Rhode Island lawmaker wants to spend more taxpayer money to ‘close achievement gaps’

(The Center Square) – The chair of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Senate Education Committee has introduced a trio of bills geared toward specific student populations across the…

(The Center Square) – The chair of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Senate Education Committee has introduced a trio of bills geared toward specific student populations across the state.

State Sen. Sandra Cano, D-Pawtucket, has introduced bills she said would “bring more equity to the state education funding formula” in a news release.

“While the state’s education funding formula has brought a degree of stability that was desperately needed in our state, there are still problems and issues that have arisen, depriving students of the crucial funding that they deserve,” Cano said in a statement.

Senate Bill 64 is designed to bring more school-based mental health services into schools across Rhode Island, Cano said.

If approved in its draft form, the bill would provide local education agencies, or LEAs, with state-funded support for mental health services over a three-year span. The funding could be applied to hiring certified school psychologists, social workers and counselors.

Cano in the recent news release said the bill comes in response to challenges that have arisen since the onset of COVID-19 three years ago.

“The pandemic has brought about several new mental health challenges for our kids, so there needs to be dedicated funding to ensure that their mental health needs are met and sustained,” Cano said. “By supporting students’ mental health needs, we will help them come to school better prepared to learn, providing them with the opportunities that they deserve to set them on the path for lifelong success.”

Senate Bill 67 addresses English language learners and proposes a revision to the state’s education funding formula for this segment of the school population.

The legislation proposes an amendment to the state’s permanent foundation education aid formula, with additional state-shared revenue possible for schools that have ELL students, as defined in the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Education Department regulations.

Senate Bill 69 could provide additional resources to LEAs hiring site-based reading and math specialists to improve standardized test scores and proficiency in the core curricular areas.

The goal behind the legislation, Cano said, is to close achievement gaps between different racial and ethnic groups of students.

The bills are introduced as Gov. Dan McKee has unveiled his proposed budget revisions for fiscal year 2023, which runs through June, and the fiscal year 2024 budget that kicks in July 1.

Organizations such as Providence-based Economic Progress Institute have been weighing in on McKee’s proposal as funding proposals for education and other areas of the state budget have gone under the microscope.

In a statement, Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, executive director of the EPI, said federal COVID-19 relief funds have provided state officials with unique opportunities to infuse funds into core services.

“With the once in a generation budget surplus and rescue plan funds, we have the opportunity to make transformational investments in children, housing, and the people of Rhode Island,” Nelson-Davies said. “As budget negotiations continue throughout the spring, our elected leaders must be thoughtful in how we use this opportunity for Rhode Island.”

SB 64 and SB 67 have been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. SB 69 is in the hands of the Senate Education Committee.