Last year’s Student Opportunity Act that was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker was a huge win for educators, parents and students as well as cities and towns across the state.
The law finally replaced the outdated formula used to fund public schools in Revere and other school districts in low-income neighborhoods that led to budget shortfalls year after year.
Because the state had 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 ended up using money that would otherwise have supported core education programs—including Regular Education, Teachers, Materials and Technology, and Professional Development. This also results in dramatic cuts in other areas of education.
The Student Opportunity Act was to kick off this year with state “Gateway Cities” like Revere due to receive an additional $217.5 million, more than 70 percent of the new aid promised under the act.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic slowdown has caused a $4-7 billion revenue shortfall and increase in education funding promised to cities like Revere is at risk.
In response, Revere City and Public School officials have signed onto a letter sent to Gov Baker urging him to fully fund schools in the co-called Gateway Cities.
School Superintendent Dr. Dianne Kelly; Gina Garro, President of Revere Teachers Union; Matthew J. Costa, President of the Revere Administrators Association; Revere School Committee members Michael Ferrante, Susan Gravellese, Stacey Rizzo, and Carol Tye; as well as City Councilors Jessica Giannino and Steven Morabito all signed the letter that was sent to the Governor.
In the letter Revere officials, as well as educators and officials from 25 other Gateway Cities told the Governor that unless the state takes drastic action, the promises the legislature made to students in the Student Opportunity Act will remain unfulfilled once again.
“We therefore call on our legislature to ensure that our Gateway City school districts are properly funded for the FY21 budget cycle,” said the latter.
The letter argues that virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more challenging for students to progress through their school year.
“Some families have limited internet access,” said the letter. “Some children have Individualized Education Plans that their schools haven’t been able to follow. And for a number of reasons outside of their control, which include grueling work schedules, language barriers, and lack of familiarity with technology, many parents and guardians have not been able to adequately support their children’s education. Experts expect opportunity gaps to only worsen, and so we worry about the disproportionate impact this will have on our students, especially as we consider not only what has already occurred, but what is yet to come in FY21 and FY22.”
Even before COVID-19 Revere and other communities needed funding for additional wraparound services and mental health support, which is part of why the Student Opportunity Act was passed in the first place.
“Our students, compared with those in more affluent communities, face much higher rates of trauma due to poverty and immigration,” said the letter. “Researchers have long known that spending a childhood in deep poverty is a type of prolonged, toxic stress that affects children’s brains the same way, or worse, than acute trauma. Furthermore, many of our students live in fear that their loved ones will be deported, live with trauma memories of their dangerous journey to the United States, or suffer from the effects of intergenerational trauma from their parents’ and grandparents’ hardships.”
The letter goes on to say that in addition to the challenges faced during COVID, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is putting all responsibility for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other required supplies on districts, rather than using the state’s purchasing power to support them.
Transportation costs will likely skyrocket in order to ensure safe distancing between students on school buses. School mental health providers will undoubtedly be even more overworked next year than ever before. While there may be additional federal funds coming, it is unlikely they will be enough to cover additional costs related to COVID-19.
“Our school districts cannot be expected to do extra work next year with even fewer resources than before,” said the letter. “Therefore, we the undersigned Gateway City officials and allies call for the prioritization of Chapter 70 funding to Gateway City school districts in the FY21 budget. The Student Opportunity Act requires that the new funding be phased in over seven years “in an equitable and consistent manner.” This pandemic will hurt all districts, but the pain must be distributed equitably, not equally.”
In order to accomplish the proper funding of Gateway City school districts, Revere and other districts will need a strong fiscal commitment from the legislature and the Governor’s Office.
“We believe this can be accomplished through a combination of recommendations outlined,” said the letter.
The recommendations from Revere officials and officials in other cities and towns include;
Tap into the $3.48 billion “rainy day fund” to maintain the fiscal stability of the Commonwealth.
Increase taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest to 8.95% so the wealthy will pay their fair share. This would raise $1 billion per year.
Return the corporate tax rate to 9.5%, which would raise $500 million per year.
Close the tax loophole on GILTI (Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income) to prevent companies from offshoring their patents and trademarks in order to avoid taxes, which would raise over $400 million per year.
Halt the implementation of the charitable deduction in 2021, preventing the rich from writing off their large donations, many of which go to well-endowed universities and other wealthy nonprofits. This would save the Commonwealth $300 million.
Gradually decrease state contributions for communities that spend above 120% of required spending and also have rates of economically disadvantaged and English Learner students well below the state average. This includes gradually reducing the minimum state contribution from 17.5% of foundation for the wealthiest cities