Working Group Recommends Changes For School Funding

Jan 14, 2016

Goff Junior High School in Pawutcket.
Credit Elisabeth Harrison

A task force has reviewed the way Rhode Island pays for public schools and recommended some changes to Governor Gina Raimondo. The group met Thursday evening to finalize the report.

The panel was formed amid growing concerns that charter schools draw too much funding away from traditional public schools. RIPR's Elisabeth Harrison reviewed a draft of the report and spoke with Morning Edition Host Chuck Hinman about some of the highlights.

  

C: So what did this working group conclude about school funding in Rhode Island – are there inequities in the way the state is funding public schools and charter schools?

E: The short answer is yes. The working group’s report points out that some students are more expensive to educate, specifically students who are still learning English and students who need special education services. The group is recommending that the state consider providing more money for students who need those services. And that would help school districts in particular because the reality is that they are much more likely to be serving the students with the most severe disabilities, like those who are placed in special facilities.

C: But what about this question of whether charter schools are getting more than their fair share of state funding?

E: The working group is careful to say that charter schools have some costs that traditional public schools typically do not, while traditional public schools have costs that charter schools do not. When it comes to the charter schools, that generally means building costs, because they don’t have a city or town to provide buildings or bond for maintenance. In the case of traditional public schools, those extra costs come from a number of areas. The most expensive is out-of-district placements for students with severe disabilities. In Fiscal Year 2014 that amounted to $70 million statewide, according to the state Department of Education.

Other costs include retiree health benefits and screenings for preschool children, which help identify learning disabilities, hearing problems and things like that, so students can get help. When you add up the numbers from RIDE, at least as they are listed in the draft report, it all comes down to a little more than $350 more per student on average for a traditional public school compared with a charter school.

C: So what does the working group recommend doing to make funding more fair?

E: Well, the working group does not recommend a complete re-write of the state formula for distributing funding for school districts, but it does recommends revisions to address some of these issue. As far as what specifically those revisions should look like, well that’s not in the report. It will be up to the Governor to decide what goes into her budget proposal -- which is expected at the start of next month -- and what legislation is proposed based on these recommendations.  Remember, this working group was convened as recently as last October. It includes more than two dozen people, who met only about 8 times. Hours of work went into the report, but clearly there will be much more work to come.