PROVIDENCE, RI — The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), in partnership with the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) and Rhode Island Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity (ODEO), today announced that it would pilot a new program to fund school improvements for the state's underserved students. In its first year, the program will provide $10 million to serve the five Rhode Island school districts with the highest state fund reimbursement rates: Central Falls, Woonsocket, Pawtucket, Providence, and West Warwick. Applications for the program are now open and can be found on RIDE's website.
"As Governor, education is one of my highest priorities. It is crucial that students in every city and town have the opportunity to receive the highest-quality education possible, but outdated buildings and limited resources serve as an obstacle for so many districts," said Governor Dan McKee. "This funding allows our leaders in education to make the changes they need today - without needing to put the money up front. This Administration is committed to creating a more equitable and inclusive Rhode Island, and this program will help transform both our schools and the communities in which they serve."
The funds from the Facility Equity Initiative will provide participating districts with immediate access to resources that help improve their facilities, rather than relying on bonds, having to pay money up front and wait for state reimbursement, or worse, not advancing with any projects. This in turn will allow districts to focus on necessary high impact educational improvements. To meet Rhode Island's goals of advancing clean energy solutions and equitable business practices, full state funding is available for certain projects.
"As co-chair of the state School Construction Task Force, I am thrilled by the tremendous impact our program has had in modernizing school buildings across the state and preparing students for good jobs," said General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. "Now with this additional funding we will help ensure that Rhode Island's school buildings are more energy efficient and that the economic benefit of these projects extends to minority owned businesses that have too often been left behind."
"Every student deserves to learn in a facility that inspires them and reflects their unlimited potential," said RIDE Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. "The improvements made through this initiative will help to close the drastic gap between Rhode Island's most- and least-modern school buildings and create spaces that students will be truly excited to learn in. RIDE is deeply grateful to our partners in state government for coming together to make this ambitious program possible."
"Providing our students with a safe, modern place to learn is one of our core responsibilities as a state," said Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam. "This cross-government collaboration will help us improve our facilities in a sustainable, equitable way. The Rhode Island Board of Education looks forward to reviewing the results of this pilot program and continuing to work together on behalf of Rhode Island's students."
As part of Rhode Island's commitment to equitable business practices, districts for whom Minority Business Enterprises comprise at least 15% of the businesses engaged as part of their project will have their local share paid by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity and the project will thus be 100% funded by the State. This incentive dovetails with RIDE's goal of expanding the capacity of both the Department and Rhode Island's school districts to deliver on the promises made to the students, their families and communities in the state for improved school facilities. As a part of this work, RIDE staff has implemented an equity decision making tool to aide in more equitable policymaking. This work has supported staff in adopting a more equity-centered orientation to all bodies of work at the agency.
"ODEO is delighted to partner with the RIDE on the Facility Equity Initiative to ensure equity in school construction projects," said ODEO Associate Director Tomás Ávila. "The collaborative interoffice enforcement of the policy of the State of Rhode Island will support the fullest possible participation of firms owned and controlled by minorities and women (MBEs) in state funded public construction programs and projects."
Districts awarded for high-efficiency LED lighting and control upgrade projects will have their local share paid for by the Office of Energy Resource, providing qualified facilities with up to 100% of project funding. The OER School LED Lighting Accelerator Program is designed to offer technical assistance, procurement support and financial incentives to Rhode Island public schools to accelerate the transition to LED lighting in these important buildings. The program is supported through the use of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auction proceeds and will leverage utility-administered energy efficiency incentives and other funding sources, where applicable. More information about how Rhode Island is addressing climate change mitigation and resiliency can be found at climatechange.ri.gov.
"Governor McKee's signing of the Act on Climate earlier this year serves as a call for action in the fight against global climate change. Public buildings, including our local schools, offer great opportunities to support this mission through the adoption of energy efficient lighting and other technologies," said State Energy Commissioner Nicholas S. Ucci. "OER is excited to partner with RIDE and ODEO to provide support to schools in frontline communities that have historically faced environmental and other inequities. When complete, these LED upgrade projects will provide higher quality lighting for students and teachers, give new, customizable control over lighting to facilities managers, and, importantly, reduce school energy costs and carbon emissions."
To qualify for funding through the Facilities Equity Initiative, districts must submit projects that they will finish before December 31, 2022; those projects will be scored on a rubric based on the type of project, number of students impacted, wealth of the community, level of stakeholder engagement, and timeline. Applications to participate in the Facility Equity Initiative are due November 19, 2021, and awardees will be announced at the December 21, 2021, meeting of the Rhode Island Board of Education.