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House finance committee to hold hearing on funding formula

May 12, 2010

The House Finance Committee takes up the thorny issue of how to dole out state funds for public schools tomorrow. Three bills before state lawmakers this year seek to create a statewide funding formula that would base allocations on enrollment, student need and community wealth.

Currently, the state awards money to school districts by legislative appropriation, which has meant that districts receive the same amount they were given the prior year. If the overall budget for school funding goes up, everyone gets an equal percentage increase, although in recent years, the state has struggled even to level-fund education.

Advocates of a funding formula argue that the current system unfairly ignores demographic changes like student enrollment, poverty rates and local property tax potential. The Pawtucket and Woonsocket school boards filed a lawsuit against the state earlier this year alleging that inadequate state funding has led to the deterioration of their schools in violation of students’ civil rights.

Although everyone seems to agree that some kind of formula is needed — Rhode Island, is the only state that doesn’t have one — there is disagreement about exactly what the formula should look like. The issue has also been complicated politically because some districts stand to lose millions of dollars if a formula is enacted.

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