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Monfredo: When Will The Legislators Update The Foundation Budget?

Saturday, August 11, 2018

 

Robert DeLeo

We all need to know that education is not a spectator sport for it is an effort that requires partnerships and commitment.  We need to commit to the African proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child.”    I’m convinced that John Q. Public sees the yellow school buses running and thinks that everything is fine and that the school district has the resources to move forward.  Not so!  Many readers may not know that 70% of our budget is funded by Chapter 70 state aid.  It’s fair to say, how goes the state budget for education, goes the budget for the Worcester Public Schools. 

The schools rely on the 1993 Chapter 70 law which in the general laws contains the formulas that determine how much state education aid each community receives and how much each community must contribute towards its schools from local resources.  The concept was to ensure adequate funding for all students in Massachusetts. 

It’s time for our community to “push back” and hold our state elected officials accountable.

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 district’s Chapter 70 state education aid.  However, in 2018 there is a need to update the Foundation Budget.

A glimmer of hope did emerge in 2015 when the Legislatures created the Foundation Budget Review Commission.  The Commission did incredible work to recommend some essential funding reforms especially around special education, health insurance and budget changes of low-income enrollment.  The Legislature namely, the House, unlike the Senate refused to back the findings of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. The House was unwilling to meet its responsibilities and move forward with a reform package. In my opinion, the lack of inaction rests on the doorsteps of House Speaker Robert DeLeo for his lack of leadership and support prevented House members to move on this issue. In a statement last week De Leo stated, consensus eluded us on health care and education bills.  In a sense, his answer was to wait until next year.  Well, Mr. Speaker, we have waited three years already!

We all know that adjusting the formula of 1993 cannot be done in one year but we need to move on these recommendations now piece by piece. Why not do what was done from 1994 to 2000 when the original Foundation Budget was created?  The funding was phased in over seven years and had less of an impact on the State Budget. Now there have been three years of inaction by the Legislators in moving this forward.  How long do the children of Massachusetts have to wait for an adequate budget?   It’s time that our students, especially those who are in need of additional resources, get the help needed for them to succeed.

It has been 25 years since the Education Reform Act became law and it was successful but like everything else, it has been long over-due for an update. These funding problems affect all districts across the state and are most discriminating in lower-income communities.  Districts such as Worcester and Brockton, to name a few, don’t have the resources to spend above the required amounts the way other communities do to address shortfalls in their budget.  Thus many districts are not able to hire the number of teachers called for in the formula or meet other educational needs.  A case in point is in Worcester over 600 more teachers could be hired with an adequate school budget.  At a Worcester School Committee meeting this spring school superintendent Maureen Binienda stated, “If the foundation budget was funded at the correct amount, there would be many more education opportunities for WPS students. We would hire additional teachers, support personnel (Ex. School adjustment counselors, wrap around coordinators) and expand our college/ career and gifted opportunities.”

“Massachusetts leads the country in reading by fourth grade — with about half of our kids proficient readers,” said Noah Berger, who helped develop the original funding formula for public schools back in 1993. Berger is now director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a think tank that has argued for more education funding.

"Now it's great that we lead the country. But if half of our kids are being left behind, that could have significant long-term negative effects," Berger said.  The bottom line is that we need to build an education system that works for everyone and funding reforms are needed to assist all children in the state to thrive.

What is it that our legislators don’t understand?  Remember, when all children have access to high-quality education, they too have a greater opportunity to lead successful, satisfying and productive lives.  Remember, according to the State Supreme Court case of 1993 in McDuffy v. Secretary of the Office of Education, the court ruled that Massachusetts had a constitutional obligation to offer all children an adequate education, regardless of the wealth of their communities.   Our state elected officials moved forward to address the issue of an adequate budget for education that same year with the Massachusetts Education Reform Act. 

The idea of the Act was to guarantee excellence and equity across the state regardless of the wealth of their communities.  Due to legal action, the bill passed and the children of the Commonwealth benefited by this action.

Now in 2018, it appears that the only way to get the needed funding again is to take legal action against the state. As reported in the spring in one of my articles on school funding   Paul Reville, education secretary under former Governor Patrick and now a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education said Brockton and Worcester have a compelling case against the state. “It seems to me you have a basis that the Commonwealth is not doing enough for the neediest districts... how the state can hold them accountable for results if they are not providing adequate resources… If I were in their shoes, I’d be recommending them to reopen that lawsuit as plaintiffs.”  Therefore, look for Worcester and Brockton to move on this issue soon and I believe that other districts in the state will follow their lead.

It’s time to take action!

 

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