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Monfredo: It’s Time - Properly Fund the Foundation Budget

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Just recently in Fitchburg a meeting sponsored by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents met with members from 11 towns including Worcester to bring attention to the state’s funding formula and to urge the state to fix the foundation formula.  This was one of several meetings across the state that will discuss funding sponsored by the Superintendents’ Association.

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.

The strong message at the conference was “the waiting is over and it’s time for action.” As we all know the state has failed to provide adequate funding for public education as defined by the Education Reform act of 1993.  Since the State enacted the school funding formula which set a base level of funding the system has become outdated and ignores how our schools and how our students’ needs have changed.  It’s time to stop the talking and put a meaningful funding package on the table as was recommended by the “State Reform commission over three years ago.

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.  Unfortunately, there has been lots of rhetoric but no action.  The State Senate came up with a plan last budget session but the plan never was voted on by the House.

For the past three years Worcester Public Schools chief financial officer, Brian Allen, at several School Committee meetings, has  pointed out  that based on its findings by the “Commission” the budget is underfunded in the current foundation  formula.  Areas of concern are health insurance, special education and the skipped inflation adjustment in 2010.  This total adds up to close to $70 million.   The Commission’s recommendation on funding English Language Learners and Low-Income students could potentially provide an additional $25 million in funding, totaling $92.9 million for Worcester.

Under the current formula, districts are spending less on non-special education instructional positions, operations and maintenance of school buildings, professional development, and instructional supplies and materials than the foundation budget provide because of the underfunding in other areas.  Worcester spends at the foundation budget level, so any underfunding in one area causes underspending in other areas.  Unlike other state-wide districts we only have as much as the state formula provides.  Many other districts have the luxury of spending above the foundation budget due to their city or town providing additional funding.

We all know that public education is our best pathway to opportunity for all children and we need to properly invest in education.  It was the great Benjamin Franklin who stated, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Let’s try to remember that when discussing the needs for adequate funding. As Worcester’s Superintendent Maureen Binienda stated, “We need action now for there really is nowhere else to go from here.”

Now in 2019, the Governor and both the Senate and the House have stated that a plan will be forthcoming.  I sincerely hope that they heed the words as described by our state Supreme Court in its interpretation of our state Constitution 25 years ago:  “What emerges… is that the Commonwealth has a duty to provide an education for all its children, rich and poor, in every city and town of the Commonwealth at the public school level, and that this duty is designed not only to serve the interests of the children, but, more fundamentally, to prepare them to participate as free citizens in a free State to meet the needs and interests of a republican government, namely the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Let’s hope that our state officials pay attention to the words in our state Constitution and move forward to fix the Foundation Budget! Our children are counting on it.

It’s been 25 years since the Commonwealth enacted its school funding formula, which set a base level of funding per student. This horribly outdated system ignores how our schools and the needs of our students have changed.

While students throughout the state are forced to make do without much-needed resources, districts with higher numbers of special education, English-language learning, and low-income students suffer the most in this formula.

Each day we wait to act, more children’s futures are destroyed. More students fall behind, unable to read at grade level, making them significantly more likely to drop out. Massachusetts has already failed a generation of kids – let’s not fail the next.


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