School Funding at Stake
Monday, June 07, 2010
At stake is how the state will dole out what this year was $860 million in state aid for school districts across the state. The House and the Senate are considering bills that would create a formula for deciding how that money gets distributed.
“Not having a formula hurts all the communities. A predictable funding stream will certainly benefit all the communities,” said Larry Berman, spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox. “Right now, it’s at the whim of the General Assembly every year.”
That amount of money is not tied to how many students are in the district and does not take into account the wealthy or poverty of the community. As a result, school districts like Newport are over-funded, according to Karina Wood, coordinator of Rhode Island is Ready, a group that has been pressing for a formula.. Even though its student population has declined by 30 percent over 10 years, it has continued to receive funding based on the old formula, she said.
Providence schools, on the other hand, are receiving less than they need, Wood said.
“The quality of a child’s education shouldn’t depend on their ZIP code,” Wood said. “It shouldn’t be that if you live in a wealthier district you get a better education.”
New System Based on Per Pupil Cost
The new formula calculates the cost of a regular education at $8,295 a student. But, it assumes that lower-income students who are not fluent in English or have learning disabilities will cost more to educate.
One formula, advocated by House Finance Chairman Steven Costantino, would increase the cost for those students to $11,600 each. Any student who was in the free or reduced lunch program would be eligible. Another version, backed by Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, would break the increase down, with different amounts for students in special education, learning English as a second language, or those receiving a free or reduced lunch.
How much money each district gets would be determined by multiplying the number of students by the relevant per-pupil rate—either $8,295 or $11,600. Then, the state would look at median household income and property values to figure out how much the community can afford and how much the state should chip in, according to Wood.
Reform Creates 'Winners' and 'Losers'
The funding overhaul creates the specter of winners and losers. Districts like Newport will be receiving less while the state will be covering 95 percent of the cost in Central Falls, according to Wood. Lawmakers are trying to soften the impact by phasing in the cuts. Those districts losing money would have their reductions phased in over 10 years. Those due for more, however, will see funding go up over a five-year period.
“It’s equitable for every district because every district is being judged by the same factors,” Wood said.
The Senate version of the Costantino bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston, is virtually identical, except it would not be implemented until 2013. The Costantino measure is expected to take effect for the school year that begins in September 2011, according to Wood.
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