I hope you are enjoying Father’s Day. This week’s letter describes some of the legislation the General Assembly passed in its concluding week.
A. The Education Aid Funding Formula
The legislative budget incorporates many of the revisions to the education aid funding formula contained in the Senate leadership bill S-456, as described in my March 12 letter. These changes include enhanced funding for multi-language learners. I will discuss two of them, namely funding for multi-language learners and revisions to the “state share” calculation.
In my January 15 letter, I identified a gap in the current formula’s “student success factor”, which provides additional funding for each student in poverty, but does not provide additional funds for students learning the English language. The legislative budget includes funding to provide an additional 15% for each student learning the English language, which is smaller than the 40% adjustment for children in poverty, but is a step in the right direction, as the two factors are added together for students who have both characteristics. The Finance Committee reviewed preliminary data suggesting that the incremental costs for these two types of students are almost the opposite of the new funding formula (i.e., the incremental costs for students learning English are significantly higher than for those in poverty.) I will be working with colleagues to collect this data with the goal of adjusting the funding formula further in future years.
As described in my January 22 letter, the “state share” calculation is complicated (and in my opinion distorted) by the “quadratic mean” adjustment. I have come to view this as the “Sheriff of Nottingham” factor, which redistributes State aid from some of its poorest districts to some of its wealthiest ones. This year’s adjusted formula provides the property-poor districts with additional State aid to hold them harmless from the “quadratic mean.” Next year I will continue to advocate for its complete removal, as it was enacted to solve a political problem rather than to advance the formula’s stated policy goals.
B. Other Legislation
Among the more than 125 substantive bills the General Assembly passed last week, I introduced the following:
Bill S-190 requires collective bargaining agreements entered into by the Providence School Department during the State takeover to be publicly vetted and approved by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.
Bill S-1131 establishes a Senate study commission to review Rhode Island’s laws that affect the educator management-labor relationship in the Providence Public Schools.
Bill No. S-465 would direct the Public Utilities Commission to open a proceeding to establish tariff rates for microgrid services. In other jurisdictions, electricity consumers can combine to form microgrids, a community that is largely self-sufficient in its electricity use. (This bill passed the Senate only; however, it is likely to be implemented given the budgeting of consultant funds in Bill S-515 below.)
Bill No. S-515 authorizes the appropriation of $100,000 to the Public Utilities Commission to provide technical support for the development of a microgrid tariff (as proposed in Bill No. S-465 above). The legislative budget includes these funds.
3. Open Government
Bill No. S-767 requires the public posting of financial information related to the expenditure of American Rescue Plan Act funds by school districts and municipal governments.
This year’s budget included a surplus and supplemental federal funds that supported several one-time expenditures on programs to enhance our short-term recovery from the pandemic and long-term investments in our State. Next year’s budget will bring a return to more difficult choices among essential programs.
Thank you for your interest in State issues. With the conclusion of this year’s General Assembly session, I will be taking a break from writing weekly letters until we approach the start of next year’s session. I may send out occasional updates as events warrant. I hope you all enjoy your summer.