Rhode Island's reputation as the only state without a formula for funding its schools is now obsolete, reports the Providence Journal. Lawmakers finally approved a plan after surmounting contentious debate that resurrected issues about how these formulas are set across the nation.
First, how much is state government responsible for? It turns out Rhode Island was paying for relatively little, funding about 37 percent of school costs. The national average is closer to 50 percent. But is that the right mix? Must the state always pay more if schools are expected to improve?
And who deserves the most financial help? Rhode Island decided to set a core rate and then bump funding if schools must deal with larger than average enrollment, or more low-income students. Funding also fluctuates based on a community's property values and the area's median family income level. That combination was seen as an effective substitute for directly supporting special education or students learning English. Meanwhile, the highest-performing schools will see cuts that leave local governments footing the bill. Is government creating winners and losers, and is it fair distribution of tax dollars?