ensuring the expected outcomes result and make the appropriate course corrections to address any negative, unintended consequences which may manifest themselves. As the first vice chair of the Senate Committee on Finance and a member of the Senate Committee on Education, I plan to remain vigilant to ensuring we achieve the desired results.
Louis P. DiPalma is a Democratic state senator representing District 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Tiverton and Newport.