Revere School Superintendent Dianne Kelly was a panelists last week at Malden High School during a forum calling on legislators to overhaul the state’s current educational funding model to ensure equity for all students, especially those in low-income areas.
The forum last week in neighboring Malden and simultaneous forums in other cities and towns across the state hosted by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents spawned a statewide coalition of partners led by Superintendents like Kelley as well as legislators, cities, towns, teachers, students, and advocates who are joining together in proposing one comprehensive education finance bill to reform the Commonwealth’s education funding formula so that it better serves all students throughout the state.
During the state’s last legislative session a bill by State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) would have recalculated the cost to educate each student in public school districts known as the ‘foundation budget’ and poured millions of dollars into school over the next several years.
However that bill failed and educators like Kelly are calling this mechanism the state uses to provide students with equitable access to educational opportunities ‘obsolete’ which must be revised to meet the expectations of today’s economy.
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 Revere end up using money that would otherwise have supported core education programs—including Regular Ed. Teachers, Materials & Technology, and Professional Development. This also results in dramatic cuts in other areas of education.
“We owe it to our kids and to the future of this Commonwealth to have forward thinking of what’s happening today and where do we want our kids to be 10 or 15 years from now,” said Kelly. “If we are not working with our kindergarteners and our preschoolers today they are not going to be prepared to thrive. We are 15 years behind what we should be spending to prepare for the future for these students. It’s getting to the point where it’s going to be too late. All the work has been done and now it is time to act.”
The problem for low-income school districts like Revere is there is a growing equity gap between schools in Revere and schools in more affluent areas of the state. When faced with such shortfalls, high-wealth districts can often draw on additional, local revenue. Lower-wealth districts like Revere, however, are generally unable to do so and the consequence is that they spend less on resources that are critically important to the quality of education students receive.
“I think the most important thing is opportunity for students,” said Kelly. “Whatever a child’s needs are those needs deserve to be met–whether it’s special education needs or language needs. We need to provide those needs and these budget cuts force us to eliminate everything that is not mandated (by the state) and we can’t provide other services to all students on a regular basis. So when we have to eliminate say $2 million from a budget we are mandated to provide the special education programs, the language programs but what ends up getting eliminated are extracurricular activities and those outside the regular school day activities. So it ends up putting our students on an unlevel playing field.”
However, Kelly said something has to be done and done soon because the city is running a $9.1 million school budget gap between what the state covers for education and what the Revere School District is actually spending to educate students.
However, there seems to be relief on the horizon for Revere. The Education PROMISE Act, sponsored by Chang-Diaz, Rep. Mary Keefe and Rep. Aaron Vega and supported by Kelly 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.
“Children across our Commonwealth are waiting for us to fulfill the promise we made in our Constitution and in the 1993 Education Reform Act: that zip code should not be destiny,” said Chang-Díaz, lead Senate sponsor of the bill. “For 25 years, we have failed to live up to that promise-first unknowingly and now, for the past three years, knowingly. Our schools are suffering from death by a thousand paper cuts. This bill isn’t about providing ‘new’ or ‘extra’ funds. It’s about making good on what we’ve already promised.”