Above: School Committee members Alyson Powell and Anne Musella testify Wednesday before the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
School Committee members Anne Musella and Alyson Powell were the first people to testify at a hearing before the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare on proposed legislation to clarify how field trips can be paid for, urging equity for poorer students as well as clarification on how money can be raised.
The East Greenwich School Committee’s decision to seek an advisory opinion from the state Department of Education last year resulted in outgoing RIDE Commissioner Ken Wagner’s opinion that schools, not parents, must fund school trips. That sparked confusion among school districts across the state and cancellation of many trips this past fall.
Even in East Greenwich, where the School Committee had a big head start and had passed comprehensive policies that would allow for fundraising and donations to offset field trip costs, some teachers did not put in for trips normally undertaken because of a fear they were not permitted.
Musella and Powell said they wanted to testify because of the “hours and hours” of work the East Greenwich School Committee has done. They also submitted written testimony which included the signature of fellow committee member Matt Plain (Field Trip Testimony, 1-29-20).
Musella warned the panel against allowing for pay-to-play situations, where families with deep pockets can pay for special trips or programs that are too expensive for other students.
She elaborated, citing her own experience as a child growing up as a “have not” in Detroit.
“Because of field trips, I was afforded some of the same opportunities my well-off friends had, like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and national tours of Broadway shows … in addition to every fifth grader’s highlight of the year, which was a trip to the Toronto Science Center, by train. I would never have had those opportunities outside of school.”
Then Musella added a cautionary note.
“You will continue to hear, as we have, that no one who has wanted to go on a field trip has been left behind. That may be true, that no student who has come forward asking for financial assistance to go on a field trip was ever denied [but] it’s also true that many more students wanted to go on a field trip but did not ask, out of shame, out of embarrassment or reasons of privacy. I’ve spoken with many parents in our community for which this is true.”
“No child or their family should be put in the position to have to ask,” Musella said.
Powell said the panel should focus on including guidance on how to implement field trip funding policies.
“I urge you, no matter what language you choose to write, to really work cooperatively with RIDE, school committees and districts to come up with a toolkit for districts to use.”
More than two dozen other people testified before the House panel Wednesday, including NEARI (teachers union) president Larry Purtill, head of the RI Music Education Association Toni Silveira, and Pot au Feu owner Bob Burke, founder of the Providence Independence Trail. All spoke in favor of the legislation.
So is this the only issue on everybodys mind in eg…what a sorry state of affairs…field trips should be resolved through budgetary funding and additl donations…not sure what has changed since 60s…we went to risd museum…the united nations which we pd indiv for…weekend skating which we paid for…this reeks of all inclusivity and political correctness…wrong message to our kids…life is not one big handout…
You’re not sure what has changed since the 60’s?? Just about everything! LOL
Children receiving public education within the same town should absolutely receive equal opportunity to participate in age appropriate educational field trips with their fellow classmates. In some of these instances, we’re talking about K-2 students not going on local field trips taking place during scheduled school days (not NYC or w/e skating to your example above “pd indiv for”) at all because of concerns with funding the transportation to accommodate the students. Not to mention the logistical issue of needing teacher/s to stay behind for those children whose families simply can’t or won’t pay the additional cost. How are they to incorporate the valuable lessons learned on these trips into their classroom when they haven’t taken part in the trip with their students. Conversely, how should those teachers who did chaperone handle bringing those teaching lessons back to students who weren’t able to be a part of the trip? If this were simply a travel or weekend social trip issue, I might agree (in part) with your take on paying individually, but these are basic school day trips and ALL our children should be afforded these opportunities as part of their Public Education. That is not a handout!
Here’s a thought: On the permission form for the trip state that the cost of the tip is X dollars, but if this is an amount that the family is unable to pay, or only partially able, just sign the form and return. Allow those children to go with funding supplied by another source: PTA, fundraising, budget appropriation. No one has to ask and all the kids still get to benefit from the trip. I know that this design relies on the honor system, but I bet given the dramatic decrease in opportunities for our children over the last year not many are really going to try to cheat the system.
Well for FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) at the high school which is a very important career exploration opportunity for students, we were given a carefully worded legally appropriate communication (because you cannot ask for a certain amount). Then the teacher had to ask and ask and ask and ask and ask and ask yet again for donations letting us know that funding was still short and East Greenwich would not be able to even have an FBLA Chapter without sufficient funding to participate. The week of the deadline STILL asking for donations right up until the day of the deadline. And it was still a bit short of funding. That shortfall will have to be made up with fundraising. FBLA was apparently one of only two groups who had a field trip in the fall. I can’t imagine many teachers wanting to go through this stressful hassle year after year. Certainly not for the fun morale building trips. And FBLA is an important org for the student’s education and it apparently receives no public funding. We have had EG students get into Harvard based partly on “field trip” experiences such as Debate Team in NYC. This will be hugely damaging to our student’s college prospects.