1. When the first-ever RICAS standardized test scores came out in late 2018, showing only 34% of Rhode Island students proficient in English and just 27% proficient in math, it triggered a minor political crisis. The governor was asked about replacing the education commissioner. Lawmakers promised major K-12 reforms during the upcoming session. The Rhode Island Foundation convened a high-powered panel to seek solutions. Fast-forward five years, and little has changed: only 33% of Rhode Island students are proficient in English, and just 30% are proficient in math. But the reaction this week was far more muted. Some of that is understandable: the pandemic’s massive disruptions to education have set a new baseline and lowered short-term expectations as schools and students get back on track. “I didn’t know what to expect, because the pandemic has thrown the entire nation for a loop,” Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green told my colleague Alexandra Leslie. State officials also point to comparative good news: the gap between Rhode Island and Massachusetts students on the test has closed considerably since 2018. Alas, that’s primarily thanks to Bay State kids doing worse, not Rhody kids doing better. And the underlying gap isn’t just because Massachusetts is a wealthier state overall; a recent Annenberg Institute study found Rhode Island students are substantially behind their Massachusetts peers “even when we compare schools that serve similar student populations.” Suffice to say, there is a long way to go for Governor McKee to achieve his goal of matching Massachusetts scores by 2030.
2. A Friday afternoon scoop: Lifespan and Brown are in advanced talks to rename the hospital group “Brown Health.”
3. The more time that goes by, the less likely it looks that Republican Gerry Leonard will be able to pull off a huge upset against Democrat Gabe Amo in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District on Nov. 7. “Amo will be the next congressman,” the Capitol Hill outlet Punchbowl News wrote flatly on Thursday. Still, Amo would be foolish to take the race for granted, and he continues to campaign energetically across the district. He had slightly more cash on hand than Leonard as of Sept. 30, giving him yet another advantage, and added to that stockpile Wednesday night with a well-attended fundraiser headlined by Gina Raimondo. Both candidates say they plan six-figure TV ad buys, with Amo’s new spot similar to those that won him the primary, and Leonard’s first spot taking a self-deprecating approach. Appearing Monday on 12 News at 4 with Kim Kalunian, Leonard insisted he can win. “Don’t measure the curtains yet,” he warned Amo. “Forty-seven percent of the electorate is unaffiliated, and I absolutely believe Rhode Island is looking for a change. And I think they understand the logic of a balanced delegation in Washington, D.C., particularly if the Republicans continue to control the House.” But Leonard shied away from direct answers on the biggest issue inside the caucus he is seeking to join: who should lead the GOP, and the House, as speaker. “I don’t know enough congresspeople down there,” he said, adding that he wants someone who can “lead from the middle.” Meanwhile, ballots are already being cast, with early voting now under way. And both candidates have reason to hope the House leadership crisis gets resolved sooner rather than later: congressional expert Sarah Binder warns that Rhode Island’s congressman-elect can’t be sworn in until there’s a duly elected speaker (or speaker pro tem) in place.
4. Something to keep an eye on: AG Neronha says state and federal prosecutors will resolve their long-running investigation into Governor McKee’s controversial contract with the ILO Group in the coming months, and findings will be shared publicly.
5. Gina Raimondo was back at the State House on Wednesday, accompanied by someone considerably more famous: CBS News legend Lesley Stahl, longtime correspondent for “60 Minutes,” who is preparing a piece on the commerce secretary for an upcoming episode of the Sunday newsmagazine. It’s yet another sign that Raimondo’s profile in Washington is unusually high for someone stationed at the Commerce Department, which is typically a comparative cabinet backwater. No air date has been announced for Stahl’s story, but knowing the “60 Minutes” production schedule it’s likely to air before the end of the year. (Point of personal privilege: Stahl is a Wheaton grad, Class of ’63.)
6. Two from Providence City Hall … Mayor Smiley wants to shift about $20 million of the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act money to housing and other initiatives … Helen Anthony made an emotional return to the City Council on Thursday night after the accident that nearly took her life.
