The Continuting Folly of the Funding Formula

Talia Buford’s report in today’s Projo on the pay-to-play sports proposal in North Smithfield concludes with a quote from School Committee Chairman Robert Lafleur that helps illustrate how Rhode Island’s focus on a lack of a closed-form “funding formula” as the source of its educational troubles obfuscates more than it clarifies…

“We’re hoping the commissioner and the Department of Education will look at this as an attempt to deal with the economic conditions we’re all facing in Rhode Island as a result of the lack of a fair and equitable state-aid formula and lack of waivers from the Department of Education for the unfunded mandates that were imposed upon us by the General Assembly.”
Now, according to a Patricia A. Russell story that appeared in the July 30 Valley Breeze, Mr. Lafleur is right to believe that a “funding formula” might benefit his community…
A state Board of Regents study last year found 19 districts would receive extra money [under one possible funding formula], while 17 would lose aid according to a calculation [Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee] is suggesting is likely to be similar to the coalition’s final recommendation. Winners tend to be communities that have been in McKee’s so-called 30 percent club, those receiving 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of education from the state while property taxpayers make up the remaining 70 percent or so.
Cumberland picks up $4.5 million under one scenario, and Lincoln $4.5 million. North Smithfield gains $2 million while Woonsocket loses $2.2 million.
But wait a moment; we must also be mindful of Philip Marcelo’s Projo story from mid-July, about the aforementioned community of Woonsocket joining with several other communities, to possibly pursue a “fair funding formula” lawsuit in the courts…
Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket are trying to rally support from other Rhode Island cities and towns and community groups for a lawsuit against the General Assembly for failing to enact a school funding formula….
“Legislators know what the issue is, they just lack the political will to do it,” says Stephen M. Robinson, a Providence lawyer who has been retained by the school committees in Pawtucket and Woonsocket to work on a school formula lawsuit. “The only way to do it is if the court orders them to do it”….Robinson says that the communities are still trying to gather a broad coalition of communities and community groups for the suit, which may come as soon as September. “It is time to impress upon the Assembly how serious this is for us to have a fair and equitable formula,” said Providence City Council President Peter S. Mancini.
I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in assuming that Woonsocket officials aren’t going to court to get a formula which will cost them over $2 million.
Surely, officials from both Woonsocket and North Smithfied sincerely believe that increases in aid to their communities are necessary components of a “fair funding formula” — demonstrating, more than anything else, that the term “fair” as used by advocates often describes plans to take money from someone else and give it to them. But for citizens, voters and taxpayers, hearing that a politician supports a “funding formula” doesn’t reveal in any meaningful way what actual choices are under consideration, e.g. is priority being given to delivering even more to the communities that are already the big recipients of state education aid, or to equalizing the wide per-pupil disparities that currently exist? (There are plans currently before the Genenral Assembly for doing either). Will the plan be paid for with a statewide tax increase, with money taken from other state programs, or by taking existing money away from some communities and giving it to others? All of these options are possible, in the framework of a “funding formula”.
Ultimately, our state will be better off when the leaders of our communities spend less of their energies on trying to grab money from one another (and from the taxpayers), less of their time hiding behind process, and more of both working together to actually improve education.

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chuckR
chuckR
12 years ago

The GA already does an excellent job of taking money from some and giving it to others as school aid. Unless RIPEC has recently taken to hiding it, you can easily find those numbers on their website. You only need to do that if you don’t trust the AR’istas to do it for you.
I guess the core cities think that they can get a more disproportionate share than they already do under a funding formula. Providence deserves some as an offset for the state offices of various types, but I doubt the state ‘pilot’ payment would begin to measure up to what they actually receive.
Next up, calls for leveling the tax efficiency of the 39 cities and towns and sharing the revenue around, followed shortly by class warfare calls for soaking the rich – as if those folks can’t vote with their feet.
Rhode Island is the most exasperating place I’ve ever lived and worked in.

Monique
Editor
12 years ago

“Woonsocket officials aren’t going to court to get a formula which will cost them over $2 million.”
Let’s stipulate for a moment that a funding formula could theoretically be a good idea under certain hypothetical conditions.
This ain’t it. There is something seriously flawed with a funding formula that actually decreases the amount of revenue sent to, of all the cities in the state, Woonsocket.
But now I’m doing what Andrew admonishes us about:
“spend less of their energies on trying to grab money from one another (and from the taxpayers)”

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