Five years after lawmakers approved a formula to determine state aid to school districts, Governor Gina Raimondo is calling for a review of the system.
Raimondo has convened a panel of more than two dozen lawmakers, businesspeople, school leaders and others to study the way the state distributes money to elementary and secondary schools.
Questions for the panel include funding for charter schools, special education services and the overall effectiveness of K-12 spending, which is the second largest piece of the state budget.RIPR's Elisabeth Harrison had an informal conversation with Governor Gina Raimondo at her office about the goal of the school funding review, new money for school construction and criticism that her administration has made information and public records more difficult to access.
"The real question is are we getting the most for our money?" Raimondo told RIPR. "The state spends nearly a billion dollars a year distributed to cities and towns, what are we getting for it?"
The funding formula takes several factors into account, including student enrollment and poverty. But critics have charged that it fails to account for other factors, such as special education services and students who speak English as a second language.
There has also been controversy over the way the formula diverts money from school districts to charter schools when students enroll in charter schools, an issue Raimondo said she wants the panel to review.
"I think it’s time to have a look at how we fund charter schools," Raimondo said. "Do we have a system now that pits charter schools against non-charter public schools? If so, should we make any tweaks?"
Raimondo's office said the task force will "provide feedback" by early next year, which leaves just a few months to dive into some very complex issues.
According to an official statement, Raimondo has directed to group to focus on the following areas:
- Fairness across school types: Our funding formula must be fair and supported by data.
- Flexibility and sufficiency: Our funding formula must enable prudent and sustainable flexibility at the district, school, and student levels.
- Responsiveness to unique needs: Our families, communities, and schools have unique needs, and the funding formula needs to account for and accommodate these unique needs.
- Fiscal responsibility: Our funding formula needs to direct resources to the areas in which they are needed most and the funding formula must encourage savings and efficiency whenever possible
- Improved Outcomes: Our funding formula needs to invest these resources wisely to ensure improved outcomes.
The task force will be led by Rhode Island Kids Count Executive Director Elizabeth Burke Bryant and IGT Chairman Donald Sweitzer and advised by Brown University Professor Ken Wong, who authored the original funding formula.
Other members include more than two dozen lawmakers, business leaders, teachers, principals and others. East Providence is particularly well-represented, with State Representative Gregg Amore, who is also a teacher, State Senator Daniel Da Ponte and former Mayor Isadore Ramos all participating.
Teachers from West Warwick and Tiverton are on the list along with superintendents from Pawtucket and Lincoln, Providence Principal Gara Field and Cumberland Principal Alan Tenreiro, who was recently named National Principal of The Year.
From the charter school sector, the head of the International Charter School and a board member from Blackstone Valley Prep were named to the panel.
Representatives from the business community include Hasbro Vice President Karen Davis, Washington Trust Chairman Joseph MarcAurele and Rhode Island Foundation Grants Program Officer Tobey Shepherd. Donato Bianco from the Laborers International Union is also on the list.
Notably absent from the panel are the heads of the state's two teachers' unions and a representative from Warwick, one of the largest school districts in the state.