Leader Pearson seeks needed reforms to
state’s education funding formula



STATE HOUSE – Legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Ryan W. Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln) would amend Rhode Island’s education funding formula to ensure its sustainability and meet the needs of today’s students.


The legislation (2023-S 0456) will be heard before the Senate Committee on Finance on Tuesday, March 7. The committee, which meets at the rise of the Senate (likely around 5 p.m.) in the Senate Lounge on the second floor of the State House, will also hear testimony on the Governor’s proposed funding formula changes, as well as several other bills related to education funding.


“Action to update the education funding formula cannot wait. Developed more than a decade ago and essentially unchanged since, the existing formula is no longer sustainable. Every year we do not act to provide our students with the resources they need is a year in which they lose out academically, and that concern is more urgent than ever in the wake of the pandemic,” Leader Pearson said. “We must ensure the formula is meeting the needs of today’s students, including multilingual learners, and we must also provide for equity among our communities when it comes to financial support for public education.”


Leader Pearson’s legislation would amend the Student Success Factor, or SSF, calculation within the funding formula to include multilingual learners, providing an accurate and reliable funding stream to support these students. In recent years, and under the Governor’s proposal, additional categorical funding has been provided for multilingual learners.


That categorical aid, however, has been a short-term approach that does not adequately meet the costs of English learner, or EL, services. The Rhode Island Department of Education estimates EL services cost approximately $4,650 per student, while the categorical funding calculation for Fiscal Year 2023 provides $1,105 per student.


Leader Pearson’s legislation would also require communities to meet their local share obligations under the education funding formula. Rather than increasing the weight of the SSF in the formula, as the Governor proposes, the Leader’s legislation would set new guidelines to ensure equity in funding distribution among districts. Specifically, it would ensure districts with higher numbers of students living in poverty receive necessary support, while also requiring that all communities meet their local share under the formula on or before July 1, 2028. These changes will ensure that increased state funding does not result in decreased local support for schools, and also prevent less affluent communities from falling behind.


The education funding proposals being heard by the Committee on Finance remain subject to additional revision based on pending enrollment numbers from Rhode Island’s schools. Leader Pearson, however, believes a discussion of existing policy, and how it may be improved, cannot wait.


“Our education system has the power to ensure a better future for not only our students of today, but all Rhode Islanders,” Leader Pearson said. “A strong education system leads to a stronger economy, improved economic and social prosperity, and, importantly, hope for all in our state.”


Leader Pearson’s legislation is cosponsored by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), Finance Committee Chairman Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton), Education Committee Chairwoman Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), and Senate President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick).