The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2004 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Rhode Island lawmakers are pumping more dollars through formulas meant to reduce inequities in school spending across the state, but even bigger changes could be on the way with the advent of a new legislative committee charged with determining the true cost of an education.
Under a $3.1 billion state budget hammered out in this year’s session, total state aid to districts increases from $764 million in fiscal 2005 to $798 million in fiscal 2006, a 4.4 percent difference. Those figures include money for construction aid and teacher retirement.
Much of the new money is for the state’s student equity fund, which distributes aid to local districts based largely on how many needy students they serve. The budget adds $10 million to the previous year’s allocation of $63.8 million to the equity fund, a 16 percent hike. Direct aid to charter schools, which doesn’t include money that flows through districts, is in line for a $4.2 million increase over the previous year’s $17 million.
State support for local professional development saw a significant infusion of dollars, going from $3.3 million to $5.8 million. The money comes with new strings: to receive it, districts must submit a plan for state approval showing how the funds will be spent on school improvement efforts.
Overall state K-12 spending, including the state department of education’s budget, money for the state-operated school for the deaf, and other categories of spending, is slated to increase by 5 percent to $837 million in fiscal 2006.
Lawmakers also directed all Rhode Island school districts to draft plans to increase their vocational-technical offerings, a move prompted by concern that the capacity of such programs hasn’t keep pace with student interests.
This summer, a new joint legislative committee began meeting to discuss how to revamp the state’s education finance system to achieve more equitable distribution of resources and reduce the reliance on local property taxes to support schools. The panel expects to hire an outside firm to estimate what it costs to provide an adequate education.