PROVIDENCE – Gov. Dan McKee wants to put more than $1.9 billion of his nearly $13.7-billion budget toward funding for elementary and secondary education.
McKee hinted at prioritizing education spending during his State of the State address earlier in the week. During his speech, he vowed to boost education funding, particularly for English language arts coaching and teachers’ professional development.
But overall, education is seeing a cut from the $2 billion in the enacted budget for Fiscal Year 2024. That’s because of the end of some federal dollars, such as emergency pandemic funds for schools, known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, or ESSER funds. That’s a loss districts will now need to contend with. However, despite that loss, the state is proposing a boost to its share of education funding in the order of $63.7 million. That number represents new investments in the budget.
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How does McKee want to spend new education dollars? Here are the highlights:
- An extra $19.2 million for funding formula aid.
- A $16.6-million increase for multilingual learners. (The Rhode Island Department of Education recommended this boost to assist with coaching for schools with high academic needs.)
- Another $7.1 million for 35 new pre-K classrooms, which would add 700 new seats for the 2024-2025 school year and finance reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches for students in need.
- Another $5 million for McKee’s Learn365RI initiative, which aims to increase students’ out-of-school learning time throughout the year.
- An $800,000 increase for making reduced-price breakfast and lunch free. (Brian Daniels, director of the state Office of Management and Budget, said the estimated cost for free meals for all students is as much as $40 million, therefore he does not see it as feasible at this time.)
What about higher education?
McKee wants to increase aid to all three state institutions of higher education by $7 million.
In total, the governor is proposing $3.4 million for Rhode Island College’s Hope Scholarship for juniors and seniors, $20 million for the University of Rhode Island for water filters that will cut down on forever chemicals, and $7.9 million for the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship that gives recent high school graduates free tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island.
Ballot initiatives could fund new buildings at state schools
McKee also included two initiatives for higher education on the November ballot. One would provide $80 million for a biomedical sciences building at the University of Rhode Island. Budget officials said this would include “laboratory space to advance cutting-edge discovery, educate tomorrow’s workforce, and accelerate the life sciences industry.”
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The second initiative would fund a $55-million cybersecurity building at Rhode Island College. The state said this would fund repairs and restorations to Whipple Hall for the new program announced last year and headed by retired U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin.
According to budget officials, the program “is preparing students and professionals with the technical and business skills associated with cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.”
In-school crackdown on youth vaping also in budget
Though categorized as a health investment, McKee wants to spend $600,000 on “school-based vaping intervention programs to encourage students to quit using tobacco and nicotine products, including cigarettes,” according to officials.
The funds come from a 2022 state settlement with popular vaping company JULL Labs Inc. In the settlement, Rhode Island was awarded $6.2 million over 10 years.
How will districts fare?
Providence schools, still struggling to boost their performance while under state control, would see a nearly $300,000 decrease in funding with roughly $283 million in McKee’s budget. Though the decrease is relatively small, Providence is the only urban core district to see a funding cut.
“I’m always going to advocate for more money,” said Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “I don’t feel good about any of our districts getting less money, particularly because of our ESSER dollars going away. And the districts are going to feel it.”