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.