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Change in School-Aid Formula Sought in Rhode Island

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The Rhode Island Department of Education has proposed a change in its school-aid formula that could mean an increase in state aid to local school districts of more than $30 million over the next five years.

The proposal, announced last month, calls for the state to assume an additional 2 percent of educational costs each year for the next five years, or about $6 million for the first four years and $7 million for the fifth year, according to David Lawrence, education-finance specialist for the department of education.

The proposal will be presented to the State Board of Regents this month; if approved, it will go to the legislature when it reconvenes in January.

50-Percent State Share

Under the new plan, the state would pay approximately half of the cost of local education by the early 1990's, Mr. Lawrence said. Under the current formula, the state provides an average of 39.5 percent of local districts' costs. Rhode Island ranks in the bottom 10 of all states in the proportion of public-education costs underwritten by state government.

Under the current school-aid formula, the state provides school districts with a minimum of 28 percent of their budgets; there is no maximum.

Aid Distribution

Under the new plan, the state would increase its share of school aid to an average of 50 percent, but "not all local districts will get 50 percent of their money from the state," Mr. Lawrence said. "Some will get the minimum of 28 percent, while others could get as much as 85 percent. A wealthy community will get proportionately less aid."

Of the 2-percent increase each year, 1 percent would be designated for operating costs, to be spent at the districts' discretion, Mr. Lawrence said.

Of the other 1 percent, half would go toward the state's Basic Education Program. That program, now in its pilot stage, will define what each school district must provide in its curriculum, support services, and management, according to Edward Dambruch, who directs the effort for the education department.

Mr. Dambruch said the program will require districts to perform a self-study beginning in September 1985 and to undergo an on-site examination by a team of 25 independent observers.

Each school district will then have five years to meet the standards set by the board of regents. The money set aside for the program can be used in any way necessary to help a district meet the require3ments, Mr. Dambruch said.

About 10 of the state's 40 districts have already participated in the self-study as part of the pilot program, he said. Mr. Dambruch also said that following a public hearing in February, the regents are expected to act in April to make the process statewide.

The remainder of the annual increase would go to an educational-improvement fund administered by the regents. That money could be used by any district for an approved educational project, Mr. Dambruch said.

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