Pearson, Regunberg praise school building funds in budget

STATE HOUSE – Sen. Ryan W. Pearson and Rep. Aaron Regunberg today said they are happy to see $20 million for a new school construction program in the budget bill that passed the House of Representatives yesterday, and that they hope to see increases in future years.

The two legislators are the cosponsors of legislation (2015-S 0100, 2015-H 5434) that would establish a fund for school repairs.

The two say the $20 million that was included is a step in the right direction after a school construction moratorium that has been in place since 2011 has finally been lifted.

“Rhode Island’s schools are, on average, 58 years old, and after four years of a construction moratorium on top of many years of less-than-adequate funding for construction, this money is a welcome relief that will start the process of renovating or replacing those schools with the greatest needs. This appropriation is a step in the right direction, and we hope it indicates a willingness to make investments in improving the state of school buildings in Rhode Island,” said Senator Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), who led a 2014 Senate task force on school construction aid whose work resulted in his and Representative Regunberg’s bill. He plans to amend his bill to match the language in the budget.

Said Representative Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence), “With this funding in the budget, we will finally get back to work doing the necessary upkeep on the buildings where we expect our students to learn and spend most of their time. Years of inadequate funding has left many of them in a state that serves as a demoralizing distraction from learning, so it’s good news that the tide is turning and some of the work of improving them can begin. We will continue to advocate for long-term solutions that will continually provide for the needs of schools, and we look forward to the work that will now be moving forward.”

The budget bill approved by the House yesterday and now in the hands of the Senate includes a $20 million appropriation to a new School Building Authority Capital Fund, which is aimed at reducing the state’s reliance on borrowing for school construction and encouraging continued upkeep of buildings to prevent higher replacement costs. The fund would be flexible and could offer loans or grants, and the legislation requires the state to prioritize construction projects so the funds are efficiently invested, and to consider the most efficient use of school space with an eye toward future enrollment projections. The legislation also requires that all districts receiving any funding through the program annually submit an asset protection plan for every single school in its purview as a means of promoting the proper maintenance and upkeep of school buildings. The fund depends on an annual appropriation from the General Assembly.

Senator Pearson and Representative Regunberg’s bills would have established a similar fund for school construction, administered by a new Rhode Island Health and Educational Building Corporation that would be responsible for developing and implementing a formula for borrowing and issuing loans and grants to districts. While their bills differed from each other in the source of the funds, each was designed to generate dedicated funding for school construction at a level higher than it has been in recent years and to maximize the efficiency of the funds spent.

The two said they plan to continue to advocate for the establishment of more funding for school construction in the future as well a greater investment in it, but they are pleased that funding was included for construction next year.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457