Budget Changes Charter School Funding

Jun 8, 2016

The House Finance Committee has changed the structure of payments made by local school districts to charter schools and mayoral academies.

Governor Raimondo had proposed an across-the-board decrease in tuition payments made to charter schools, but the House committee voted to give municipalities more options when it comes to reimbursing the charter schools.

In the House proposal, school districts can choose between a 7 percent overall cut in payments to charter schools, or a cut based on itemized costs in a series of categories, including transportation, textbooks and special education.

"They can add up costs of several different categories of expenses that appear to be more unique to school​ districts than charter schools," said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.

According to Duffy, some districts could save more than 7 percent by itemizing their costs per pupil. Advocates of the change say public schools have a higher per-student cost because they must contribute to state retirement plans, retiree health care and accommodations for students with severe disabilities. The new options are intended to allow public schools to calculate their costs each year and have the savings reflect changes in their budget.

"If a student enrolls in August in a given district  and has a profound disability that requires an out of district placement, you can't anticipate for that," said Duffy. "So it's not just retirement but it's also out-of-district placements for highly disabled special ed students."

Staff at the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools are still crunching the numbers to understand how the new proposal would impact the budgets of their member schools.

"It was not among the options that were suggested by the House Commission or recommended by the Governor’s Working Group," said Tim Groves, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools. "I don’t want to make a value judgment on that, but it was a little jarring after such a long process in which we were very much at the table and willing participants."