February 25, 2008

School Spending in Rhode Island

Monique Chartier

Jennifer Jordan has an article in today's Providence Journal's about a recently released RIPEC report, “How Rhode Island School Finances Compare”.

The ProJo headline, "R.I.’s Reliance on Local Taxes for Schools Deepens" and the subject of the first five paragraphs of the article, was actually only one of eight major findings of the report. This was immediately followed by a discussion of the state's lack of a "predictable school funding formula".

But Rhode Island, along with Pennsylvania, lacks a predictable school-financing formula. Lawmakers, educators and watch-dog groups including RIPEC have been working together to hammer out a formula they say would shift more of the burden of paying for schools to the state. [RIPEC Executive Director John] Simmons said the ad hoc group plans to submit legislation on a financing formula next month.

As has been noted recently, this too often seems to be code not only for moving the collection and expenditure of education revenue away from local control but also its increase. In view of Rhode Island's ranking nationwide as fourth highest taxed and the finding by the report that Rhode Island ranks ninth in per pupil spending, shouldn't the emphasis be on the stabilization of spending rather than the shifting around or even amplification of revenue?

One other item specific to the article. Jordan refers to the amount of state aid to education as $672,000,000. In fact, the State Budget FY2008 has the figure for Elementary and Secondary "Expenditures from General Revenues" at $909,429,659. I've e-mailed her requesting the source of her figure which may provide clarification.

The last third of the article discusses the other major findings of the report. Below are all eight, in order:

• Per pupil education expenditures across the country have increased at a significant rate
over the past ten years. The national average increase was 60.6 percent.

• In Rhode Island, per pupil expenditures have increased 56.3 percent since the 1996-97
school year, slightly outpacing the rate of increase in Connecticut (55.0 percent) and
lagging behind Massachusetts (79.6 percent).

• In 1997, Rhode Island ranked 7th highest for per pupil expenditures; in 2007 the State was
ranked 9th highest.

• While Rhode Island spends less than both Connecticut and Massachusetts on a per pupil
basis, the Ocean State significantly outspends its neighbors when education expenditures
as a percent of personal income are considered.

• On a per $1,000 of personal income basis Rhode Island has seen slower growth in
education expenditures than Massachusetts; however, the Ocean State has seen education
expenditures per $1,000 of personal income increase faster than both Connecticut and the
national average.

• Rhode Island ranked 16th highest in the country for current education expenditures per
$1,000 of personal income in 2006-07 and 18th highest in 1996-97. Connecticut and
Massachusetts also rose in the national rankings, from 31st to 30th highest, and 38th to 25th
highest, respectively.

• Rhode Island continues to depend more heavily on property taxes to finance education
than the rest of New England and the country. Over 60 percent of education revenues
came from local sources in 2007, an increase of 6.2 percent from 1997. Nationally, 43.5
percent of education revenues came from local sources in 2006-07.


Jennifer Jordan e-mailed the following response regarding the figure of $672,000,000 which she used in her article:

The figure I quoted was SCHOOL AID to cities and towns only, not other monies the districts might receive for education purposes.

Thank you.

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I love the phrase "per pupil education expenses." It's not the pupils that are causing the increase, it's the teacher's contracts that are driving up the cost of education.

Posted by: Bob at February 26, 2008 10:50 AM

It would be fascinating to see a chart showing (inflation adjusted) per pupil education expenditures in RI for the past 20-30 years (which have been spiraling upwards)


Student achievement (SAT, NAEP scores) over the same period - which no doubt has flatlined, if not declined.

Even better, a chart covering the same, but starting in the decade before the 1966 state statute authorizing teachers to unionize in RI, to the present.

I recall reading somewhere that student achievement in the U.S. peaked in the early 1960's - i.e., just before the initiation of widespread teacher unionization across the country.

Posted by: Tom W at February 26, 2008 12:14 PM

Yup, good idea, TomW.

A three part graph, actually. The cost of education, the level of student enrollment and the level of student achievement.

Posted by: Monique at February 26, 2008 8:37 PM
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