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Legislative leaders say ed. funding bill has little chance

Saphia Suarez

The new education bill that would mandate a $1 billion-plus bump to state education funding has not made any progress in the House after passing in the Senate. Last Tuesday, Rep. Alice Peisch, the House Education Committee Chairwoman, and Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, wrote a letter to their colleagues outlining the other ways in which the House is committed to increasing the education budget and supporting public education, suggesting they will not support the bill itself.

Peisch and Sánchez wrote that the House will add $222 million to their budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 for education line items and $64 million into the state budget over two years for employee health care costs.

These changes are in response to the suggestions made by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which evaluated the formula used to determine the education budget each year and found it was underestimating costs by $1 to $2 billion. This formula has not been updated since 1993, so the Commission made recommendations to update it in order to more accurately reflect the current costs of education in Massachusetts.

Funding shortfalls due to the outdated budget formula have forced school budget cuts across the state. As the demand and cost of special education programs, English language learning programs and employee healthcare coverage increases, schools have had to cut in other areas. Communities of color have been especially affected by these cuts, since special education and English language learner programs are in higher demand in the state’s urban school districts, where children of color are concentrated.

Insufficient funds

The letter also outlines the reasons the House is likely not taking up this bill, known as the Act Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century. Peisch and Sánchez wrote that “…the availability of resources and the lack of a reliable revenue source in the proposals offered remains a concern for the fiscal well-being of the Commonwealth and the numerous other vital programs serving our most vulnerable residents which would likely be impacted as a result.”

Deliberations around education spending will be determined by possible ballot questions in November. If the sales tax cut pushed by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts passes, that would take nearly $500,000 out of the state budget. The Fair Share amendment ballot initiative, which would have added $1.9 billion to the state coffers, was struck down by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court on Monday.

With state funding up in the air, there is no clear solution for from where the additional $1 to $2 billion for education that the commission suggested would come.

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