The Real Purpose of the Funding Formula: Setting up the Excuse of “But What Can We Do?”

Both Jennifer D. Jordan‘s funding formula advocacy in the news pages of the Projo

An audience of 500 educators, politicians, child advocates and business leaders met at the Rhode Island Convention Center yesterday to discuss one of the most pressing education issues facing the state — developing and enacting a fair school funding formula.
…and Russell J Moore‘s more objective coverage in the Warwick Beacon
While a school funding formula that’s fair and equitable to all communities is the big catch phrase in the current political environment, some looking for reform believe the state’s education problems run much deeper.
…quote the same two Rhode Island Mayors, Providence’s David Cicilline and Warwick’s Scott Avedisian, who both favor the formula as the solution to Rhode Island’s education problems…
“What we have in place right now is no formula,” said Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline. “It’s an unfair system. The status quo is not an option. We need to do something bold and different”…
“The financing governance is dysfunctional,” said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian. “We had a $600,000 deficit in the school budget this year, and they are estimating [an even larger] deficit for next year. So you can see the immediacy of the need for a formula.”
Why Mayor Cicilline favors a “funding formula” is obvious. He believes he has the political clout to have the formula rigged in his favor, guaranteeing that the statewide tax increases needed to implement it will be used to pay increased benefits to Providence.
But given the existing structure of Rhode Island’s education finances — with close to $7,000 per pupil paid to Providence and Pawtucket and a few other “distressed” communities, while less than half that amount is paid to a majority of other communities in Rhode Island — why anyone (like the Mayor of Warwick, for instance) not from one of the half-dozen or so mostly urban communities that receive large per-pupil subsidies supports the idea of a funding formula is less clear. There is simply no way that everyone can come out ahead in a system of centrally planned, bureaucratic money shifting. Either the new formula is going to increase the subsidies paid to Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and a few other “distressed” communities, by increasing the education costs borne by most other Rhode Island cities and towns, who will have to continue to pay for their own school systems while absorbing the costs of the increased subsidy payments, or the formula will reduce total costs to the less “distressed” communities by cutting the already generous subsidies to the current big-beneficiaries.
So how has the idea of a “funding formula” managed to build any broad-based political support as the solution to Rhode Island’s public education crisis at all?
The answer is that, for many of Rhode Island’s political leaders, the funding formula is not about sensible finance. It is about an opportunity to defray responsibility. The purpose of the “funding formula” is not to make public education more affordable or more effective, it is to make education spending into an entitlement program, whether it is affordable or effective or not. With a “funding formula” in place, the pols won’t ever have to entertain thoughts of using creative, modern ideas to allocate resources more effectively; when the time comes to vote on the tax hikes needed to pay for the subsidies, they will point to the funding formula provisions in the law and cry “But what can we do?” – “The law requires us to raise your taxes so we can send your money to other communities.”
Sometimes, politics ends up aligning leaders together with other leaders, instead of in support of programs in the best interests of the people they represent.

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16 years ago

At least we have on blogger in cyberspace who has a clue what’s going on around here (Rhode Island).

16 years ago

This is once again tackling the problem from the revenue side. On both the state and local level, the problem is not revenue, it is expenditures.
We have only the highest regard for good teachers, who provide a vital service. But Mayor Cicilline and most cities and towns across the state have allowed school budgets to rise significantly without regard to performance of either teachers or students. This telegraphs that tax revenue is being disbursed in the name of education but on the basis of criteria other than the actual education of Rhode Island’s children. These increases, therefore, are indefensible. Accordingly, it becomes difficult to see how they should be the responsibility of the state.

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