The first meeting of a special legislative committee to review the Rhode Island schools funding formula was held last Wednesday. Senator Ryan Pearson (Democrat, District 19, Cumberland) is leading the effort, with the backing of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence). The committee plans to meet at least four more times, and wants a report on the funding formula by the start of the next legislative session, January 7.
The funding formula is a calculation that determines the amount of state aid each municipality in Rhode Island receives. Established in 2010, the funding formula was supposed to do three things:
- address the need for “equitable distribution of resources” among the state’s school districts;
- provide property tax relief; and
- provide a predictable method of distributing education aid.
One interesting thing about the funding formula: The funding formula was not based on how much it costs to educate students. The funding formula was based on the amount of money Rhode Island had to fund education, and the formula was backed into to get that number.
The funding formula has failed three districts in particular: Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Providence. As can be seen in the slides presented at the hearing below, some of this can be attributed to the big expansion in the number of ELL (English Language Learners) in these cities, but also because the funding formula has no teeth.
State funds are one part of the equation, but the cities and towns are supposed to contribute as well. Providence, Woonsocket and Pawtucket have not met their end of the funding, meaning that their schools are underfunded. And the funding formula has no teeth: There’s no penalty for not meeting your obligations.
Providence schools, in such bad shape according to the John Hopkins report that a state takeover of the schools is now underway, is by far not the least underfunded. Woonsocket and Pawtucket seem doubly underfunded.
The expansion of charter schools in Providence also drains resources from public schools. the expansion of Achievement First seats in Providence will cost the city $15M in public school funding. This shortfall falls on Providence.
Legislative fiscal advisor Kelly Carpenter presented an introduction of sorts to the funding formula. This isn’t a bad primer for understanding education funding in the state.
Senator Pearson then presented some slides:
Next up were public comments:
Newport City Council member Jeanne-Marie Napolitano:
East Greenwich School Committee member Dr Eugene Quinn:
Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees:
Her are the slides presented, starting with Senator Pearson’s overview and objectives of the special committee:
Legislative fiscal advisor Kelly Carpenter’s slides:
Funding formula by district:
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