The Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) projects that expenditures to support elementary and secondary education will increase to $2.3 billion by the close of the decade, an increase of 63.5 percent since FY 2000. RIPEC also projects that the state will spend approximately $16,444 per pupil in FY 2010 compared to $9,086 in FY 2000. In light of this significant effort to support public education, RIPEC believes it is necessary to ask whether student performance is keeping pace with investments.
In order to help frame the debate, RIPEC released “Results: Education in Rhode Island, 2008” on Wednesday, September 24, 2008. This report examines, in one publication, student performance in conjunction with a number of factors that have an impact on education in the Ocean State.
The report finds that, despite significant investments in education, the state continues to lag behind the region and the nation in student performance. Rhode Island currently has the 5th highest per pupil expenditures in the nation, which is similar to expenditures in the other five states in New England. At the same time:
- SAT scores in Rhode Island were below the national average and were the second lowest in New England.
- The state performed below the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and was the last in the region in both the reading and math assessments at the 8th grade level.
- Fourth graders in Rhode Island match the national average on reading, but under-perform in the math assessment, and had the lowest percentage of students performing at or above proficient in the region.
Rhode Island’s competitiveness is directly linked to the quality of its workforce, which starts with a high-performing public school system. Given the need for a strong system of public education, and the Ocean State’s current fiscal challenges, policymakers must take steps to address the following issues:
- Closing the performance gap between Rhode Island and its neighboring states through ensuring statewide assessments are aligned with national standards and by developing a statewide curriculum that is aligned with testing goals;
- Ensuring accountability for resources and performance by analyzing district expenditures to determine opportunities for increased efficiency and through implementing meaningful consequences or sanctions for schools that fail to live up to a set of consistently defined expectations; and
- Implementing a predictable funding formula that provides adequate funding while holding districts accountable.