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Elorza sues Infante-Green over Providence school funding

Providence Schools. (WJAR)
Providence Schools. (WJAR)
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Mayor Jorge Elorza and members of the Providence City Council are taking Rhode Island's top schools chief to court.

Elorza filed a lawsuit against Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green Tuesday over the funding of Providence schools.

According to the Crowley Act, which allowed for the state to take over the district, the city is responsible for funding the district at the same level as in the prior academic year, "increased by the same percentage as the stars total of school aid in increased."

The state is demanding the city pay an additional $9 million due to a state increase in the current and previous fiscal year.

The city is refusing to pay and is accusing Infante-Green of cherry-picking federal coronavirus relief funds to include in the state allocation.

According to the complaint, the state included one set of federal aid, $41.7 million in Stabilization Funds, but excluded $50 million in COVID-19 relief funds. The commissioner did not include the COVID-19 relief funds because they were "specifically earmarked for purposes directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic."

"The school department is sitting on an $11 million surplus from fiscal year '21. They probably have a similar sized surplus from last year," Elorza told NBC 10 News Wednesday. "They're literally sitting on money and they're not investing it in kids right now and to turn around and ask us for additional dollars, when they have this money, when the Crowley Act does not require that we contribute these additional dollars, it’s just extremely frustrating."

According to court documents, at Infante-Green's order, the Rhode Island general treasurer's office is now withholding $4.85 million, which is the state-expected fiscal year 2020-2021 allocation.

Elorza wants the order to be reversed.

The mayor noted that he expects the takeover to continue and took aim at Gov. Dan McKee for his "inaction."

"The governor’s not going to do anything meaningful in these next four months between now and the election,” he said.

When asked what gubernatorial candidate he believes could bring tangible change to the takeover, Elorza said he did not know.

"They may have opportunity to do something about this and I certainly want to hear what they have to say about that," he said. "I think a lot of voters, not just in Providence, but throughout the state, want to know are they going to be bold about education?"

NBC 10 has reached out to McKee’s office for comment.

The commissioner has 20 days to respond to the complaint.

The Department of Education provided a statement Thursday.

"The Providence Public School District has been historically underfunded by the City through their practice of level-funding their contribution to schools, otherwise known as the maintenance of effort. In fact, funding for PPSD stayed stagnant for 6 years from 2011-2017, while the District was in clear crisis and amidst a statewide moratorium on school facility spending. This is unacceptable and at its core, and reflects an equity issue within government budgeting. Our students deserved better than this," the statement said.

"While RIDE has not been served with the Complaint at this time, the Commissioner has the statutory authority to enforce violations of school law, including the Crowley Act. That includes recouping funding that should be allocated to the district under the terms of the statute," the statement continued.

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