The recommended changes represent the first major effort to retool the statewide funding formula Rhode Island has used to pay for public K-12 education since it was adopted in 2010. The series of recommendations would require millions of dollars in new funding. They also lay out plans for new data collection, new rules governing municipal education costs, and increased staff at the State Department of Education.

Among the most expensive recommendations are increasing state funding for high-cost special education and transportation. The Senate task force created to reevaluate state education spending, found that those areas have not been funded appropriate levels by the state, forcing municipalities to pick up the extra costs. 

Transportation for children in foster care also represents a burden for municipalities, lawmakers found. If a student is moved from one district to another, to be placed in foster care, it is the responsibility of the original district to transport the child back and forth from the foster home to school. Lawmakers recommended expanding state money to help cover those costs.

The task force also found that the current funding formula isn’t responsive enough to fluctuations in student enrollment. Districts may see surprise upticks in their numbers well after they’ve budgeted for the academic year. One recommendation would create a new pot of money from which districts could draw on, in the event that they need more money to work with more children. 

One recommendation sure to see pushback would place some restrictions on the amount of money municipalities would be required to send to charter schools receiving their students. Lawmakers heard complaints that communities were required to pay to send students out of district to lower-performing charter schools.

Under the new recommendation, if a student leaves a district for a charter school that under-performs the district school, the municipality would not be required to pay more than fifty percent of district’s local per-pupil tuition. Lawmakers also recommend adopting new restrictions on the total amount any district would be required to pay to send students to charter schools.

The lawmakers also recommend incorporating students learning English into the core funding formula. Currently, qualifying for free or reduced lunch is the only factor, used as a proxy, to determine low-income students, students with individualized education plans, and students learning English. The new recommendation expands funding to include English language learners. Currently, money to support those students comes from a separate categorical fund, which lawmakers found to be inadequate. 

Lawmakers also recommend mandating municipalities pay the minimum core requirement of per-pupil spending. The recommendations also lay out a plan that would restrict state contributions from decreasing to municipalities by more than one percent annually. 

Other recommendations involve retooling data collection by the state, new hires and reorganization for the state education department, and a bi-annual review of the state’s Basic Education Plan.