Raimondo's Budget Offers Big Bump To K-12, Smaller Increase For Higher Ed

Feb 3, 2016

Governor Gina Raimondo’s $9 billion budget proposal would increase funding for public schools and give a small bump to colleges and universities.

Invoking the need for skilled workers who qualify for good-paying jobs, Raimondo called for an increase of nearly $53 million for public preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools. Rhode Island

Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said he was pleased to see new funding for special education and students learning English as a second language, and more training for teachers and principals.

“I feel really good that it reflects the values that we’ve heard from conversations all across the state,” said Wagner. “We absolutely need to invest in our state, in our economies and our communities but most importantly in our teachers who support our children.”

The governor’s budget proposal tries to address concerns that charter schools are sapping funding from traditional public schools.

Here’s what she’s proposing: first, an increase in state funding for districts who send significant numbers of students to charter schools (think Providence, Cumberland, Pawtucket and a few others).

Second: a decrease in the tuition districts send to charter schools. It amounts to $350 less per student. This will likely be welcome news for school districts, not so much for charter schools.

"This is going to deal a significant blow, this proposal and these cuts would be a significant blow to the charter schools in Rhode Island," said Tim Groves, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools.

Groves will be urging lawmakers to reject the governor's proposal to cut funding for students in charter schools.

“I think we have a very good thing going here in RI with our charter public schools, I think they are part of a progressive system of education, part of instituting innovation and reform, and we need to sustain that movement,” said Groves.

When it comes to higher education, Raimondo has proposed an increase of $7 million, plus $10 million for building projects. It’s not as much as the Office of Higher Education requested, but Commissioner Jim Purcell said he can live with it.

“We worked real hard with the administration trying to make sure we found additional revenue,” said Purcell. “We’re having a 6 percent increase over last year, we had a 3 percent increase last year. We had tuition increases last year, so certainly we can do the things we need to do.”

Public colleges and universities have promised to keep tuition flat for the next academic year. And Purcell highlighted an item in the governor’s budget that would fund a recruitment program for professors with a track record of turning research into business opportunities.

“Let faculty all over the country know that if they come here, that we’re interested in investing in them,” said Purcell. “If they have innovations and research that possibly can be marketable for our state, to me it’s a great way to bring new thoughts and ideas to the state.”

If the program succeeds in bringing new ideas to the state, economic development officials say they hope it will grow. The governor has also proposed more than doubling the funding for a student loan tax credit for graduates in science, technology and design who stay in the state.