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Sunday, April 28, 2024

McKee releases his lame, sketchy "plan" to boost Rhode Islanders' incomes

He promised a "plan" but issued a "plan for a plan," if that

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

Ears perked when Gov. Dan McKee unveiled an ambitious goal during his Jan. 16 State of the State address, promising to raise per-person annual earnings by $20,000 by the end of the decade.

The many questions that followed were met with one answer: Wait 100 days. The plan is coming.

A day before the 100-day mark, McKee delivered. Sort of.

The three-page memo announced on X on Thursday and added to the state’s long-term planning website, Rhode Island 2030, is more of a plan for a plan.

Or, in the words of Laura Hart, “a framework.”

“It’s not the plan itself because if we created a full plan and imposed it on people, we didn’t think that would work,” Hart, a spokesperson for McKee’s office, said in an interview on Friday.

Instead, the “Rhode to Prosperity” document proposes a series of summer outreach sessions with business and education leaders to gather feedback and hone details on the personal income goal. 

The document is rife with buzzwords popular in the workforce development world: stressing the need for “viable pathways to higher-wage jobs” and the role of “experiential learning” that relies on traditional educational programs and “employer-aligned models.”

Exactly what that means and how to achieve it will be determined by public input, along with recommendations from Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training Director Matt Weldon and Commissioner on Postsecondary Education Shannon Gilkey. 

Both are partnering with McKee on the initiative to expand registered apprenticeships and experiential learning, alongside workforce training and adult education, according to the state memo.

While the language sounds reminiscent of the Real Jobs Rhode Island program, a sector-specific workforce training program started under then-Gov. Gina Raimondo in 2015, the new strategy differs in that it covers all industries, Hart said.

“Slow and steady really wins the race in terms of a workforce development strategy,” she said.

As for why the administration rolled out the news on social media without a corresponding press release, Hart said the plan was to save the bigger communications rollout when the dates are set for outreach sessions with business and education leaders — sometime “before summer,” she said.

The goal is still to raise per-capita incomes above the existing federal estimate for Rhode Island of $66,301 per person by at least $20,000, or even more if possible, Hart said. 

“We think, more important than the number, is the goal you’re pointing to,” Hart said. “Twenty thousand is the floor, not the ceiling.”

And, she clarified, the target income bump does not include inflationary pressures, which some state economists said would raise annual pay by that amount, or close to it, anyway.

The memo makes no mention of projected costs for the new workforce and education programs, though it references the $81.7 million Community Learning Center Municipal Grant program created in the state’s fiscal 2023 budget using federal pandemic aid. An initial round of grants totaling $28 million awarded to 12 municipal learning centers was announced by McKee’s office on Thursday.



Rhode Island Current is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman for questions: Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.