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Progress requires a steady course
By Neil Steinberg / June 18, 2018 /   Loading Disqus...

The following op-ed was published in yesterday's Providence Sunday Journal.

Chart a course, stay the course.

It has been said that if you aren’t sure where you are going, you won’t get there. It’s true. In our work, we have seen that when vision, planning and sustained coordination are embraced, strides are made. We see progress and real potential in our three strategic areas of focus — economic security, healthy lives and educational success. But the work that we invest in is only one piece of a very complex puzzle.

To do our best work as a state — and to truly improve economic, health and educational outcomes for all Rhode Islanders — we need to chart a course and stay the course as a community. At the highest levels of government and industry, we see that growing the Rhode Island economy is made a priority. That said, without improving health and educational outcomes, even a better economy will still be a fragile economy. It’s time to prioritize health care and K-12 public education, too. It is time to be bold and innovative in these two areas; weak, timid, and focused elsewhere just won’t do it.

We need a vision, a 10-year plan and sustained commitment to that plan for both health care and education in our state. Without that, too many Rhode Islanders are falling behind. As a community, we have not committed to an enduring vision and long-term plan that transcends election cycles, overcomes special-interest inertia and is guarded and guided by doing what is right for Rhode Islanders.

As the state’s community foundation, we are prepared to help lead, convene and provide financial support to chart the course, and stay the course, to accomplish the following:

For K-12 education, we need a plan that supports, encourages and challenges students, educators, parents and all stakeholders to raise achievement standards, a plan that inspires the confidence of higher-education institutions and employers well into the future. Our results show pockets of improvement and success but overall progress — in a fast-paced world — has been too slow. We see poor math scores in many districts, the physical infrastructure in our schools is failing and we have been unable to close the achievement gap for students of color.

Massachusetts has arguably the best performance in the country and Florida is one of the most improved. Both set a course and passed legislation two decades ago. They have stayed the course — improving opportunities and outcomes.

For health care, we need a plan that embraces the changing landscape related to prevention, care and costs — one that encourages the assessment of opportunities for growth, or retraction, in a proactive, strategic way. We also need a plan that provides equitable, accessible health care for all populations. Again, our neighbors to the north in Massachusetts are making data-driven decisions and have health-care cost targets in place to help manage toward the future.

There are many programs and initiatives that have had success here but are still uncoordinated. We should look at best practices across the country, including rapid technological advances and data-driven analysis, and consider the changing demographics, including our aging population, to determine where we need to go for the benefit of all Rhode Islanders.

This will not be easy but it can be groundbreaking. We are willing to work with elected leaders, the business community, nonprofits, and community stakeholders to examine what is being done — both here and around the country — and what is needed for tomorrow, to get better, more-inclusive results.

The goal is to create rigorous, balanced, affordable plans that inspire us to stay the course to meet the needs of the people of Rhode Island.

This spring, we hosted 20 community conversations around the state during our Together RI initiative. Overwhelmingly, the Rhode Islanders who attended and shared their thoughts about our state’s strengths, opportunities and challenges told us that the size of Rhode Island allows us to take action and make change in ways other states cannot. But those same Rhode Islanders expressed frustration because we aren’t actually leveraging our size, or our interconnectedness, to solve the challenges we face. It’s time to change that.

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