- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - As lawmakers prepare to vote on next year’s $8.9 billion state budget, legislative leaders are mostly in agreement with Gov. Gina Raimondo but butting heads on one important issue: how to fund charter schools.

The Democratic governor said Friday that she’s pleased with proposed investments to education but concerned by a complicated revision to the funding formula approved this week by the House Finance Committee.

The revision is part of the state budget that the full House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on Wednesday.

Under a budget plan Raimondo unveiled in February, traditional school districts would get to keep $355 for each student who enrolls in a charter school.

Raimondo described it at the time as a way to level the playing field between traditional schools and charters, since charters typically don’t bear as many costs.

But school superintendents and others concerned about the growth of charters wanted deeper changes and found allies in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

The formula revision crafted by lawmakers and unveiled this week would allow school districts to cut charter school payments by 7 percent and deduct certain expenses, including teacher pension costs.

Raimondo said in a statement Friday: “Now, instead of a predictable $355, there is a very complicated math equation which results in different amounts of a cut for different kids even from the same community. And, each year, because of this math equation, there could be large changes in budgets - every year the amount of the cut could differ, by student, and could go up or down.”

How much could be changed before the House votes on Wednesday is unclear.

Education Commissioner Ken Wagner sent a letter to superintendents on Friday informing them that talks are ongoing.

The Rhode Island Schools Superintendents’ Association felt the original $355 recommendation was inadequate, spokesman Tim Ryan said.

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello also defended the changes Thursday. He said the new formula is fairer and will help urban charter schools, though a loss of funds could be felt by some suburban charter schools.

Charter school administrators oppose the changes, which they say would lead to budgetary uncertainty from year to year.

“To have such a significant cut with such late notice is really disrespectful to the quality of learning that’s happening at charters,” said Brandee Lapisky, director of The Compass School in South Kingstown. “It’s unfortunate it appears Speaker Mattiello is valuing charter school education as worth less than traditional public education.”

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