The Funding Formula: Considerations from Outside the Box

As the result of historical and civic inertia, the discussion over public education in Rhode Island often begins and ends with plans for shifting money between district-level bureaucracies, the assumption being that money can be sent across municipal borders, but students are inalterably trapped within them. But, especially in a state as densely populated as this one, there is no reason to limit the options in this way. And in some cases, allowing students to cross municipal borders might be the best way to help smooth out some of the inequalities in the Rhode Island public education system, helping some students to reach their full potential more effectively than a new “funding formula” ever will.
Here’s a specific example. According to the statistics compiled by Information Works and provided to the public at Barrington’s financial town meeting, in the 2006-2007 academic year, Providence’s Classical High School produced the second-highest number of Advanced Placement examinations scored at “college-level mastery” of any school in RI (Barrington was first, North Kingstown third). At the same time, the high schools in two of the towns bordering Providence, North Providence and Johnston, have poor track records for AP examinations, with just a single AP exam taken between the two systems. The demography of the urban ring does not explain this result. East Providence (29 AP exams passed at college level), Pawtucket (33 AP exams passed) and Central Falls (11 AP exams passed) all did better than the combined North Providence/Johnston total of one exam taken, and it is not reasonable to assume that there is no one with the ability or the desire to take AP classes living in North Providence or Johnston.
Now, if Rhode Island is moving towards a system where the state is going to be funding a greater share of public education, while some of the towns in the urban ring are unable for whatever reason to support advanced academic programs, then doesn’t it make sense to open some of Providence’s programs — especially given that Providence is a district funded largely by state revenue — to students from other communities in the state?
For instance, wholly consistent with the spirit of the regionalization that everyone is talking about these days, how about regionalizing Classical and allowing students from North Providence and Johnston who meet the entrance requirements have access? Or, if there is a concern that this might significantly reduce the number of Providence students able to attend Classical, allowing Classical to expand and establish a “satellite” campus that allows students from educationally underserved communities to have access to an advanced academic program?
Or perhaps North Providence and Johnston and maybe a few other communities could band together, to form an advanced regional high school of their own — but wait — I think I just backed into a version of Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee’s “Mayoral Academy” proposal, except that Mayor McKee’s current proposal is focused on kindergarten through eighth grade, instead of high school.
OK, so maybe I didn’t back into this; maybe this is where I was headed all along, the essential point being that if Rhode Island allows one large community to have a special school — a school that is an asset to its community and its state — then why shouldn’t Rhode Island allow other special schools to be formed, either building on what’s here already, by using open districting to increase the reach of successful programs, or by trying new forms that cross town lines like the Mayoral Academies, and put the focus of education policy on good schools rather than on bureaucratic money shifting?

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John
John
12 years ago

A great idea! I’m sure the Mom’s and Dad’s in Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Central Falls will jump at the chance to enroll their kids in the Lincoln, Smithfield, Cumberland, Warwick, and Cranston systems.
I’m not sure there is a way to ever make the burbs happy when this shit finally hits the fan. That formula don’t exist except by keeping what we have now, a totally discretionary funding system based on the rule of 37/20/1.
Anyway, they’re all too busy feeling all superior to the the urban lowlife.

John
John
12 years ago

Yep, I’m angry. I have the highest hopes for the Mayoral Academy. Though not nearly as much as what was needed, I was the author of the charter law changes that were passed in 1997, the changes needed at that time to make our charters eligible for Federal start up funds. I was the one who was in the meeting with Mayor McKee and others and suggested they approach their new school concept as a type of charter school so they could avoid having to overcome the challenge of getting a whole new section of law passed. I understand the concept of innovation, but I am also obligated to seek current solutions for the rest of the students left behind while these experiments are carried on outside of the range of my community. Yes, I am angry. The Woonsocket school representatives that testified in favor of a formula (a bad formula) today in the Senate Finance Committee hearing were ridiculed and insulted. The committee members were abusive simply because we have an ass for a mayor who likes to abuse people and falsely brag about not raising taxes when all she has accomplished is to create a classification system combined with homestead exemptions that artificially make it seem like we don’t raise taxes. In fact, we now have among the lowest effective single family home (voters) tax rates (31st at last measure) in the state while chasing out business with the highest commercial rate in the state (Number 1). We have to fix that now. It won’t be easy. The generic criticism of teacher unions makes people believe that we are all in the same boat. The Woonsocket school employees have already agreed to no pay increase for both next year and the year after and reduced their current year… Read more »

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