For the better part of the past year Revere School Superintendent Dianne Kelly 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The outdated formula used to fund public schools in Revere and other school districts in low-income neighborhoods has led to budget shortfalls year after year here.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 Revere 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 Kelly and other educators 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.”
Kelly called the development ‘encouraging’ and said while some progress has been made to implement the recommendations of the FBRC–there is a long way to go before she can say Revere schools are funded adequately and equitably.
“In cities like Revere, the problems with the antiquated Foundation Budget Formula are compounded by the systemic bias that resulted from the state’s change in the definition of poverty – this issue has persisted for four years now as well,” said Kelly. “The legislature has helped us in each of these four budget cycles with transitional assistance to offset the systemic bias but I sit here today, 13 days before our students return, not knowing what that transitional assistance will be for the 2019-2020 school year.”
Kelly said two years ago Revere’s transitional assistance number was just under $4 million. Last year, the state said they had to prorate the amounts allocated to each district to just 60 percent of need as there was not enough money in the transitional assistance account.
Revere got only $1.8 million.
“Such variations have a significant impact on the services we are able to provide for our students,” said Kelly. “In relatable terms, $2 million equates to 30 teaching positions. If the goal is to do right by students who live in poverty and districts with high concentrations of poor students, this is an area where our leaders need to focus. The legislature voted the same total amount of transitional assistance $10.5 million in the FY20 budget as they did in FY19 but the state has yet to tell districts what their allocations will be.”
Kelly said it is frustrating that, for four years now, Revere Schools have been unable to use the summer months to plan effectively to meet students’ needs.
“I don’t know yet if I have the fiscal capacity to increase staffing and if, by the will of the state, we are fortunate enough to be in a position to hire, it will be difficult to find high quality candidates for any teaching or counseling positions,” she said. “We are just five months away from the Governor’s next budget proposal. I have to believe that our elected officials will use this legislative session to complete the critically important work of correcting the formula and eliminating the systemic bias in funding for poor students but what we learn in the next 8 weeks will be telling.”