The Way of the Future in Rhode Island
2015 Legislation: The Bright Today Scholarship and Open Enrollment Educational Act
Policy Brief: Executive Summary
LEGISLATIVE OBJECTIVES: The Bright Today Scholarship legislation not only creates new educational opportunities for families, but does so without adversely impacting public schools. The top-10 policy objectives met by this legislation:
- Establish RI as a national leader in education reform
- Empower all RI parents with immediate choices to obtain an adequate education for their children
- Meet the documented demand for school choice by increasing the supply of available options
- Create an environment in which public schools are likely to improve academic outcomes
- Increase or maintain current per pupil funding levels in district schools
- Save money for school districts that could be used to repair crumbling schools or for property tax cuts
- Keep 100% of locally raised tax funding for use in local district schools
- Cost nothing to implement – zero increase in any local or state tax or fee
- Provide higher return value for taxpayer dollars
- Improve overall statewide educational performance so as to be a boost to economic development
BILL FEATURES: Bright Today Scholarships are a form of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). This innovative and cutting-edge educational choice bill, modeled after the ground-breaking Arizona ESA legislation of 2011, includes these features:
- ESA scholarships are different from vouchers. 1) Funds flow directly into a debit account controlled by parents, instead of directly to a private school, 2) Funds can be spent on tuition or other educational services, 3) Unspent funds can be rolled over for future K-12 expenses
- Universal Eligibility. Every RI K-12 student would be eligible (includes grandfathering of current private/home schoolers)
- Approved educational expenses include: private school tuition, required textbooks, home school curriculum, fees for online or post-secondary learning programs, educational therapies for special-ed students
- Scholarships are paid from the State portion of ed funding
- Income Adjusted Scholarship awards, with $6,000 cap
- Funding Formula. Scholarship students are still counted towards the public school district’s enrollment
- Detail Admin. & Academic Accountability Standards
- Fraud and Criminal Prosecution Provisions
- Prohibition of Gov’t Control over private/home schools
- Separate Open Enrollment provision allows transfers to other public schools
PROJECTED OUTCOMES: A WIN-WIN policy solution.
Participation rate in the early years is expected to be 2.77% of the current public school population, or 3,682 students.
More budget friendly than charter schools. The math and budget implications of Bright Today Scholarships are very different than that of charter schools, and much more budget friendly to public school districts.
Simultaneous reductions in district revenues and district expenses. If the outflow of scholarship funds is less than the cost burdens associated with educating those students, then districts will actually save money.
Not including grandfathering, the Center’s RI District Impact Model for Educational Scholarships (RI-DIMES), projects the following fiscal outcomes:
- Statewide scholarship of $5,016. $18.5 million total
- Higher per student funding of in all public school districts; $299 statewide average
- Net district fiscal savings in all but 3 smallest public school districts, $16 million cumulatively in savings statewide
- Increase in statewide educational funding, public and private; public funding levels remain constant, with $17.25 million in “new” private monies spent on education
- No new taxes. All scholarships and administration are paid for via existing education funding levels.
District savings can be used to repair crumbling schools or to reduce local property taxes.
Per the 2015 legislation, grandfathering would mean higher near-term revenue reductions for districts, resulting in most districts seeing net fiscal losses in the early years, cumulatively statewide of -$2.6 million.
Public schools also benefit from higher parental accountability. National research clearly demonstrates that because of higher parental accountability standards and the competitive forces introduced through increased competition, that academic outcomes at public schools is likely to increase. No major national empirical study shows an adverse impact.