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Governor's budget cuts school aid

Providence schools face a $7.1 million loss in state aid in fiscal year 2011 if Gov. Donald Carcieri's '65 budget proposal is approved.

The proposal reduces aid to the state's public schools by $25.1 million compared with this year's budget, an across-the-board cut of 3.8 percent, according to Elliot Krieger, spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"Continued cuts in state aid to local school districts will further compromise our district's ability to deliver crucial educational services to our students," said Thomas Brady, superintendent of Providence Public Schools, in a Feb. 2 statement responding to the proposal.

Providence schools have already lost $5.8 million in state aid in the past two years, and are facing a supplemental budget cut of $5.3 million this year that has been proposed by the governor, according to Kim Rose, chief communications officer for Providence schools.

"The state is facing a fiscal crisis never seen before, and tough decisions have to be made," Amy Kempe, communications director and press secretary at the Office of the Governor, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Though the Governor's budget reduces total education aid, it "does include funding for critical educational initiatives including $13.4 million more for school construction aid, $7.7 million more for charter schools, among other programs," Kempe wrote in the e-mail.

"The Governor would like to see all municipal employees — including teachers — do what every state employee did, which is take a 3 percent pay reduction this year and a 2 percent pay reduction next year," Kempe wrote in the e-mail. "It would save cities and towns $40 million this year and $40 million next year."

The reduction in state funding to Providence schools is "big," especially considering that the district has long been "underfunded in the first place," said Philip Gould, temporary president of the Providence School Board and a professor of English at Brown.

Gould said an important factor that has led to the district's current financial situation is the state's lack of a "funding formula," which would allow for better predictability in long-term planning. Rhode Island is the only state in the country that does not use a funding formula for its public schools, he said.

Establishment of a funding formula is a "real need" for the schools to make significant improvements, said Hillary Salmons, executive director of the Providence After School Alliance. "It's insane that we have a year-to-year budget strategy," she said.

The Providence school district has an especially high number of students with barriers to learning, including poverty, English as a second language and special education needs, Rose said. A funding formula is particularly helpful because it accounts for the needs of these students, she said.

The district is in the process of a major reform — called the "Aligned Instructional System," Rose said. This project consists of three pieces: a new curriculum, professional development for teachers and a comprehensive assessment framework. A new core curriculum for math and science was implemented in all schools beginning this fall. A curriculum for English, language arts and social studies is currently under development, and is to be implemented next year. Teachers will receive training on instructional strategies in the summer, she said.

Salmons said she is highly supportive of this reform, which she called "very focused." She said she would encourage the community to embrace changes proposed by Mayor David Cicilline '83 and the superintendent.

Any cuts to the school system's budget are "extremely unfortunate"  when the district is trying to make this "turn-around," she said.

Continued reductions in funding "run the danger of undermining that project," Gould said.
The proposed reduction in state aid for next year "might be inevitable but is certainly tragic," he said.


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