Even though the promised funding from the landmark education bill that was signed into law before the COVID pandemic hit is up in the air, Revere Public Schools are going ahead with planning for potential Student Opportunity Act Funding (SOA).
The SOA overhauled the state’s education funding formula to ensure equity for all students, especially those in low-income areas.
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 had been too small for decades.
In January 2020 Governor Charlie Baker signed S. 2412, An Act Relative to Educational Opportunity for Students, or the SOA, which would have boosted investment in public schools by $1.5 billion annually when fully phased in over the next seven years.
However, when COVID hit in March 2019 budget shortfalls pushed SOA spending to the wayside. Revere Public Schools was expected to receive over $7 million in SOA funding.
Despite the money not being in the state kitty the state still wants school districts like Revere to submit a SOA plan by the end of this week.
The plan submitted to the Revere School Committee by Revere School Superintendent Dr. Dianne Kelly last week was unanimously adopted at the meeting.
“We have to formally enter our SOA plan by January 15 and it requires a vote of this body (School Committee) before it can be submitted,” Kelly told the School Committee last week. “So it’s a bit strange that we’re submitting SOA plans and budgets when none of the money from that act materialized. In FYI21, you’ll recall, plans were due in the spring just around the time that COVID hit. We had started doing work to put a plan together and start to develop a budget. We had anticipated that we would get $7.2 million in additional funding (through the SOA). We did the work. We did a community forum. We actually had over 120 people participate and all of you were there. We set about identifying priority areas. We were able to engage the voices of teachers and parents and students, and all of you, and we’re still able to use that data to define our district improvement plan.”
Kelly said while SOA funding turned out to be a bust, Revere Schools took the draft SOA plan to identify priority areas and used grant funding Revere received through COVID relief funds to fill in the budget gaps that existed when the SOA funds dried up.
“We used Cares Act money and other grants to implement some of the priorities that came out of the working session,” said Kelly. “We were able to implement programs like the parent liaisons. Another was to create a staff position, which enabled us to really focus on the equity and inclusion work that has been a priority of this committee and also of the school department. The grant money we used really helped to formalize our equity work and get moving on our equity audit and our mental health audit that we are planning hopefully for this spring.”
Kelly said the COVID funding really bridged the gap and put some key programs into place even though Revere didn’t have SOA funding.
“I did submit a question to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education the week before the holiday asking to get some guidance on this budget, because I’d be at a loss for how I’m supposed to justify the expenditure of $7 million that we didn’t receive”, said Kelly. “They asked that our expenditures be a combination of standing expenses that we’ve been engaged in for some time, as well as new expenses. So I identified a little over $15 million in expenses that Revere used to fund the activities that are defined in our SOA plan. We identified those and isolated them for the school committee.”
Although he voted in favor of adopting the SOA plan, School Committee member Michael Ferrante had some concerns of increasing budget expenditures during a time when SOA funding is up in the air.
“We increased the budget from last year to this year roughly $1.8 million,” said Ferrante. “New positions that we’re going to be funded for FY2021 were about $600,000. And if we do not get the (SOA) money, and there are no (COVID) grants in the future how are we going to pay for all this stuff? We have new expenditures in there (the budget( that we didn’t have in there last year.”
Kelly assured Ferrante that if $7 million in SOA money for Revere never comes to fruition Revere will still have enough in the budget for the almost $2 million increase for this year.
“However, it’s going to be one of those things that if the funding doesn’t come through for a second year in a row, then we’re going to have to think about what we want to prioritize,” said Kelly. “That’s going to have to be part of our regular budgeting process. Some of the money that’s in the increase was covered under the COVID grants we got last year.”
Kelly also said, depending on how Revere closes out the school year, there might be a larger amount of money that is carried forward to next year.
For example, Revere is currently saving tons of money that has budgeted for transportation for this year. With a majority of students doing remote learning–spending on transportation has been a lot smaller than previous years.
“There’s a good chunk of money there,” said Kelly. “If we only get back to school from March until June, when we budgeted for a whole year (of transportation, there’s going to be some extra money left there.”