Parties disagree on the meaning of federal funding for schools



PAWTUCKET – As local school officials pressure city leaders to return $ 500,000 to local education after voting in May to remove it, the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns argues that Pawtucket and other communities should receive even less financial assistance than they do. ‘currently obtain.

As during the Great Recession, the league is asking the General Assembly to authorize a temporary 5% reduction in local education aid, or the total amount under the “sustain the effort” requirements that communities fund at least as much as they did the previous year, citing the reason that districts such as Pawtucket should receive as much federal funding.

But local school officials reject that notion, saying they need local funds, and federal funds must be used very specifically, almost like grants, and cannot be used for typical departmental operations.

League chief executive Brian Daniels, who testified before the General Assembly last week, told The Breeze that many city officials fear that additional hires and new programs brought in by the stimulus funds could lead to a new enduring burden, claiming that these one-time dollars should only be used for one-time expenses.

Many school districts have had large surpluses this year, he said, which further explains the fact that with $ 500 million in additional funds going to these districts, those dollars should be used to replace the funds. premises on items such as upgrading local schools. facilities.

The problem right now, he said, is that the Rhode Island Department of Education has yet to distribute the federal money or say definitively what it can be used for, which means that districts cannot yet access them even as communities finalize budgets and school. districts demand more money from local taxpayers.

It could be argued that community leaders might just say no to continuing to fund new employees or programs once the federal funding runs out in a year or two, Daniels said, but what happens when is there not enough attrition in the employment ranks and residents are starting to put pressure on officials at public meetings to maintain staffing levels? RIDE needs to give districts more advice so that they don’t create long-term obligations with the money, he said.

According to his estimates, schools in Pawtucket should receive more than $ 40 million in federal funds, Daniels said, with some likely lost to the state, clawing them back for other needs and for charter schools, and so on. is “a ton of money” coming to a district that demands an additional $ 500,000 from local taxpayers.

Some 20 percent of the $ 375 million allocated to districts in the last round of funding is needed to go to programs such as summer sessions that address student learning loss, he said. , so the League of Cities and Towns advocates using this money for some of the initiatives for which school officials are asking for local funding.

The majority of the additional $ 500,000 requested by Pawtucket schools from the city is aimed at strengthening social / emotional supports within the district in response to the impacts of the pandemic.

Erin Dube, president-elect of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees and vice-chair of the Pawtucket School Committee, said the $ 500,000 “is absolutely necessary.”

One of the key points emerging from state meetings last week was that none of the expenses covered by federal funds can be operational that districts have not been able to finance over the past three years, she said. declared. His interpretation is that districts cannot just hire someone and then fire them at a later date.

Dube has a letter to the editor on the issue of funding in this week’s edition of The Breeze.

Asked about other districts such as Cumberland suggesting they could use the funds to hire people and then allow the jobs to disappear, she said: “I don’t know if RIDE will approve of this.” Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green made it clear last week that districts can only hire staff if there is a plan in place to maintain the positions in the future, she noted.

“What we’ve tried to make clear is that if the districts want to hire staff, that’s fine, but they have to have a plan for when that money isn’t there,” Infante-Green said during the May 26 meeting.

State officials said at the May 26 meeting that they expected the councils to be back in the districts by June 7.

Dube said she was not there when the state funding formula went into effect, but the reality is that when the state started giving “a lot of money” to Pawtucket, town no. has not increased funding for about seven years, which has led Pawtucket to be “grossly underfunded” on the school side. The increase in public funds is not meant to be a chance for a community to stand up. withdraw from her education obligations, she said.

With a district limited to only asking for a 4 percent increase per year, and this increase not being granted for years, this leads to a situation of gross underfunding.

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Communities should really view this federal money as grants to be applied for specific purposes, she said, and not as a lump sum that will be deposited into Pawtucket’s bank account.

She noted that the city side of the budget also receives significant funding from the federal government, but more than two-thirds of all budget cuts have come from the schools side.

One of the proposed uses for Pawtucket’s federal funds includes transportation money to get students to additional sessions this summer, a one-time expense created solely because of the pandemic, Dube said.

The whole process remains quite muddy for everyone involved, she said, as there are a lot of questions at all levels about how the money can be used. It’s not like previous federal money linked to COVID-19, she said, as that money was directed towards items like filters or masks, things “easier to think of in practice.”

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