STATE HOUSE — The General Assembly has passed and the governor has signed legislation introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) and Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick) to allow school committees to budget funding for school field trips.
The new law (2021-H 5079A, 2021-S 0936) guarantees that all students have the same ability to attend field trips. It also allows schools to raise funds to supplement field trip funding.
Two years ago, many school districts canceled field trips in the wake of an advisory opinion given by former Commissioner of Education Dr. Ken Wagner. He construed the previous policy to mean that school departments may not charge students to participate in public school field trips. Since several school districts interpreted the decision to mean that no fund raising could be done for these trips either, many officials were left confused, believing that the policy effectively eliminated the field trips.
“That advice was confusing to many, and as a result, school districts have been canceling their field trips,” said Senator Gallo. “That is an incredibly unfortunate — and I’m quite sure unintended —consequence of the letter. The goal of this legislation is to provide clarity. The bill does not, however, allow schools to directly ask families for money to pay for field trips because schools can’t do that. Schools can let families know that donations are always welcome, but asking parents to contribute would create a two-tier education system — one for students who can afford to pay for valuable experiences like field trips, and one for students who can’t.”
The new law requires that funding the field trips be approved by the district’s school committee.
“Field trips are an important part of learning, enriching the curriculum, strengthening observation skills by immersing children into sensory activities,” said Representative McNamara, a former educator who chairs the House Education Committee. “The previous policy of the Department of Education regarding the way these activities can be funded has caused many school districts to do away with field trips entirely. That’s just unacceptable, because they are vital in increasing a child’s knowledge of specific subjects, even generating the interest, enthusiasm and passion for subjects that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.”
The measure took effect upon passage.