Rhode Island Puts New Limits on Local School Spending

Jeff Archer:

The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2005 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The precollegiate education spending figures do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Rhode Island continues to rethink the way it pays for schools, while also sending more dollars to local districts.
Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, signed a $3.2 billion state spending plan last month for fiscal 2007 that includes $848 million for K-12 schools, a 6.2 percent hike over the $798 budget enacted last year. Of the $50 million increase, $30 million is targeted directly for local operations.
Lawmakers opted to give each district a 4.8 percent increase over last year’s amount, despite an initial proposal by the governor to base each district’s share on the size of its teacher-retirement costs. Critics said Mr. Carcieri’s plan would give more aid to wealthier districts with higher teacher-compensation levels.

The legislature also sought to control growth in local school spending with a new cap on increases in budgets requested by district school boards. By 2013, the measure will prevent school boards from proposing budgets that would hike local spending by more than 4 percent above their budgets from the previous year.
Another new law gives tax credits, up to a statewide total of $1 million, to Rhode Island companies that contribute money to scholarship funds that help students pay for tuition at private elementary and secondary schools, both secular and religious.
Meanwhile, a state legislative committee established last year to propose changes in Rhode Island’s school finance system recently hired a consultant to estimate the cost of providing a quality education in the state. Analysts expect the legislature to take up a so-called adequacy-based funding proposal next year.