Massachusetts, Rhode Island education sectors assess budget strife fallout

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Massachusetts and Rhode Island schools may be hit especially hard by budget strife.

After the Massachusetts legislature sent a $40.2 billion fiscal 2018 budget to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, University of Massachusetts officials were meeting this week to discuss an expected 3% hike in tuition and fees for in-state students and up to 4% for out of state students.

Until Baker signs a spending plan, UMass trustees still don’t know exactly how much money the commonwealth’s flagship college system will receive in federal funding, thus not knowing how much to charge for tuition.

“Students are angry that the State House has cut funding for public colleges and universities for yet another year,” said Zac Bears, executive director for the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts.

UMass officials initially asked for $555 million. Baker’s proposal included $516 million and the most recent budget compromise features $513.5 million for the system, a $5.2 million increase over last year.

In Rhode Island, school districts were forced to trim their budgets following an announcement that $45 million in education aid is on hold because of a state budget standoff.

The state’s Office of Management and Budget said there is no guarantee any money lost due to the impasse will be reimbursed when state lawmakers agree on a fiscal 2018 plan.

Urban districts have been hit the hardest in the Ocean State with Pawtucket losing $4.5 million, East Providence losing nearly $2 million and Woonsocket losing $3 million. Johnston is also short $1 million.
The budget struggles have prevented schools from buying computers and hiring teacher aides.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said that massive layoffs might be expected as the only way to close the budget gap if the state is forced to continue operating with the 2017 budget.

“We’re starting to purchase computers for all the students in the schools, all the grade levels,” Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena said. “So, we were obviously going to buy computers this year. We can’t buy them.”

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