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Gov. Raimondo reexamines education funding formula

Working group stresses greater focus on English Language Learners, special education

A working group established by Gov. Gina Raimondo has released a 36-page report with policy recommendations for Rhode Island’s educational funding formula. The report suggests changes to the way aid is allocated to charter schools as well as special education and English Language Learner programs.

Elizabeth Burke Bryant, adjunct lecturer in international and public affairs and executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT — a nonprofit advocacy group for Rhode Island’s children — served as co-chair of the working group.

“There was strong agreement that the funding formula is working well,” Bryant said. “Our charge was not to revamp the funds but to see if there were tweaks that needed to be considered.”

The working group’s report will be a key resource for both the governor and the general assembly, she added.

The committee, assembled by Raimondo’s executive order last October, was tasked with evaluating the efficacy of the existing formula established in 2010 without accounting for increases in overall spending. Some worry the choice not to account for spending will result in financially infeasible program expansions or will benefit some districts at the expense of others.

“If you’re not going to increase state funding and you want to expand these special programs, you’re going to end up burdening the taxpayer,” said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.

In its executive summary, the working group offered 20 funding recommendations for a variety of state educational programs, calling specifically for potential increases in funding for English Language Learners  and special needs students. The group also recommended that Raimondo reexamine the funding differences between charter and traditional public schools.

There are different arguments for increasing aid to both charter and traditional public schools, said Kenneth Wong, chair of the education department and advisor to the working group. Traditional public schools have disproportionately large populations of high-cost special education students, while charter schools often have to raise their own funds for things like facilities management, he added.

“If you look at the unique costs on balance, charter schools already out-pay those of traditional public schools,” said Timothy Groves, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools. Still, Groves said charter schools would be willing to revisit the existing funding formula as “there’s always room for revision and modification.”

Duffy sees the situation differently. “Charter schools are impacting public schools negatively already,” he said, adding that “students are inclined to enter a charter school lottery only because they can’t get the services they need in their underfunded public schools.”

The executive order states that the responsibility of the working group is solely to research and report findings on the existing funding formula, and its policy recommendations will not necessarily be implemented.

“The overall sentiment of the report is that we hope the legislature will be able to find some new money to move into public education,” Wong said. “It’s a very important domain to serve the collective interest of the state, so I hope the legislature would take that into consideration.”


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