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Monfredo: Worcester School Committee Getting Close to Taking Legal Action Against State

Thursday, March 08, 2018

 

As a State we need to realize that education is the economic engine that moves our communities forward. Once again, we are at the crossroads in supporting education.   Despite a strong economy and healthy revenues coming in, Governor Baker proposed a budget that shortchanges our schools. In talking to several legislators I came away with the impression that they are tight lipped on adding additional funding or implementing changes in the Foundation Budget formula. The theme appears to be … wait until next year!

Legal action against the State took place in the early 1990’s. Many of our elected officials have may have forgotten that in 1993 the State Supreme Court case on funding for education, McDuffy v. Secretary of the office of Education, ruled that Massachusetts has a constitutional obligation to offer all children an adequate education, regardless of the wealth of their communities. After the court ruling our legislators moved forward to address the issue of an adequate budget for education that same year by enacting the Massachusetts Education Reform Act. The idea of the Reform Act was to guarantee excellence and equity across the state regardless of the wealth of their communities.

Remember, schools in Massachusetts rely on the 1993 Chapter 70 law which contains the formula (Foundation Budget) that determines 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.

What has happened since 1993 is that school budgets increased with inflation while the states percentage of aid went down.  In addition, the cost of health insurance rose faster than had been anticipated and the cost of special education far outstripped the schools’ projections. Therefore, other priorities have been squeezed including additional courses and class size. Thus, schools have had to short change their students compared to what the state thought to be adequate in 1993.

The Foundation budget is what the state determines the minimum level of spending that is required to educate all of the students in each district. The state sets a minimum required local contribution for each community. These amounts were initially calculated in 1993 by a formula that was intended to reflect a locality’s resources. The formula was based on local property values, local incomes, and historic education funding levels. It aimed to require in general, that each community would contribute the same share of local resources to its schools.

 However, the formula is outdated and our state legislators, after hearing from school districts across Massachusetts, did establish a “Foundation Budget Review Commission.” The Commission, made up of mostly legislators, did an outstanding job in their research and released a final Foundation Budget Review Commission report in October 2015.  The report showed that the actual costs of health insurance and special education have far surpassed the assumption built into the formula for calculating the foundation budget.  As a result those costs have significantly reduced the resources available to support key investments. They also found that the ELL and low income students are not getting enough resources to support their needs.

It’s a great report BUT the Governor and our Legislators have ignored implementing the plan. Obviously the full package is expensive and could not be funded in one year or in two years but we need to move the needle forward if we are to impact education.  Why not do what was done in 1994 to 2000 when the original Foundation Budget was created … phase the funding over seven years for this will have less of an impact on the State Budget. Isn’t it time to move the plan forward?

Apparently the legislators are not ready to do it?  Unlike businesses, schools cannot make up a lost year in a child’s life for children have only one shot at each grade level.  Thus School Committees across the state are pondering the next move. One that is gaining traction is doing what was done in 1993 … taking legal action against the state.   Brockton School System has already voted to move in this direction and the Worcester School Committee at our February meeting verbally supported a move for legal action to join with Brockton but has held off on a vote until the committee meets on March 15th with the Brockton School Committee.  Mayor Petty has invited Brockton for an update on their plans.  In addition I have requested that when we take that final vote we contact all Gateway cities and invite them to join with us in the law suit.   This is a bold measure but it has to be done.  We cannot wait any longer!

We all need to be on the band wagon in advocating for our children!  Remember, education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the community and build upon a strong economy.  In our State we do believe that all children have a shot at success.  I believe if any state should be able to make that belief a reality, it is Massachusetts.  Let’s have education as a high priority in this state.  PLEASE contact your State Representatives and ask them to support changes in the Foundation Budget.

 

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