April 18, 2006

Rhode Island Statewide Education Aid, By Community, Per-Pupil

Carroll Andrew Morse

Providence Mayor David Cicilline says the only way to fix Providence's failing schools is for the rest of Rhode Island to give more money to the Providence school system. However, combining the Governor�s 2007 budget with the student population data from the Rhode Island Information Works website (results below) shows that Rhode Island is already very generous towards the state's capitol core. While accounting for only about 26% of RI students, Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls already receive about 44% of the total education aid given directly to cities and towns.

Since there is not much money in the form of state aid left to be taken from non-urban communities to fund urban school boards (some communities receive less than $1,000 per pupil compared to Providence's $6,772 per-pupil), Mayor Cicilline and "education adequacy" advocates are looking for new methods for raiding the non-urban tax base. Given the existing funding situation, "education adequacy" means using mostly statewide taxation to pay for urban core education while using a mixture of property taxes and state aid to pay for urban ring and suburban education. People in the urban areas will only be required to pay once -- for their school system, through statewide taxation. People not in urban areas will be required to pay twice -- for both their own community's schools and for urban schools.

School District State Aid Students Aid-per-Student
Central Falls $41,335,813 3734 $11,070
Providence $188,940,591 27900 $6,772
Pawtucket $64,874,304 9654 $6,720
Woonsocket $45,937,020 6928 $6,631
Bristol/Warren $20,024,144 3688 $5,430
Burrillville $13,540,919 2590 $5,228
WestWarwick $19,972,977 3838 $5,204
East Providence $26,284,707 6386 $4,116
Newport $11,581,802 2826 $4,098
Glocester $3,159,848 793 $3,985
Chariho $14,667,680 3863 $3,797
North Providence $13,091,637 3473 $3,770
Middletown $10,423,773 2769 $3,764
Foster $1,378,500 369 $3,736
Exeter/W Greenwich $7,511,299 2204 $3,408
Coventry $19,903,170 5862 $3,395
Foster/Glocester $5,641,416 1693 $3,332
Johnston $10,903,894 3285 $3,319
Cranston $35,253,290 11222 $3,141
Warwick $37,365,858 11993 $3,116
Tiverton $5,896,220 2224 $2,651
North Kingstown $12,008,646 4626 $2,596
South Kingstown $10,516,526 4174 $2,520
Cumberland $13,206,064 5349 $2,469
North Smithfield $4,806,225 2006 $2,396
Portsmouth $6,574,703 3066 $2,144
Smithfield $5,802,003 2710 $2,141
Lincoln $7,545,267 3649 $2,068
Scituate $3,474,634 1817 $1,912
Westerly $7,060,711 3710 $1,903
Narragansett $2,091,859 1673 $1,250
Little Compton $396,888 327 $1,214
Jamestown $587,030 545 $1,077
New Shoreham $135,660 151 $898
East Greenwich $2,178,616 2466 $883
Barrington $2,906,626 3434 $846
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These are fascinating numbers. If you subtract a town's share of state students from its share of state aid, you can create nice ranking of net taxpayers (for which the number is negative)and net tax eaters (for which it is neutral, or, most often, positive). The top ten taxpayers include Portsmouth, South Kingstown, North Kingstown, Lincoln, East Greenwich, Westerly, Cumberland, Barrington, Cranston and Warwick. The top ten tax eaters include Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Bristol/Warren, West Warwick, Burrillville, Foster, Glocester, and New Shoreham.

Now, tell me, Andrew, how many votes are there in the top ten list? How many have Democratic Reps and Senators who have, year after year, voted for all that state aid to the tax eaters? Oh, yes, while also voting to double our spending on social welfare (and no prizes for guessing the cities and towns where most of that goes).

The battle lines for the 2006 election are getting clearer all the time, aren't they?

Posted by: John at April 18, 2006 2:38 PM

Very nice work, Mr. Morse. It is quite insightful.

Posted by: Fred Sanford at April 18, 2006 4:58 PM

Interestingly, at the current overall level of state support for education, an equitable distribution formula would provide even less for the communities at the bottom of the list. More, not less, of total education spending must be provided from the state to reduce the overreliance on property taxes to fund education.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at April 18, 2006 5:16 PM


1. Changing the ratio of state aid to property tax revenue in education funding is a shell game that benefits the districts at the top of the list at the expense of the districts at the bottom of the list. If state aid to every community were to be increased, then the districts at the top of the list would receive a big infusion of statewide revenue and they'd be able to cut their property taxes by a significant amount. However, the districts at the bottom of the list would receive only small amounts of additional aid, while still paying for the big subsidies to the districts at the top of the list. As a result, the districts at the bottom of the list wouldn’t be able to cut their property taxes enough to offset the additional state taxes they'd have to pay.

2. I’m not arguing for less statewide aid. I am arguing that if you are going to impose a statewide tax system to pay for education, you should allow students to have reasonable access to any public school in that statewide system. If state education aid can be better used by helping some current Providence students attend school somewhere other than Providence, then that’s where the money should go.

Posted by: Andrew at April 18, 2006 6:37 PM

Very nice research, Andrew. What I find interesting is that the tuition I am paying for my son to attend Bishop Hendricken High School is LESS than the aid the state gives per capita in Central Falls, and is approaching that of the aid per capita to Providence students. And that doesn't count what the cities, themselves, add to this. And for what?

I get a very sick feeling as I look upon this data. It seems to be calling out for a reconsideration of a voucher plan.

