A palpable gust of hopeful relief blew through the Tiverton High School auditorium on Tuesday night when Representative John “Jay” Edwards (D, Tiverton, Portsmouth) informed the school committee that a budget being submitted to the Rhode Island House Finance Committee that very evening included a provision that would help pay for all-day kindergarten.
As Edwards described it, the school committee would have to approve all-day kindergarten for the upcoming school year, and then the district would be eligible for additional money to help pay for it. Although very confident that the budget article with the provision would have the votes to pass, he did not know how much money would be provided.
Members of the school committee asked for a ballpark guess, clearly hoping that it would be more than $63,207, which is the amount the district already would receive for approving all-day K, by virtue of the fact that kindergarten students would count more toward the funding formula for state aid. One member threw out the optimistic number of $200,000, but Edwards couldn’t say.
Unfortunately, however, it appears that the representative had the legislation wrong.
Rhode Island’s statewide funding formula for education is currently about midway through the process of phasing in. Some districts are being phased up to higher levels of state aid than they used to receive, and others are being phased down to lower levels.
Under a transition plan in current law, districts that switch from part-time to full-time kindergarten would receive one-third of the full state aid for all-day kindergarten in the upcoming year and the whole thing the next year. For Tiverton, that means $63,207 in the 2015-2016 school year and $189,829 in the 2016-2017 school year, which is only a few hundred dollars less than the district needs to make the switch.
The legislation to which Edwards is referring began as an independent bill that would, indeed, have accelerated the full payment for kindergarten to 2015-2016. In the Senate, S0144 (submitted in January by Senator Hanna Gallo [D, Cranston]) would have deleted references to the “transition plan” and provided the “fully transitioned value of the formula” a year earlier than is currently the case. In the House, H5275 was identical.
On April 6, Governor Gina Raimondo (D) submitted an amendment to her proposed budget that would provide “transition expenses for all districts that do not offer universal full-day kindergarten programs in the 2015-2016 school year.” The funding would be limited to the amount of “state aid that would otherwise have been provided to the district” if it had gone forward with all-day K, explicitly in the amount of “funding formula transition rates.”
On April 8, the Senate replaced Senator Gallo’s language with Governor Raimondo’s, and that is the language in Article 6 of the budget.
If this language passes, school districts that do not switch to all-day kindergarten will still get the same amount of money they were expecting if they did. For proof that this new language is intended to benefit districts that do not switch to all-day kindergarten, watch chief House Fiscal Analyst Sharon Reynolds Ferland explain it to the Finance Committee, particularly when she answers a question at around the 15 minute mark on the video here.
For strong evidence that the amount for each district is expected to be the same as already earmarked earlier, look to budget documents. In her initial budget, Governor Raimondo proposed $1,417,343 for any districts that transitioned to all-day kindergarten. Sharon Reynolds Ferland cites the same amount of money in the budget now, although with about $200,000 claimed by the two districts that already decided to switch this year.
The unfortunate reality for incoming Tiverton kindergarteners and their families is that the new legislation would actually create additional incentive for the school committee not to go forward with all-day K. They’ll get to keep the $189,991 that they would otherwise have spent on all-day classes, and they’ll get the $63,207 from the state anyway. That would erase most of the $78,273 that school officials say they are still short after incorrectly estimating their budget needs for the upcoming year.
To prevent the school committee from following this incentive, residents have to convince the members to go forward with all-day kindergarten whether or not this legislation passes (which they absolutely can). Alternately, the General Assembly would have to be convinced to increase the funding for kindergarten and, preferably, require districts to implement it this coming year in order to receive it.
All-day kindergarten can still happen in Tiverton, but parents and others in the community can’t afford to take a wait-and-see attitude.