With a vote expected Thursday on the state budget for the fiscal year beginning in July, here’s a look at some highlights for public schools and state colleges and universities.
Elementary and Secondary Education
- $660 million in general funding for public schools.
- $11 million for districts due for funding increases under the state’s new public school aid formula.
The formula takes things like number of students, median income and poverty into account, so these are districts that essentially have not been getting their fair share from the state. Winners include Woonsocket, and of course we’ve all been hearing about the $10 million deficit in the Woonsocket schools. This won’t plug that hole, but it should help ease at least some of the strain for districts like Woonsocket going forward.
- $1.4 million for Central Falls.
Lawmakers are basically delaying a plan to have Central Falls start paying part of the tab for its public schools. The state has been covering the cost of the Central Falls schools since the early 1990’s, but the new funding formula calls for the city to start making a local contribution. That’s not looking very likely with Central Falls still working to get out of bankruptcy, and their latest five-year plan including no funding for public schools. The budget proposal calls for an annual review of Central Falls finances, and for now, taxpayers will continue paying the school bills.
- No bond for joint University of Rhode Island-Rhode Island College nursing building.
This building was supposed to be a brand new facility for the two schools to share in Providence’s Jewelry District. What happened to the plan? Well, according to House Spokesman Larry Berman, the governor’s office and higher education officials never finalized the details on the nursing building, so there was no proposal for House lawmakers to consider.
URI officials say they are disappointed, and they think the nursing center would have been a real financial boost for both the state and the city of Providence — it would have been located in the area that city and state officials are trying to rename “the knowledge district” and turn into a hub for health care and biotech.
Some observers say not everyone at RIC supported the joint nursing facility. Michael Smith, the assistant to RIC’s president posted on his Facebook page that he thought the idea was ill conceived, calling it “a house of cards built on a foundation of ego, profit and a profound lack of understanding of public policy.”
The Facebook post has been removed. RIC says it does not represent the opinion of the college administration, and the school continues to be fully supportive of efforts to enhance nursing education.
- $50 million bond for building renovations at RIC, including the nursing school.
- $2 million for building projects at URI.
- Consolidate the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education.
This budget item calls for a merger of the state boards that oversee public colleges and universities and K-12 schools. The Department of Higher Education says the proposal would actually dissolve both of the existing boards by January 1st 2014. The governor would then have the power to appoint a brand new board to oversee all of public education in Rhode Island.
Under this proposal, the presidents of the state’s colleges and universities, along with Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, would report to the new board. The board could decide to consolidate the departments of higher education and elementary and secondary education, or it could keep them separate as they are now.
Lawmakers are also considering a new position of chancellor, who would oversee higher ed and public schools. That proposal appears to be in flux right now, but either way, this budget item could have a major impact on who will be in charge of public education in the Ocean State in the future.