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Brockton officials plan to sue state for education aid

Budget formula is outdated and does not keep up with special ed. and ELL costs

Karen Morales

Elected officials in Brockton are gearing up for a potential lawsuit against the state to increase education funding for district schools after the school committee voted unanimously in favor of entering the lawsuit in February.

School Committee members say the state has been inadequately funding the rising costs of social services, English language learning instruction and employee health benefits.

While a new bill proposed by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, called “An Act Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century,” is currently under review by the House and Senate, the Brockton school committee is hoping their legal action will finally get the attention of Governor Charlie Baker.

“We reached out to the state, the secretary of education, the governor’s office and commissioner of education and we’ve gotten absolutely nowhere,” said Thomas Minichiello, vice-chair of the Brockton school committee. “The state is not cooperating and it seems like a lawsuit unfortunately, is the only mechanism to get a type of reaction.”

Addressing inequity

The lawsuit would in many ways be a re-trying of the 1993 landmark case, McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education, which resulted in the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Formula, but legislators and educators say the formula needs to be updated to keep up with modern and equitable education costs.

The independent Foundation Budget Review Commission released a report in 2015 that found that the Commonwealth underestimates the cost of education by $1–$2 billion every year.

“The formula now does not adequately address the funding issues that gateway communities like Brockton need to fund education,” said Minichiello. “Our ELL and special education populations are exploding.”

He added, “For the last four years, our budgets have been receding every year. Although the state says they’re funding education on a higher level, the expenses every year are far exceeding the percentage of increase that our budget receives from the state.”

According to Minichiello, other cities such as Worcester and Taunton have shown interest in joining the lawsuit.

When the Chapter 70 formula was implemented in 1993, it was intended to have an equalizing effect across all school districts in the state, regardless of wealth distributions.

It takes into account the ability of each local government to contribute by multiplying the number of students at each grade level and demographic group such as household income level, by a set of education spending categories like teacher compensation, and adding the two together.

Then, once this “foundation budget” is established, expressed as cost-per-pupil, the state calculates each city and town ‘s ability to contribute local revenue towards education and then provides aid to fill in the gap.

However, since the local contribution is calculated with the required minimal amount, some wealthier districts contribute more than the minimum, which the formula does not account for. Thus, as educators, parents and students have attested, education inequality still persists throughout Massachusetts.