Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and the Providence City Council filed a lawsuit against the Rhode Island Department of Education and state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green on Sept. 28 in the Providence Superior Court over a dispute regarding how much money the city must pay to fund its public schools, according to WPRI.
The lawsuit comes after the Office of the General Treasurer — under the direction of Infante-Green — withheld $5 million in state aid from the city, WPRI reported. Because the state has refused to grant these funds, the city will have to fill the gap. In its lawsuit, the city claims that it does not need to allocate these additional funds, and that the state failed to include $50 million in federal COVID-19 funds in its budget calculations, the Associated Press reported.
“The Office of the General Treasurer was following state law in withholding municipal aid at Infante-Green’s direction,” wrote Ben Smith, director of communications at The Office of the General Treasurer, in an email to The Herald. “Our office is required to comply,” he added. “Pursuant to the order of the Commissioner, our office is withholding $4,850,739 that was scheduled to be paid to Providence on Aug. 31.”
The Providence Public School District has been controlled by RIDE since a state takeover began in November 2o19, The Herald previously reported. The city continues to allocate significant funds to PPSD, but no longer has control over the district or its budget. This new lawsuit is yet another development in what has been a fraught relationship between city and state over state control of PPSD since 2019, The Herald previously reported.
According to Elorza, RIDE has tabulated the amount owed using inconsistent metrics. “The City has been trying to negotiate with RIDE for over a year, but it is clear we are in disagreement. The State has based its position on calculations that sometimes include federal funds and sometimes not, and they have offered no justification for this,” Elorza wrote in a statement to The Herald.
“RIDE has interpreted the statute and made calculations in a way that is overly generous toward their position, and when they moved to withhold funds from the city, we filed suit,” Elorza wrote.
“What is particularly frustrating about this is that it has nothing to do with providing high-quality education for our kids,” he added. “RIDE is sitting on millions of dollars in unused funds from previous years.”
The school district has at least an $11 million budget surplus, Elorza told the Providence Journal.
Victor Morente, director of communications at RIDE, countered Elorza’s claim. “The Commissioner has the statutory authority to enforce violations of school law, including the Crowley Act. That includes recouping funding that should be allocated to the district under the terms of the statute,” he wrote in an email to The Herald.
“The Providence Public School District has been historically underfunded by the City,” Morente wrote. He added that PPSD funding remained unchanged between 2o11 and 2017, a period that he described as a “clear crisis” moment for the district.
“This is unacceptable, and at its core, and reflects an equity issue within government budgeting,” Morente added. “Our students deserved better than this.”
RIDE has 20 days to respond in court to the lawsuit, according to the Associated Press.