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Senate approves education funding reform, bill moves to House

Karen Morales
Senate approves education funding reform, bill moves to House
Students from Brockton High School stand in front of State House in support of education funding reform. Banner Photo

The Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously last Thursday to pass An Act Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century, which would update the state’s 25-year-old education funding formula.

Brockton Public Schools superintendent Kathleen Smith speaks to reporters outside the State House. Banner Photo

The reform bill S.2506 was introduced by Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and co-sponsored by 36 senators. It would implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) which found that the foundation budget formula is underestimating education costs by $1 billion to $2 billion every year.

The bill will now move to the House of Representatives.

“For years now, our schools have been suffering death by a thousand paper cuts, and it’s long past time we right this wrong. Schools and families shouldn’t have to lawyer up to get a quality education for their children,” said Chang-Díaz, who is also the senate chair of the Joint Committee on Education.

“In Massachusetts we strive for a fair and equal education system, not as an ideal, but as a reality,” said Senate President Harriette Chandler. “This is an immensely important bill for our schools, large and small.”

Growing costs

The 1993 Education Reform Act was intended to ensure every student in the state would receive a quality education by reimbursing local school districts for the cost, but in 2015, the FBRC found that the actual costs of employee health insurance and special education services have surpassed the assumptions built into the current budget formula.

As a result, school districts across the state have had to implement budget cuts, disproportionately affecting immigrant, English language learning and special education students.

More than 50 school committees across the state have passed resolutions supporting the reform. 

Since February, the city of Brockton has been gearing up for a potential lawsuit against the commonwealth as an immigrant gateway community that has seen education expenses increase over the last four years, with state funding barely keeping up.

Facing an $8 million to $9 million budget deficit heading into next fiscal year, a group of students, school committee members, city council members and school administrators from Brockton arrived in school buses last Thursday at the Statehouse during the Senate session.

Brockton Public Schools superintendent Kathleen Smith arrived with the group and spoke to reporters outside the State House.

“One of the things, if you look back at the original education reform, is that there was a  mechanism to review this every five years,” Smith said. “My understanding is that this did not happen, and over the years, there were higher costs for special education, health care insurance, inflation rates, and English language learners.”

“What they [the FBRC] handed us are recommendations that have been here for at least four years — it’s time to move forward with them,” said Smith.

Aldo Petronio, chief budget officer for Brockton Public Schools, said that the budget formula did not take into account the city’s undocumented immigrant student population. “We want them to be properly included in the budget. If they aren’t on those state assistance plans, they aren’t included as a low-income student,” he said.

Patrick Driscoll, a freshman at Brockton High School, came with the group last week to support the passage of the bill.

“We shouldn’t be getting the same funding as Wellesley — we should be getting more support,” he said, while also noting that class size at his school has gone up to 35 students.

Back on the senate floor that day, Chang-Díaz addressed her colleagues. “The promise of a quality education is not just one we made to our districts as elected officials. And it’s not just one we made to our children,” she said. “It is a promise that runs to the very heart of who we are as a commonwealth.”