This Year’s Funding Formula Plan: Worse Than Ever

A Projo letter-to-the editor from West Greenwich resident Cynthia A. Walsh provides an excellent example of how education “funding formula” rhetoric has been used to confuse people about the true purpose of the proposal. Ms. Walsh celebrates the ideal of local control that is possible in smaller towns…

The only time we end up with serious problems is when the State of Rhode Island decides to tell us what we can and cannot do.
For example, there is the 5 percent property-tax-increase cap, which handcuffs local officials and deprives local taxpayers of the right to decide how much of their money is spent and on what. This cap may be a necessary evil in the cities and the suburban ring, where government is big, anonymous and unresponsive to its citizens and where it is the perception that the only thing that drives said government is political power and personal corruption, but that is not how things work in rural Rhode Island [but] one of the many joys of living in a rural community is that if you have a problem, your local government is accessible and responsive.
…yet also advocates for a new “funding formula” for education in Rhode Island…
I know [State Representative Nick Gorham] wants to help the communities he represents. If he could turn his attention to a new formula for public-school funding, that would help.
The problem is, in the form it has been so far discussed, a new “funding formula” would move money away from many small towns in Rhode Island and to the control of the “big, anonymous and unresponsive” units of government that Ms. Walsh decries. The odds that Rhode Island’s pols will implement a funding formula that would help W. Greenwich anytime soon are slight.
Earlier this month, South Kingstown’s Superintendent of Schools presented the details of this years’ version of the “funding formula” to the SK school committee. Sarah Traver of the Narragansett Times reports…
Superintendent Robert Hicks said he recently attended a panel discussion on school finance and the panel discussed a legislative proposal entitled S 2650. This legislature would implement a school finance formula that was developed by a consultant last year using only existing funds. “I think if this piece of legislation passes it will be a loss of $10 million for South Kingstown, $102 million loss to suburban communities all over (Rhode Island),” Hicks said….
The specific legislation proposed would implement, over three years, the proposed formula utilizing only existing funds….Suburban communities are then faced with cutting their budgets or increasing property taxes. The total loss in state aid to the 22 communities in Rhode Island would be $102,857,727. An average increase in the school levy would be 16 percent reaching a high in Newport of 63 percent. The rate in South Kingstown would be 22 percent, the fifth highest in the state.
If the suburbs would be losing out, which communities would be benefiting most, you wonder? Tatiana Pina had a few specific community numbers in a recent Projo article on the Woonsocket schools…
The [Fair Share Education Funding Formula bill] proposes redistributing state funds to towns and cities bases on the wealth of the community, student enrollment and the the number of special education students, English language learners and children from poor families. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence, and John A. Savage, R-East Providence, and Senators Rhoda E. Perry D-Providence, and Hanna M. Gallo, D-Cranston. “The formula has been used across the country. It does not increase funding but redistributes it based on these factors, making it fairer,” [Woonsocket Superintendent Maureen B. Macera] said.
Under the new system, Woonsocket would stand to get an additional $13,164,914 to be phased in over three years. Pawtucket would receive an additional $10,772,350, Providence would receive $49,674,333 and Cranston would get $14,604,658.
According to Portsmouth resident John McDaid of the Hard Deadlines blog, this year’s funding formula proposal is so extreme, some communities could get zeroed out of state-aid entirely…
The committee also reviewed the numbers from the school funding formula proposed in general assembly bill H7957. Under this draconian legislation, Portsmouth would lose ALL school funding over the next three years. Yeah, you read that right. No state aid at all. Just for 2009, we would lose $1.5M, which exceeds the total allowable increase under the S3050 tax cap.
Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed and our Senator Chuck Levesque have both spoken out against this bill, as has Rep. Amy Rice.
This bill is not likely to pass (I suspect it will go the “held for further study” route in committee). But it is an illustration of the objective that many of your legislators have in mind when they think about a “funding formula”, i.e. forcing 22 Rhode Island communities to raise their local taxes by $102.8 million dollars just to maintain their own local level of school spending, so that Providence can receive half that total in new state aid, and 16 other communities can divvy up the other half.
I wonder if Cynthia A. Walsh was aware of the details of this plan when she wrote that a new funding formula should be a top legislative priority?
Two final points:
  1. Earlier this year, I was curious as to why Providence Mayor David Cicilline didn’t mention the funding formula in his state of the city address. Now, I suspect it’s because he realized that no Rhode Island politician with gubernatorial aspirations could afford to be associated in any way with this stink-bomb of a plan.
  2. That this plan is even being considered shows why we need desperately in this state to change to a system where money follows the choices of parents and students through some sort of open districting plan and/or voucher plan, instead of being allocated in accordance with the preferences of clutching and grabbing state legislators. How long will it be before a set of communities with a majority-plus-one representatives in the legislature figure out that, under the current system, they can raid the communities with a majority-minus-one at will?
To understand more about the real purpose of the funding formula, click here.

