Rhode Island’s Universal Education Improvement Mantra: “More”

According to Philip Marcelo of the Projo, leaders from a number of Rhode Island’s smaller cities and suburbs (Cumberland, Johnston, Lincoln, Cranston, Scituate, North Smithfield, Smithfield, and Portsmouth) have made some reasonable sounding proposals for relieving the pressure on local school budgets. Two of the proposals would have an immediate impact…

The coalition proposes exempting school buildings from the state’s stricter fire-code regulations and repealing state special education regulations that are more restrictive than federal guidelines.
“Reducing state mandates doesn’t cost anything. It can be done with the stroke of a pen and would help these communities greatly,” [Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena] said. “Do we really need to have sprinklers in all our schools when most students are trained to go right out the door when a fire alarm goes off?”
Another proposal is a structural government reform that could have a long-term effect in helping municipalities exercise fiscal restraint…
[Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee] said the coalition will advocate for changing the “school governance model.” One measure would require school districts to tell municipal administrators what the anticipated fiscal impact on a community would be to a proposed labor contract.
That report, called a fiscal note, would be reviewed by a municipality’s chief financial officer prior to the contract’s finalization and would avert problems some communities face with soaring healthcare costs.
But there’s one other proposal which, given the current fiscal and economic climate, is completely infeasible…
The coalition is also looking for a state aid formula that would give suburban and urban ring communities the same amounts of state aid they received last year and propose, over time, a gradual boost in the percentage of school department budgets the state covers.
“In 1992, when the state aid formula was changed, the logic of supporting urban districts made sense,” McKee said. “Today that is not the case, and we are quickly becoming communities in need.”
In other words, the small cities and the suburbs are adding their demand for “more” to the urban core’s continuing demand for “more”. When everyone is demanding “more”, restructuring the funding formula provides no solution. Only a fundamental change in the way that government spends money will solve Rhode Island’s education funding problem.
One other point worth noting: the fact that municipal leaders, who presumably have a contact or two inside the state house, believe that obtaining “the same amounts of state aid they received last year” is a priority, combined with the fact that House finance chairman Steven Costantino said earlier this year that compromises in the education arena might be necessary, strongly suggests to me that the legislature may be considering whacking state education aid as a means of balancing the budget.

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