PROVIDENCE – Along with highlighting Rhode Island’s ongoing work to improve public school infrastructure across the state, the 2022 School Building Authority Report unveiled Wednesday also includes details on a second $250 million bond for voters to approve in November to finance additional school construction.
Gov. Daniel J. McKee, R.I. Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green and other state school officials shared the report, titled “Renewing the Dream,” in a press conference at Frank D. Spaziano Elementary School. The report is the authority’s first since the 2017 report that highlighted the several deficiencies with school buildings across Rhode Island, leading to the 2018 passage of the first $250 million bond to help renovate current schools and build new schools around the state.
The new 64-page report states that the first $250 million bond approved four years ago was a “vital first step” in addressing the schools in dire need of either repairs or total replacement. The newly proposed $250 million bond, noted in McKee’s planned 2023 fiscal budget, would “build on the progress” the state has made in school construction, the report states.
The new bond, if approved by voters, would be split in two ways. The bulk of it – $200 million – will be for a statewide “pay-as-you-go” funding mechanism for school construction. The measure, the report states, would create a bond distribution strategy where instead of continuing to link PayGo funding to necessity-for-school-construction approvals, resources would be awarded as a percentage of identified need, resulting in more money being distributed to districts with higher needs.
The report also states the remaining $50 million of the bond will expand on the state’s new facility equity initiative. The initiative’s pilot program awarded $20 million in total funding to five school districts – West Warwick, Woonsocket, Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls – to help with school renovation projects.
“This investment will help ensure that all Rhode Island students attend safe, healthy and educationally appropriate school facilities by expanding the Facility Equity Initiative to include all [local education agencies] with free and reduced lunch rates over 40%,” the report states.
Additionally, the report also calls for a separate $150 million bond proposal to modernize schools in Woonsocket. The proposal would be for the state to provide $141 million up front and the city of Woonsocket only bonding its local share for the remaining amount. The proposal will have to first be approved as enabling legislation by the General Assembly and put to voters in Woonsocket for approval.
The report also spotlights the city of Providence, where its schools are currently under state control, where approximately $330 million has been utilized for either planning and renovations to schools that are currently underway throughout the city. Some noted projects include the $44 million demolition and replacing of Spaziano Elementary School, $35 million in renovations to Classical High School, $21 million to renovate Hope High School and a $75 million project to transform the former St. Joseph’s Hospital into a Pre-K-through-8 school.
“We are continuing to make progress in providing every child in Rhode Island with modern school facilities where they can get an excellent education,” McKee said in a statement. “For too long, our funding structures have left our most at-need cities and towns behind, but our entire state team is working tirelessly to change that. Together, we can give every student in Rhode Island the world-class schools they deserve.”
Infante-Green also said in a statement that investing in schools is good for business, communities and for students. “We can’t stop here. We’re going to keep working to make our schools better, brighter and more resilient.”
The full report can be read here.
(Updated with explanation on Woonsocket school bond legislative process)