Raimondo budget includes new school construction fund, more college scholarships

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – From pre-K to college, Gov. Gina Raimondo called on state lawmakers to make significant investments in education Thursday, asking the General Assembly to approve a new fund for school construction projects, provide more opportunities for students to pay for college and fully fund the state’s education funding formula.

Other education-related requests in the governor’s $8.6-billion budget include funding all-day kindergarten in every school district in Rhode Island, a commitment to triple the number of state-funded pre-K classrooms by 2019, and the creation of a duel-enrollment program so high school students can earn college credits at no cost.

“This budget invests in each rung of the ladder – our schools, college affordability, and skills training for adults,” Raimondo said during her 30-minute speech Thursday.

On the K-12 side, Raimondo’s budget maintains the state’s commitment to school funding while also setting aside new dollars for additional plans.

The governor included about $35 million in additional funding for public schools, bringing the total to $821.1 million and marking the fifth consecutive year the state has fully funded the education funding formula that lawmakers created in 2010.

Raimondo’s budget also sets aside $20 million for the creation of a School Building Authority Capital Fund that will help municipalities pay for new construction or repair aging schoolhouses, a much-anticipated request from cities and towns following a five-year moratorium on most projects. That’s on top of $70.9 million budgeted for reimbursements for local school improvement projects.

Raimondo asked the General Assembly to allocate about $1.4 million to help seven communities – Coventry, Cranston, East Greenwich, Johnston, North Kingstown, Tiverton and Warwick – transition to all-day kindergarten.

Higher Education

Raimondo’s $1.1 billion budget proposal for higher education places an emphasis on providing more access to Rhode Island’s three public colleges to the state’s neediest students.

Following through on a campaign pledge, the governor has set aside about $10.1 million for “last-dollar” scholarships, a program that will help qualified students cover the costs of higher education after all other financial aid resources are exhausted.

Raimondo has also asked to eliminate the quasi-public Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority (RIHEAA) in favor of a Division of Higher Education Assistance that would fall under the commissioner of postsecondary education.

Raimondo is also proposing the Prepare R.I. program to allow high school students to earn college credits at no cost. The governor estimated that the cost of the plan will be about $1.3 million in the first year.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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