A pre-session House Finance Committee meeting this afternoon offered a mix of good news and bad news: a larger than expected current-year surplus of about $47 million will roughly cut in half the deficit for the budget year starting next July 1, from $130 million to $70 million.

But the state’s structural deficit could grow to about $400 million in five years, due in part to overspending in some state departments. In an interview following the meeting, House Finance chairman Helio Melo said the state needs to be more disciplined:

“It’s the holiday season,” as the song goes, and what’s December in Rhode Island without another Statehouse-tree related controversy? Mull that over along with my Friday column. Your thoughts and tips are welcome, as always at idonnis [at] ripr [dot] org.

The Board of Governors for Higher Education has just three full meetings left before it ceases to exist, at least in its current form.

The state is dissolving both the Board of Governors and the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. Instead, a single board will oversee the state’s public schools and colleges and universities starting on January 1st, 2013. (No word yet, by the way, on when Governor Lincoln Chafee will announce his appointees for the new board)

Items the Board of Governors may address in its final days include:

The Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education meets this week to consider a budget request for the coming fiscal year.

The Department of Education is preparing two scenarios:  one for level-funding and one for a seven percent decrease.

This is one of just two meetings and two work sessions remaining before the board is dissolved in favor of a single Board of Education. The new board will oversee both elementary and secondary schools and Rhode Island’s three institutions of higher education.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but we’re seeing a few attempts to bring some urgency to Rhode Island and its perennial economic struggles.

Moody’s Investors Service says the $8.1 billion budget signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee on June 15 “is credit positive for Central Falls and schools, but leaves Woonsocket and pensions unaddressed.”

Moody’s points to “a material increase in funding for schools” — $34 million, or almost 4 percent, “marking the third consecutive annual increase in school funding. State funding for education now stands at over $900 million, well above pre-recession peak.”

The House budget approved early this morning does away with the State Office of Higher Education, although it keeps the position of Commissioner of Higher Education. The change takes effect in 2014.

The budget also consolidates the boards of higher education and elementary and secondary education into a single board to be known as the Rhode Island Board of Education, effective at the start of 2013.

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