Posted by: Chuck Nevola at April 18, 2006 8:38 PM

>>Interestingly, at the current overall level of state support for education, an equitable distribution formula would provide even less for the communities at the bottom of the list. More, not less, of total education spending must be provided from the state to reduce the overreliance on property taxes to fund education.

Mr. Walsh, please stop insulting our intelligence! You at the NEA realize that you’ve milked the property tax cow for about as much as is possible, and so now you’re advocating for more “state aid” to education – so you can milk the income-tax cow (in the dark backrooms of the General Assembly, where you public-sector union cockroaches feel more at home anyway).

Do you really think that we’re so stupid as to believe that further increasing our income tax burden to fund more “state aid” will be recouped in lower property taxes?

You “tax eaters” fooled us in the 1970’s with the Lottery. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice …”

Posted by: Tom W at April 18, 2006 9:05 PM


The facts are straightforward, no "spin" is needed - Rhode Island ranks at the bottom of the list in providing state aid to education (about 43rd in the country, about 37% of overall education expenditures versus the national average of 50%). Andrew did a great job of showing the distribution in "per student" terms, which underscores the poverty impact on educational performance (turning the list upside down gives a pretty good ranking of educational performance by community). Gary Sasse will tell you that a state that generates the same amount of tax revenue from the property tax as it does from a combination of income AND sales tax ($1.8 Billion in each case) is out of balance.

Despite the expectations of some who post here, in the short term, the overall tax burden is not going to decline in this state without a dramatic impact on services, so ensuring that the tax burden is fairly distributed is crucial. In the long term, the only way to grow the tax base is to attract more business, and to solve the wage gap issue by increasing compensation of lower paid employees, which is an area that lags in Rhode Island. Universal health care would help a lot as well, but that is a topic for another day.


Posted by: Bob Walsh at April 19, 2006 10:35 AM

Bob Walsh lacks the courage to come out and say what "ensuring that the tax burden is fairly distributed" really means. As he said on talk radio, he wants to substantially raise taxes on the affluent and on businesses, while raising (not cutting) state spending in spite of a $300 million (and growing) budget deficit (with more to come in future years, according to RIPEC).

And that will, by causing even more taxpayers and businesses to flee the state, only make things worse.

Basically, Bob can't handle the truth: cuts in Rhode Island's grossly ineffective and inefficient social welfare programs, as well as public sector pensions and post retirement health care programs, are inevitable.

The only question is whether they will be made volutarily by the General Assembly or by the Federal Bankruptcy Court.

Posted by: John at April 19, 2006 11:22 AM

Clearly, my willingness to use my own name on these posts should answer the "courage" question. And while they are two separate issues, I do not rule out cutting corporate tax loopholes (which would increase taxes on businesses taking advantage of them) or even raising taxes if necessary to balance the budget. However, what I was discussing was the distribution of the tax burden, and even if the budget was balanced, I believe (as does RIPEC) that we over rely on the property tax to fund education specifically and government generally. Most Rhode Islanders would be better off paying more in income taxes and less in property taxes. Since many will not trust my math, please do your own and report back if you take this topic as seriously as I do. Or, you can continue to take anonymous shots at the messenger, which requires a lot less work.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at April 19, 2006 2:56 PM

Mr. Walsh:

First I should apologize for the “cockroach” crack. It was inappropriate - I’m still working off my annual post-April 15th outrage over what the special interests (a/k/a “tax eaters”) have appropriated from my labors via their definition of “fair share” – and so hit “send” in a fit of invective.

While RI may be “below average” for “state aid” to education, its spending on education is far above average. Ultimately this is the crux of the issue, and the allocation of the spending among income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes and excise taxes is secondary. Adding insult to injury, RI school performance is well below U.S. averages, which in turn are well below “world class.”

While poverty is undoubtedly a factor in educational performance, in theory an excellent teachers can more than overcome those obstacles - http://www.reason.com/0207/fe.jj.stand.shtml - that RI schools in general, and inner city schools in particular, remain mediocre at best tells us much about the average caliber of RI teachers. Though among the highest paid in the country – and the world – they aren’t delivering. Throwing even more money at tenured mediocrities obviously will not yield improvement.

You stated that: “the overall tax burden is not going to decline in this state without a dramatic impact on services, so ensuring that the tax burden is fairly distributed is crucial.” We already have bad roads, bad schools and dysfunctional “social services” programs, so since the services we receive in this state are already so poor (pun intended) the prospect of leaving more money in the pockets of those who earned it is an appealing alternative.

Yes, we need to attract more business to RI. Competitive tax rates and a competitive work force will do that. Unfortunately your “solutions” have the opposite effect – the poor performance by your NEA brethren inevitably means that our workforce skills are uncompetitive, which is why they are “lower paid employees” – while your NEA brethrens’ gross overcompensation (vs. what they are producing) ensures that our taxes will remain uncompetitive overall (however distributed among income taxes, property taxes, etc.).

Along these lines, I commend to your attention – and to everyone who reads this - the following article about New Jersey, which could just as well be about Rhode Island, entitled “The Mob That Whacked Jersey - How rapacious government withered the Garden State” which is at this link: http://www.city-journal.org/html/16_2_new_jersey.html

Posted by: Tom W at April 19, 2006 4:45 PM

Bob Walsh is the face of disaster in the state of Rhode Island. He is the single reason that our elderly are suffering. He is the major deterrent for good growing companies to move to RI. Great Posting Mr. Morce.

Posted by: slimJim at April 19, 2006 7:20 PM