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Mike
Mike
13 years ago

It has been obvious for years that the “funding formula” is dead and buried. It was just a scam to bail out the “urban” cities at the expense of the suburbs. Suburban Democrats took one look at it and puked.
So endeth the “funding formula”.

Monique
Editor
13 years ago

You’re letting your guard down a little early, Mike. Looks like the thing still has some isolated if misguided fans out there.
Why is the obvious answer overlooked by people panic-stricken at the though of level or even reduced revenue? Local school committees need to negotiate responsible contracts. And local city/town councils need to have the guts to do the right thing and not fund a bad contract sent over by the school committee.

Will
13 years ago

I might surprise you a little on this one… I’ve talked with my Rep. Jack Savage (who is one of the cosponsors of the bill) in some detail about this issue. While I’m not “on board” with this particular plan, because it has more holes than Swiss cheese, I do believe that he is sincere about improving the way that limited funds are allocated, because he feels that the current system is arbitrary — and in that, he’s totally right. On one hand, he was very forthright in actually calling it “redistribution” … mainly that some communities would clearly be “winners” and some would be “losers” under his/their plan — which is why, in it’s current form, it has absolutely no chance whatsoever of passing, even if the leadership gave it the opportunity to reach the floor. Make no bones about it, money would come from the “rich” cities, and go to the “poor” ones, a la Robin Hood. Although it certainly doesn’t make it right, it’s not really significantly different from what we’re already doing in some cities today, except that currently the money comes directly from “the state” general operating funds, and not from other towns educational spending (Central Falls comes to mind). A monetary osmosis would naturally occur, because we would be setting a base-line funding amount per student, while at the same time, certain towns clearly have more developed tax bases. If you were to use a “static” example, the “pie” remains roughly the same size (i.e. level funding), but it gets sliced up differently (yup, I know it sounds like socialism…). For instance, at a recent EP School Committee meeting, he’d mentioned that a town like Barrington would stand to lose money, at the expense of a city like East Providence. It was for that… Read more »

Mike
Mike
13 years ago

“he felt that the issue was totally dead for this year. However, he felt that by at least putting it on the table now, that he might be able to impact the public discussion of it for 2009 and beyond”
LOL. This is exactly what they’ve been saying the LAST FIVE YEARS. There is no “funding” available from a bankrupt state. Everybody is spending their money on fuel and food. Sales tax is going to be WAY down in the May numbers. The state will have $300 million plus deficits as far as the eye can see. Any “funding formula” which loots the suburbs of millions to the benefit of Essermenville, Cranston, Pawtucket, etc. is deader than dead. When the 2010 Census shifts more seats to South County and the exurbs it will be deader than deader than dead.
The real RI Future, sooner or (more likely) later will be a sharply reduced number of teachers getting 401k’s with a lot more students in each class. Eat your heart out Crowley!

Frank
Frank
13 years ago

Living in the suburban/rural ring, I have to admit that if school funding in this state becomes any “fairer” I may have to move.
The end result of this “fair” school funding formula will most certainly be anything but. If it was fair it would allot the same amount per student regardless of the district they are in. There would be a uniform method to establishing whether or not a student is deserving of an IEP or any other special services (which does not now exist), with an equal level of additional funding allotted to the district. That’s it, you have fairness!
The suburban/rural communities already have the highest taxes in the state and generally speaking don’t have the commercial/industrial base of the urban towns, so the residential taxpayers in those areas will get crushed even more than they already are. Since this would be difficult to squeeze in under S3050 there would probably have to some sort of adjustment made this legislation if it is not repealed altogether to accommodate such foolishness.
And the likelihood that a fair funding formula would somehow benefit the students in these urban towns is nil. It won’t change any of the reasons why these kids underperform in the first place. However there is a possibility that the financial strain placed on the districts on the losing side of this formula would hurt the performance of students in these districts, via dramatic cuts in staff and programs. The bright side here is that RI may be the first state to close their education gap, by knocking those darn high performers down a few knotches.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
13 years ago

–And the likelihood that a fair funding formula would somehow benefit the students in these urban towns is nil. It won’t change any of the reasons why these kids underperform in the first place. However there is a possibility that the financial strain placed on the districts on the losing side of this formula would hurt the performance of students in these districts, via dramatic cuts in staff and programs. The bright side here is that RI may be the first state to close their education gap, by knocking those darn high performers down a few knotches.
Dear Fellow Citizen:
But then we’ll have equality. This is good. We hate inequality.
And we always promote the rich being forced to pay their fair share, for God knows, I mean Gaia knows, that they won’t do so voluntarily.
You didn’t think that we were talking just about the income tax when we spoke of “fair share” did you?
You suburbanites live in rich communities, at least compared to the urban cores, so you should pay your fair share toward education, whether in higher taxes or lower state aid or both.
Signed,
The Rhode Island Democrat Party

Monique
Editor
13 years ago

“And the likelihood that a fair funding formula would somehow benefit the students in these urban towns is nil. It won’t change any of the reasons why these kids underperform in the first place.”
Well said. Great point.

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