Rhode Island has not had a predictable school aid formula since the mid-1990s. For over a decade, policy makers have struggled to develop and enact an education funding formula that insures school students, school districts and taxpayers, adequacy, predictability and fairness. As far back as the Swearer Commission report in the 1970s, state education leaders have examined alternatives to Rhode Island’s traditional reimbursement system.
Currently, Rhode Island’s General Assembly has created the “Joint Committee to Establish a Permanent Education Foundation Aid Formula for Rhode Island.” The Committee, charged with examining all aspects of funding education, has recently issued a report which describes the investment needed to provide adequate support for public schools. While that report carefully examined several different methodologies for determining the cost of “adequacy”, its most telling finding was the general convergence of these methodologies upon a base cost per pupil.
Building on previous efforts a group of public policy organizations, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, The Education Partnership, the National Education Association Rhode Island, the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, and the Rhode Island School Superintendent’s Association have held informal meetings since mid-2006 to define a formula model for consideration and possible adoption by state leaders. Our discussions have led to a consensus on the principle elements of a formula design that we feel reflects the essential qualities of adequacy, predictability and fairness for students and taxpayers. However, the group also recognizes that the proposal presented here is still a work in progress as of this writing, and that a variety of policy decisions remain to be addressed.In developing a permanent and predictable school funding program, the Funding Our Future Coalition recommends a system where:
- The State ensures that its school funding structure adequately reflects the educational cost differences of different “high-need” students, and closes the educational inequities among the State’s school districts;
- The State education funding system provides a predictable amount and source of funding to ensure stability in the funding of schools;
- The State recognizes that districts of limited fiscal capacity must receive greater state aid than their higher wealth counterparts ( a classic wealth equalization principle inherent in virtually all formula approaches, except the flat grant model);
- The school funding system treats property taxpayers equitably, limits the portion of school budgets financed by property taxes, and establishes sufficient cost controls on school spending; and
- A school funding formula will promote school efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability.