Class notes: education and the governor’s budget

Jan 18, 2013

The new budget proposal from Governor Lincoln Chafee is a complex document, so here are a few highlights for schools and colleges.

There's a slight increase in this budget proposal for public colleges and universities. Oddly, officials disagree about the exact amount of the increase. The governor’s office first reported $8 million, but higher education officials say it’s closer to $6 million. The Office of Higher Education says it is grateful for any increase, after years of decreases under former Governor Don Carcieri.

The capital budget includes funding for several buildings and grounds projects. Some of the largest are $20 million for renovations at CCRI’s Knight Campus, $45.5 million to modernize a library and several other buildings at Rhode Island College, and a $102.5 million bond referendum to begin improvements at the URI College of Engineering.

A joint RIC-URI nursing building reappears in the capital budget, after an earlier proposal appeared to stall. Governor Chafee recommends $500,000 to complete architectural plans for the building, $175,000 for a feasibility study required by the 2011 budget and $2 million to renovate White Hall, which houses the current nursing school at URI.

On the K-12 end, the governor’s budget fully funds the state’s formula for distributing public school funding, now entering year three of a multi-year phase-in. The formula calculates aid to districts based on student enrollment and community wealth, among other factors.

As with most compromises, the formula has critics. Roughly a dozen school districts are losing funding every year, including Central Falls, which will lose roughly $1 million under this budget. However, the governor is proposing the state continue to pick up both the state and city share of the district's costs.

For those districts receiving an increase under the formula, this budget continues the positive trend. Some of the most cash-strapped districts have asked the state to accelerate their increases, but Governor Lincoln Chafee and lawmakers have so far declined to do so.

A few other highlights from the Rhode Island Association of School Committees:

• ($923,945) decline in Housing Aid. 
• ($412,951) decline in the regionalization bonus program (ending it).

• Textbook ($240,000) and school breakfast programs ($270,000) are level funded. 
• An additional $1,000,000 for Early Childhood Demo.
• An additional $1,087,850 for Statewide Transportation.
• An additional $500,000 for High Cost Special Ed.