By John Lynds
For the better part of the past year Mayor Martin Walsh has been on the front lines advocating for ending the generations-long under-funding of local public schools.
The outdated formula used to fund public schools in Boston and other school districts in low-income neighborhoods has led to budget shortfalls year after year here.
Because the state has not updated its education funding formula since 1993 to reflect districts’ real health insurance and special education costs, the amount of aid being provided to cover those costs is too small. To compensate, many districts like Boston end up using money that would otherwise have supported core education programs—including Regular Education, Teachers, Materials & Technology, and Professional Development. This also results in dramatic cuts in other areas of education.
Two weeks ago Gov. Charlie Baker signed the state’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget. In it there was $5.2 billion for Chapter 70 aid to ensure sufficient resources to fund the FY20 costs of an anticipated multi-year overhaul of the school finance formula, while enabling full implementation of the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission.
Last year State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) filed the Education PROMISE Act. The key price of legislation that was supported by Walsh and others in the state would recalculate the cost to educate each student in public school districts known as the ‘foundation budget’. This recalculation could pour millions of dollars into schools over the next several years.
The legislation also reforms state education funding by fully implementing the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) recommendations and addressing the underlying inequities within the Commonwealth’s education funding formulas, like Chapter 70. As a result of the bill, foundation budgets statewide will better reflect the true cost of educating students, and there will be a renewed partnership between the state and all districts in funding those foundation budgets.
“When we filed our budget and school finance reform proposals in January we pledged to update the formula that funds our public schools, recognizing the challenge that some school districts face in keeping up with the cost of funding a quality public school education for every child in Massachusetts,” said Baker. “The Fiscal Year 2020 budget will allow the Commonwealth to take another step toward providing the necessary resources to continue implementing the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, and we look forward to working with the Legislature on a bill that modernizes the Chapter 70 school finance formula and provides new tools and resources to ensure that this significant investment leads to better outcomes for all Massachusetts children, especially those in our highest-need communities.”
Following a series of forums on the issue last winter in cities and towns across the state hosted by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Mayor Walsh joined the growing chorus of elected officials asking state legislators to revamp the school funding formula.
Walsh said every student in Massachusetts deserves a 21st century education and should have the opportunity to succeed, no matter their talent or challenges, family income or background.
Walsh called Baker’s signing of the FY20 budget a step in the right direction.
“We are encouraged by the Legislature and Governor’s attention to education finance reform in the FY20 budget, particularly the critical issue of charter reimbursement, and we thank both branches for taking the time to address this and other education funding issues,” said Walsh last week. “We also look forward to a full education finance reform bill and we will continue to advocate for an equitable long-term education finance solution for all communities including Boston.”
According to Walsh, Boston invests over $1.3 billion a year to educate over 65,000 district and charter public school students, a number that has grown by over $250 million since 2014. During this school year, the Boston School FY19 budget was the largest in the school department’s history. While progress has been made, more work and investment is needed to close achievement and opportunity gaps for all students.Walsh said as Boston’s investments in its students, facilities and teacher has grown, state funding has lagged behind. Inequities in the Commonwealth’s education funding formulas have failed urban school districts, like Boston, that educate the majority of economically disadvantaged, English Language Learners and special education students in the state. The current education funding formulas result in less net state funding every year for BPS students.