Last night, the House Finance committee passed the Sub A version of H-7323, the fiscal year 2013 budget, originally proposed by Governor Chafee. RI-CAN took an in-depth look at the numbers and what they mean for our public schools.
For the second year in a row, House Finance members agreed with Governor Chafee that funding education is a top priority for Rhode Island. The formula, to be phased in for the next ten years, was fully funded again in the FY13 budget and, due to a big push from the cash strapped cities and towns, includes an acceleration of part of the phase-in.
The budget includes an additional $11 million in accelerated formula funds and the restoration of expiring Education Jobs fund ($32 million).
Uniform budgeting tools
Article 12.1 will requires all school districts, including state and public charter schools to implement a Board of Regent's approved bugeting model. The model will include best practices established by the Rhode Island Department of Education for long range planning, budget reporting and development.
Article 12.2 authorizes city and town councils to monitor school finances and report any problems to the Division of Muncipal Finance and RIDE. These tools will ensure that districts follow the same rules for standard accounting and budgeting and encourage higher levels of transparency and accountability around school budgets across the state.
Fair funding for UCAP
The budget allows the Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program to be funded through the education funding formula, beginning July 1, 2013. UCAP, a second chance school for students who are at serious risk of dropping out, was recognized in RI-CAN report cards for its remarkable performance gains from 2010 to 2011.
House Finance members recognized the importance of providing funds to help kids get a good meal before they begin the school day. The FY13 revised budget restores the universal school breakfast program cut contained in the Governor’s proposed budget.
Wireless access for all schools
The House Finance committee authorized the issuance of $20 million in Educational Technology Bonds to upgrade school infrastructure to allow wireless connectivity. In order to ensure our kids acquire 21st century learning skills, we must be able to offer computer and internet access in our classrooms.
Unequitable school housing aid
Though in the middle of a moratorium on school housing construction reimbursement statewide, the General Assembly chose to freeze the minimum state reimbursement to 35% as opposed to the originally passed 40% minimum for districts.
For the second year in a row, Governor Chafee proposed giving public charter schools equal access to housing aid reimbursement. Currently reimbursed at 30% across the board regardless of the communities they serve, the proposal would have given public charters a fairer weighted average reimbursement rate. The House FInance members cut this from the revised budget, once again treating our public charter school students as second tier.
Finally, there is one major structural change to the state education agencies that will undoubtably impact our state leadership in the future. Effective January 1, 2014, the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education will merge into one large entity, headed by a state education chancellor. We will keep our ears open to find out what that means for education reform as these agencies merge.
Overall, we are happy to see that the General Assembly has made smart investments in education for the second year in a row, putting RI on a path for success. We will continue to push for funding equity across the board for ALL public school students, including those attending our public charter schools in Rhode Island.