Spring 1999 Journal: Connection Explores Regional Policy Priorities

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Spring 1999
For more information, contact:
John O. Harney, Executive Editor, Connection
email: connection@nebhe.org

May 28, 1999

Connection Explores Regional Policy Priorities, Features Mock Race for Governor of “State of New England”

New England Board of Higher Education’s Connection magazine features in-depth analysis of “Future of New England” survey results, text of mock debate.

Survey reveals sharp differences between business and educators on school issues.

New England political luminaries float regional proposals ranging from “Buy New England” campaign to pact ending interstate competition for businesses and jobs.

BOSTON-How do New Englanders and their “opinion leaders” in government, education, business, the media and the civil sector view their region at the millennium?

The nonprofit New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe) and the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts-Boston recently conducted the “Future of New England” survey in an effort to find out. The six-state survey asked 1,000 New England movers and shakers and 1,000 New England households their opinions on pressing public policy issues, regional economic prospects and opportunities for interstate collaboration.

NEBHE then invited six forward-looking New England political figures to review the survey findings and take part in a mock debate under the rubric of the “Race for Governor of the State of New England.”

The Spring 1999 edition of Connection: New England’s Journal of Higher Education and Economic Development features a comprehensive analysis of the six-state survey as well as the text of the mock debate complete with proposals as practical as a six-state, pooled pension fund and as farfetched as secession.

“Candidates” for the fictitious regional corner office include former New Hampshire state Rep. Deborah “Arnie” Arnesen; Vermont state Treasurer James Douglas; former Massachusetts state Sen. Patricia McGovern; Maine state Senate Majority Leader Chellie Pingree; Connecticut state Senate President Kevin Sullivan; and former Rhode Island Gov. Bruce Sundlun.

Connection is NEBHE’s quarterly journal-and America’s only regional journal on higher education and the economy. Following is a summary of articles in the new Spring 1999 issue of the journal:

The Future of New England: New Englanders and Their “Opinion Leaders” Consider a Regional Agenda — A major survey by the New England Board of Higher Education and the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts-Boston sheds light on how New Englanders and their opinion leaders in government, business, education, the media and the nonprofit sector view the region’s public policy priorities, economic prospects and opportunities for collaboration. Among the findings, nearly 90 percent of New England opinion leaders say the region should work collaboratively toward regional goals, but just 36 percent say they have worked on projects with governments or organizations from other states or countries. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of the households surveyed said they thought specific hypothetical regional initiatives such as coordinated efforts in telecommunications, joint trade missions, a regional State University of New England System and a regional high-speed rail network would be effective measures. The survey also reveals sharp disagreement between business and education leaders on ways to improve K-12 education.

Following are some K-12 reform proposals where education and business leaders diverged.

  • Percentage who are generally or strongly supportive
  • Back-to-basics instruction 63% 83%
  • Standardized tests for grade promotion 45% 70%
  • Equity in per-pupil school funding 82% 57%
  • Increased Head Start funding 87% 56%
  • Increased teacher pay and benefits 77% 55%
  • Merit-based teacher pay scales 77% 93%

Governor of New England? Issues Revealed, Tongues in Cheek, the “Campaign” Begins — Six “candidates” engage in a no-holds-barred, regional brainstorming session. Among their proposals: a six-state pension fund, a “Buy New England” campaign and a pact ending intraregional competition for businesses and jobs. Connection features an edited transcript of the debate featuring: Kevin Sullivan of Connecticut; Chellie Pingree of Maine; Patricia McGovern of Massachusetts; Arnie Arnesen of New Hampshire; Bruce Sundlun of Rhode Island; and James Douglas of Vermont. Pingree urges New England to become the first region to provide health care for all and, rather than fear the cost implications for business, to talk up universal care as a way to attract companies and skilled workers to the region. Arnesen wonders whether a regional funding source could be created to keep schools open from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. when a lot of New England kids are on their own and at risk.

A Shared Regional Agenda? — University of New Hampshire associate professor Ross Gittell explains what the “Future of New England” survey tells us about regional priorities and perceptions. Observes Gittell: “Future areas for cooperation could include: historical, cultural and environmental preservation, joint marketing of New England as an international tourist destination and regionalization of professional licensing to allow professionals to practice in all states across the region.”

Will New England R&D Go the Way of Manufacturing? — New England’s colleges and universities conducted nearly $2 billion in academic research and development (R&D) in 1997 and the region continued to lead the nation in university R&D expenditures per capita at $148, compared with $89 nationally. But as competition for research funds has escalated, New England’s share of R&D expenditures by all U.S. universities slid from 10.1 percent in 1983 to 8.3 percent in 1997. Connection Executive Editor John O. Harney warns that “the ongoing redistribution of American research wealth away from New England and toward the South and West threatens to damage the region’s preeminent scientific enterprise and compromise its fabled capacity to turn laboratory ideas into businesses, if not entire industries.”

Who’s Not at the Policy Table? — Mayor Kaileigh A. Tara of Lewiston, Maine, urges New England’s “opinion leaders” to seek greater public input in their decisions. Says the former welfare-mom-turned-mayor: “Policymakers should start by making a list of all those people whom instinct tells them should be involved in a decision. Then, they should put that list aside and start over.”

Suburban Sprawl or Urban Withdrawal? — Keith W. Stokes, executive director of Rhode Island’s Newport County Chamber of Commerce, explains why today’s suburban sprawl is a product of urban disinvestment. “As New England suburbanites recoil with horror over the loss of open space that has been systematically converted into strip malls and housing subdivisions, our cities are fighting for their economic lives,” notes Stokes. Among his prescriptions for the region’s cities, creation of a New England Urban Community Planning Council comprised of business people, community planners, elected officials and ordinary citizens from the six states to act as both a clearinghouse and advocate for policies that promote and enhance the economic competitiveness of New England’s cities.

Teachers Needed — Former Rhode Island higher education commissioner and Brown University Professor Eleanor M. McMahon assesses the looming K-12 teacher shortage and sees an untapped source of teaching talent: the growing ranks of Ph.D.s who cannot find careers in a higher education enterprise where full professors are increasingly replaced with adjunct professors.

The State of New England: A Fact Sheet — How much do New Englanders earn on average? How much do they give to charity? How many foreign immigrants to the United States settle in the six-state region? Where do the region’s exports go? What is the relative health of the New England newspaper industry? Connection features a comprehensive “State of New England Fact Sheet” with key data on the region’s population, economy, education, culture and politics.

The State of New England: Editorializing — Some New England editorialists think the time is right for interstate solutions to the region’s problems; others aren’t so sure. Connection samples New England editorial page coverage of the “Future of New England” survey and mock “Race for Governor of the State of New England.”

Public Assistance and Workforce Development: The Growing Divide — Brandeis University scholar Erika Kates examines the disconnect between welfare reform laws and workforce development goals. “Even as New England wrestles with a skilled labor shortage,” writes Kates, “women who are willing to invest in their future are being steered away from education.” The co-chair of the Welfare Education Training Access Coalition at Brandeis offers recommendations to improve New England’s widely varying welfare reform policies and attendant rules affecting access to education and training.

Book ReviewsConnection explores two new books from the MIT Press. Former University of Massachusetts President David C. Knapp reviews Holding the Center, the memoirs of former MIT President Howard Wesley Johnson, who presided over the research giant during the tumultuous 1960s. Writer Alan R. Earls reviews Civic Space/Cyberspace: The American Public Library in the Information Age by Redmond Kathleen Molz and Phyllis Dain.


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