School Talk

Governor Raimondo Leads by Tackling Education Funding in the Smallest State

Gov Raimondo signs exec order appointing funding review committee. 

Gina Raimondo, the Governor of my little state of Rhode Island, has emerged this week as a leader on the very contentious issue of education funding. Not only has she ordered a review of the current funding formula but she isn’t shying away from talking about the startling disconnect between the $1 billion that Rhode Island spends on public education and its persistently mediocre student outcomes. Even prior to her election as Governor of the smallest state, she spoke candidly about how much better Massachusetts is doing at educating its children.

At the same time, we’re spending nearly as much money per student as neighboring Massachusetts, without getting the same results. For the same amount of money per pupil, their students have among the highest math and reading scores in the country. Our spending is just as high – but our scores are not.

Rhode Island is no stranger to political battles over education funding and just last Spring, there was an an aggressive and almost successful attempt to impose a moratorium on all charter growth as well as local control over the all future charter schools. School committees, in coordination with a slate of mostly union endorsed lawmakers, pushed for a freeze that would have prevented every single child whose name already hung in the balance of a lottery from matriculating in the fall if chosen. Additionally, it would have put the brakes on the opening of any additional schools, including those already approved by the Board of Education. The right of families to exercise school choice was potentially just hours from being taken away and the impact of that would have been felt disproportionately by poor families of color. We were also perhaps moments away from school committees having the power to vote yay or nay on whether or not a public school of choice would be allowed to open within the boundaries of their city or town; having personally served on an elected school committee, the proposition of that body having the power to maintain and perpetuate its monopoly on public education, regardless of student outcomes or parent desire, is a frightening one.  

According to all who went on the record about their support for these anti choice and anti charter measures, their motivation was driven by only one thing. Funding. It was and continues to be their contention that the school funding formula, since its passage in 2010, has shown itself to be inequitable. Superintendents have spoken at length about their inability to realize the savings promised in this “money follows the child” formula. They cite Pre-K and Spec Ed mandates that increase their costs but do not impact charters. Charter operators have raised the challenges they face in having to pay for their own facilities, a cost that is not incurred by districts. Both sides raise true and valid concerns; in fact, all sides seem to have found rare consensus around the need to revisit the funding formula now that it has existed as law for five years.

Governor Raimondo has made no secret of her commitment to improving Rhode Island’s public schools and she speaks directly to the importance of getting better results for the high price we are paying. She has also been unequivocal in her support for school choice and her unwillingness to sign anything that would end halt charter growth or jeopardize the ones already serving Rhode Island students.

Charter schools play an important role in our efforts to improve education through innovation. They also play a key role in making a quality education accessible to all Rhode Islanders. As we are working together to strengthen Rhode Island’s economy and spark a comeback, the governor believes we need to stay focused on expanding education opportunities and building skills for all students.

So bravo Governor for tackling the issue of education funding, for standing firm on the need for our schools to improve, and for honoring families’ right to school choice. Equity is something we all aspire to and it should apply not only to the quality of education but also to how it’s funded. It will be an exciting time in Rhode Island when the funding formula arguments can be put to bed and the charters and districts can support one another, celebrate one another, and play together in the same sandbox.

Our kids have no problem doing it. Now it’s our turn.

*To see a complete list of the 29 member work group appointed by the Governor, click here. 
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