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Monfredo: Budget Session - Support Changes in the Foundation Budget

Saturday, February 16, 2019

 

It’s budget season again, and for school committee members and school officials the last several years it has not been pleasant. We have been waiting since 2015 for our elected State Officials to implement their own report on updating the “Foundation Budget.”  Based on the findings of the Legislative Foundation Commission Committee the school budget is underfunded in the Foundation formula.

In Massachusetts, the definition of an adequate spending level for a school district is called its “foundation budget.”  The goal of the Chapter 70 formula, established in 1993, was to ensure that every district had sufficient resources to meet its foundation budget spending level through an equitable combination of local property taxes and state aid. The foundation budget is perhaps the most important factor used in calculating a districts’ Chapter 70 state education aid.  In 2015 the state’s foundation formula was reviewed by the Foundation Review Commission who found the Foundation Budget to be woefully underfunded and therefore made several recommendations to fix the problem.  Compared to other states, the commission said that the weighted rate at which Massachusetts provided funds to districts for low-income and ELL students in the 1993 reform bill was set below national best practices.  In addition,  the commission said there was a lack of adequate data collection and called for better tracking of school-level expenditures, including spending on low-income and ELL populations.

Across the state, this issue has caused great consternation as school districts continue to grapple for proper funding.  In December I filed an agenda item in support of the Educational Association of Worcester (educators union) and the Massachusetts Teachers Association with a sponsored resolution entitled, “Fund our Future.”   This resolution was an effort to keep the conversation moving on the Foundation Budget.  It was a strong message to our delegation urging them to start moving on this most important issue.   

Last week Roger Nugent, President of the EAW came before the School Committee with an update on the state budget.  He mentioned that at the moment there are two bills pending... The “Promise Act” for pre-k to grade 12 and the “Cherish Act” for public higher education.  All of us need to keep an eye on these bills and see what the outcome is as we move forward.

As part of Mr. Nugent’s effort to show the need for additional funding he visited twenty-nine schools in Worcester and spoke to hundreds of teachers.  He found out that many teachers needed additional supplies, books, desktop computers, and smart boards.  In addition, staff members were looking for more teacher assistance and additional teachers in other areas of the curriculum.   Individuals at the schools echoed a need for small class sizes, and universal free prekindergarten.  Others spoke of needing buildings without PCB’s, asbestos, need to address peeling paint problems and plenty of clean drinking water.  Also, the need to support sports programs, after-school clubs, the arts, summer school programs, and after-school help sessions are all on the long list of needs for the system.

Mr. Nugent affirmed that, “teachers wanted prep time and team planning time, training in cultural competency, ongoing professional development, a more racially diverse staff, and a voice in the hiring process… in short, they want the support that all students need so they can go on to higher education, advanced technical training, and good jobs.”

As to the lack of resources across the state, many districts are forced to make do without much-needed resources. Districts with higher numbers of special education students and English –language learners were especially suffering.  Students in low-income areas and those with special needs are neglected by the current formula.

Mr. Nugent also spoke about a community meeting in Worcester on educational funding that will take place at Nelson Place School on March 4th at 6:30 p.m.  Co-sponsoring the event will be the Educational Association of Worcester and the Worcester Education Collaborative.  The public is invited to attend. Please make every effort to attend this all important meeting.

As of this writing, the Governor did file 2020 budget recommendations. It’s a start but more is needed.  The bill for our public schools to watch is entitled, “The Promise Act” for it appears that much in the bill will address the short-falls of the Foundation Budget.   In the meantime, let’s contact our legislators and urge them to update the budget formula so that all of our children regardless of their background will have the resources they need to succeed.  The schools have waited long enough for the longer that we wait the more children’s futures are destroyed.

As we know education is the most important economic engine to our city’s growth.  In addition, unlike businesses, we cannot make up a lost year in a child’s life for children have only one shot at each grade level.

Remember "A school is a building with four walls and the future inside it." Let’s all support our children by giving teachers the tools they need so all children can achieve and move forward as educated, compassionate citizens of the 21st century.

 

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