R.I. lawmakers question Gist on proposed funding formula for schools

Steve Peoples
The Providence Journal
3/5/2010

Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist discusses a proposed funding formula for aid to school districts at a meeting of House and Senate lawmakers Thursday. The Providence Journal / Connie Grosch

Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist discusses a proposed funding formula for aid to school districts at a meeting of House and Senate lawmakers Thursday. The Providence Journal / Connie Grosch

PROVIDENCE — Senate Majority Leader Daniel P. Connors cannot remember such a spectacle.

More than 50 elected officials — members of both parties and both legislative chambers — packed into a stuffy State House lounge Thursday afternoon to debate detailed public policy with Rhode Island’s top education officials.

It didn’t matter that many didn’t understand the quadratic equation behind the funding formula produced by the state Department of Education and endorsed later in the day by the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

The formula — if approved by the General Assembly — would have a profound impact on each lawmaker’s home district.

“This is the first time in my 14 years at the Assembly that we’ve had such a collection of people in the legislature … talking about what is, without a doubt, the most important issue,” Connors told a crowded room that included House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist and dozens of rank-and-file senators and representatives. “More than anything else, we need to get this right or we’re never going to be able to turn our economy around. And we’ll continue to lag the region.”

While there may be unprecedented momentum to adopt a funding formula, substantial political challenges remain.

The state’s proposal would fundamentally change the way the state distributes $860 million in local education aid. Some communities gain. And some lose.

The article continues at The Providence Journal.

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