Senate Finance Committee
Bill Fischer, External Affairs Director
Thank you Chairperson Conley and distinguished members of the committee.
My name is Bill Fischer, and I am the external affairs director for RI-CAN, a local nonprofit education advocacy and research organization. Since 2010, RI-CAN has advocated for policies that ensure all children in Rhode Island receive a high-quality education.
Senate Bill 142 amends the provisions by which charter public schools apply for state aid to reimburse their school housing costs and amends how school housing costs for charter public schools are calculated under the Rhode Island Board of Education Act.
We urge you to support this bill. Charter public schools, just like traditional public schools, need the funding to provide their students adequate and appropriate facilities in which to learn.
Our children deserve every chance for success in an ever-evolving 21st century economy. For that, we must provide our students the right educational environment. We cannot expect our young people to learn the skills and knowledge they need in ill-equipped and dilapidated school buildings and facilities.
The average Rhode Island district school was built in 1959—a full 58 years ago, before such buildings could accommodate high-tech labs, access to computers and our growing population of students (1). Of our district schools, a full 75 percent fall short of a ‘good’ rating (2). According to the Rhode Island Department of Education, a good rating ensures that schools are up-to-date and only in need of basic facilities maintenance. Only 1 in 4 of our schools meets that mark (3).
Research shows that the physical environment matters to learning and that high-quality school facilities help to increase student achievement. Research from the National Council on School Facilities shows that higher-quality school facilities decrease truancy and suspension and increase student satisfaction and retention (4). Children who like where they go to school are more likely to actually go to school. Better, more updated facilities support an education that prepares youth for a competitive, thriving economy.
As it stands today, charter public schools lack equitable access to school housing aid reimbursement. While other district public schools are eligible for reimbursement rates between 35 to roughly 93 percent of their school housing expenses, charter schools are only eligible for a 30 percent flat reimbursement. In other words, we see as much as a 60 percent difference in reimbursement opportunities for charter public schools.
Charter public schools matter deeply to our community. Families want these schools, and these schools serve a higher percentage of students that are in need of free and reduced-price lunch (5). They are schools whose students deserve as welcoming and safe a school facility as any other student in this state.
By supporting this bill, you vote to increase equity in our reimbursement system, advance student achievement and satisfaction, invest in Rhode Island’s infrastructure and support families in Rhode Island regardless of the public schools their children attend.
Equitable public school funding is in immediate need of our attention. Please support SB 142 so that all of our kids can reach their potential in environments that foster and support their educational success.
- Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), “FY 2013 Public Schoolhouse Assessment”, pp. 6, Retrieved from http://www.ride.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Funding-and-Finance-Wise-Investments/School-Facilities/School-Construction-Program/FINAL-SCHOOLHOUSE-REPORT.pdf.
- Ibid., pp. 9, 15, and 72
- 21st Century School Fund, Inc., U.S. Green Building Council, Inc., and the National Council on School Facilities, “State of Our Schools: America’s K–12 Facilities (2016),” pp. 6, Retrieved from https://kapost-files-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/published/56f02c3d626415b792000008/2016-state-of-our-schools-report.pdf?kui=wo7vkgV0wW0LGSjxek0N5A.
- National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (n.d.), “The Public Charter Schools Dashboard: Students eligible for free and reduced priced lunch – Rhode Island 2012-13”, Retrieved from http://www.publiccharters.org/dashboard/students/page/lunch/state/RI/year/2013.