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  • Tom Sgouros

Three pictures of state education aid

One: A picture of state aid to local school districts, from 1990 to 2022. You can see that aid really fell off a cliff in 2008, and it didn't really make it back to 2007 levels until 2014.

Two: For these years, inflation was quite low in historical terms, but it wasn't really negligible. When you correct for inflation, you get the graph below, where you can see that 2003 was really the high point. You also see that to this day, the state is has not made up that lost ground. (And that the current trend is down!)

In other words, Governor Carcieri really did a number on school funding, 2008-2010. Corrected for inflation, we've only barely made it back to 2008 levels and are still at levels well below the 2003 mark. This is especially bad news for towns like North Kingstown, because part of the education funding reform of 2011 was to put a bunch more money to the poorer districts. This is laudable, but it wasn't from new funding, but came at the expense of the richer districts, and was phased in over several years. It's not at all clear that those districts had the political will to make up the loss from property taxes, but it's not relevant because they were prevented from doing so by the Paiva-Weed tax levy limits, also known as the 3050 limits, that cap the amount property taxes can rise in a year.

Also, yes, 2008-2010 was bad times for state finances, but these were the years that the state income tax was cut for wealthiest taxpayers. (This was the "flat" tax, passed in 2007 and phased in over several years.) In each of those years, the Governor and General Assembly affirmatively favored continuing to phase in that tax cut over restoring lost aid to schools. Estimates of the flat tax cost ranged at the time from $50-100 million, just for comparison.

Three: Below is a rough estimate of how much local education is funded by state aid. Under the DiPrete administration of the 1980s, the state government's stated policy goal was that it was going to work towards reaching 60% of total education spending. Bruce Sundlun abandoned that goal in the 1990s, before we had made it to 50%. By now, most districts would be thrilled if it even got back to the level of 1990.

You might be wondering what about the proposed FY24 budget? School aid goes up a bit, by 2% from FY23. But it's still about 18% lower than it was in 2003, in constant dollars, or somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million in today's dollars. Inflation this past year has been substantially more than 2%, though who knows what next year will bring.


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