Funding Formulas and Political Rhetoric


As I’ve written before, public school districts have a point when they complain that charter schools drain their resources to build a parallel second school system.  As for Rhode Island’s education funding formula, it obviously makes some assumptions and throws some numbers at the wall, but at least it’s a formula, not an arbitrary annual decision.

But I do wish we could have more-straightforward, factual discussions of such topics in this state.  Here’s Governor Gina Raimondo in the Providence Journal:

Rhode Island’s existing formula allocates aid to public schools based on student enrollment, the level of student poverty and the wealth of the community.

“It is an excellent funding formula,” Raimondo said. “But it’s been around for five years. It needs to be tweaked.”

Rhode Island, Raimondo said, spends a billion dollars a year on public education.

But, she asked, “Are we getting the most out of our money? Rhode Island is seventh in the nation in terms of per pupil spending, but we’re seeing average [academic] results. What troubles me is we have the greatest achievement gap [between low-income and higher-income students] in the country.”

Shouldn’t it at least be acknowledged that the state is five years into a 10-year phase-in of the formula?  The details of the funding formula have been around for five years, but it’s still five years away from actually being fully implemented.  (And honestly, what person over 35 years old still believes that five years is a long time in public policy?)

Let’s not pretend that we need some shiny new fixes to an antiquated formula; that’s merely an invitation to mischief.  The charter school piece — or, ahem, school choice education savings accounts — is more of an add-on than a core component of the formula, of itself.

Most important, though, is the plain and simple fact that we can “tweak” the funding formula all we want and it won’t have an effect on academic results or the gap between the haves and have nots.  Money is not the issue in Rhode Island’s education system, and it serves Rhode Island’s vulnerable communities poorly, indeed, not even to be raise that fact as a possibility.

As you can see by playing with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s interactive tool for comparing results on the national standardized NAEP tests, Rhode Island had actually closed the gap with national results when it comes to lower-income students … until after the 2011 tests.  Those reversed trends align conspicuously with the brakes that Governor Lincoln Chafee and the General Assembly applied to the reforms initiated by former Commissioner Deborah Gist under former Governor Donald Carcieri and may indicate that there’s a political ceiling on education reform that tries to work within the system, rather than shake it up.

Education is too important to add to the pile of things that Rhode Island is getting absolutely wrong during the Chafee-Fox and Raimondo-Mattiello years.

  • gina fuller

    not to mention the billions dollars we spend have little to do with the funding formula. How much does the state actually contribute to school funding?

  • Mike678

    We ignore facts and prefer theoretical fantasies. We may all be created equal in the eyes of God, but we aren’t equal in terms of capabilities. While you can, with a major effort, close a gap between low and high income students (actually, their parents have the “income”), you will never erase it–unless you dumb-down the education–which we are seeing. Why do diverse population charters do, in most part, better than diverse public schools? Because their parents care about their education while many do not.

    The number one indicator for overall scholastic achievement in a school district is socio-economic. The more successful the parents (on average), the more successful the children in school. Part genetics, part environment. Ignore it if you want, but reality…..

  • OceanStateCurrent

    How are those outrageous? Parents of private-school children pay taxes, too, and it just makes sense to let them use aspects of the public school system that still apply.

    What’s outrageous is that public school teachers are permitted to organize politically and work to elect the very people with whom their unions will be negotiating.

    • Mike678

      Don’t forget firefighters…

    • NAME

      That’s your defense of wasting taxpayers dollars…the public school teachers can organize? It’s pretty clear to most of us that two wrongs don’t make a right! Maybe you are a little to close to this one to see it objectively. It’s the equivalent of opting out of public trash collection for a private hauler and then demanding you be subsidized by the municipality.

      • OceanStateCurrent

        Why is the education of children a “waste” of money when it isn’t done through expensive, inefficient, and relatively low-performing public schools? That’s backwards.

        Your analogy shows that your thinking is more emotional than logical. First of all, one cannot opt out of public school or public trash pickup. Opting out means not participating, including not paying for the benefit. If I “opt out” of health insurance coverage at work, my employer stops deducting the premiums from my check.

        Second of all, providing busing and textbooks as part of the services paid for through my taxes, even when my children don’t go to a government-branded school, is more like continuing to pick up my recycling even although I dispose of my trash in some other way. Why do you feel like government services must be all or nothing? Just because it would allow you not to share the money used to pay for your own children’s education with neighbors who are paying just as much in taxes as you are?

        • Tommy Cranston

          Just came back from Vegas. Spoke with an ex-Arizona legislator who said RI spends TRIPLE per student than Arizona. Someone fact check it somehow I don’t doubt it.
          Tommy Cranston

  • Max

    Outrageous? LMAO!!! They’re doing you a favor ‘NAME.’ Did you fail public school math?