7. We’ve been talking about the region’s housing crisis for so long that it might be easy to glaze over when the topic comes up. So take a minute and look at these maps put together by Eli Sherman revealing just how unaffordable Rhode Island has become for buyers and renters alike. The data comes from the newly released 2023 Housing Fact Book, an indispensable resource prepared by HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University. HousingWorks is also launching a new Rhode Island Zoning Atlas, offering an X-ray of which sections of the state are most restricted for potential construction. And the housing crisis is even worse in Massachusetts, as The Boston Globe’s Mark Arsenault highlighted this week in his opening installment of a Globe Spotlight series on the topic. It’s certainly dominating the first year of Governor Healey’s tenure, between the worsening migrant crisis and her plan to borrow $4.1 billion for housing initiatives.
8. Senator Whitehouse has a new idea for placing term limits on the Supreme Court.
9. Seth Magaziner has reached another milestone in the life of a freshman congressman: establishing a leadership PAC with the Federal Election Commission as another destination for his political donations. As Open Secrets puts it, “Leadership PACs are designed for two things: to make money and to make friends, both of which are crucial to ambitious politicians looking to advance their careers.” Rank-and-file members of Congress often give their leadership PACs an identity tied to a specific issue to help attract donations; David Cicilline rebranded his as the “Gun Safety PAC” in 2020, for instance, and Sheldon Whitehouse’s is called the “Oceans PAC.” Magaziner set his up in May and went with the name “Clean Energy Democrats PAC.” Clay Schroers, Magaziner’s chief of staff, said the 2nd District Democrat plans to use the money to support other candidates who prioritize tackling climate change. It got off to a quiet start: the only donation to the Magaziner PAC through June 30 was $5,000 from the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
10. Also on the campaign front: Congressman Auchincloss isn’t wasting any time getting ready for his own 2024 re-election campaign. Auchincloss has scheduled multiple campaign kickoff events for this weekend, including a meet-and-greet Sunday afternoon at Troy City Brewing in Fall River. Co-hosts for the event include Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan, state Sen. Mike Rodrigues, and state Reps. Carole Fiola, Paul Schmid and Alan Silvia. Not that Auchincloss has much reason to sweat at the moment. After winning the hard-fought primary to succeed Joe Kennedy in 2020, he ran unopposed in 2022 and currently has no announced opponents for 2024, either.
11. The federal government spent $6.1 trillion during the budget year that ended Sept. 30. About 36% of that money went to Social Security and Medicare. Where’d the rest go? Here’s a chart.
12. Longtime Rhode Island Monthly journalist Ellen Liberman consistently turns out smart long-form reporting on local politics and policy at a time when fewer news organizations are able to invest in that kind of work. Her latest piece, in the October issue of the magazine, is no exception. Liberman did a deep-dive on the problem of public records in Rhode Island, interviewing Tim White, Lou DiPalma, Sid Wordell, Joe Cavanagh Jr., Steve Brown, Justin Silverman, AG Neronha and John Marion. (She also requested an interview with Governor McKee, but he declined to speak with her.) Take the time to read Liberman’s story here — or better yet, buy the October issue of Rhode Island Monthly and read it there.
13. Why are doctors recommending C-sections for so many more pregnant women than they did a generation ago? An eye-opening, disturbing investigation by Kim Kalunian.
14. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” doesn’t get shown on network TV anymore, alas, because Apple snatched away the rights back in 2020. So this weekend will be your one chance to watch the special for free, since Apple TV+ is letting people stream “Great Pumpkin” without a subscription today and tomorrow. Apple says it plans to do the same two-day free window for the Thanksgiving and Christmas specials later this year. More good news for Peanuts fans: the Thanksgiving special’s soundtrack just got released for the first time ever. (Hey, if Dan McGowan can write about wrestling, I can write about this!)
15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — R.I. Cannabis Control Commission Chair Kim Ahern. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sunday at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.