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Governor weighs in on education funding

Baker’s bill includes gradual funding increase, allows greater state intervention

Trea Lavery
Governor weighs in on education funding
Gov. Charlie Baker visits Shawsheen Regional Technical High School in Billerica. PHOTO: Governor’s Office photo by Zac Thurlow

Governor Charlie Baker has announced an education finance proposal that would fund the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission in the fiscal year 2020 state budget.

The bill, filed Wednesday, would boost the Foundation Budget by $1.1 billion after seven years to better support school districts across the state, with an increase of $200.3 million in fiscal year 2020, as well as provide more funding to districts with higher numbers of low-income students and English language learners.

“Our proposal updates the school funding formula to provide a quality public education for all students, particularly in school districts with the highest needs, across the Commonwealth,” Baker said in a statement.

The bill came just a couple of weeks after state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Aaron Vega filed the Education PROMISE Act, another bill that would reform the Foundation Budget.

The Foundation Budget, established by the 1993 Education Reform Act, is the formula the state uses to establish how much money is required for every student in a district to receive an adequate education, and affects how much state aid a district receives. In 2015, the Foundation Budget Review Commission released a report detailing how the formula should be changed to promote education equity.

Since the announcement of Baker’s education finance proposal, legislators and education advocates have expressed concerns that it would do too little, too late.

“It fails to correct the systemic undercounting of economically disadvantaged students. It fails to ensure that the state is a partner with all local school districts. And most shockingly, it fails to even come close to honoring the guidelines of the Foundation Budget Review Commission with respect to high-poverty districts and closing opportunity gaps,” said Chang-Diaz, Vega and other supporters of the PROMISE Act in a joint statement. “This proposal shorts each disadvantaged child by thousands of dollars compared to the recommendations of that bipartisan commission.”

Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools and leader of Fund Our Future, said that Baker’s proposal was simply too slow to effectively combat the problems current students are facing.

“Baker’s proposal makes a dent in the problem, but today’s college-aged students have suffered with underfunded public schools and colleges their entire life,” Guisbond said. “With Governor Baker’s proposed seven-year phase-in, today’s sixth-graders would face the same fate.”

The seven-year implementation would follow the same timeline as the original Foundation Budget implementation established by the 1993 Education Reform Act.

A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said that Baker’s proposal would fully implement the recommendations of the FBRC and increase state funding progressively depending on the needs of each district. In addition, 85 percent of the increase in funding would go to low-income communities.

Under the proposal, Boston Public Schools would receive an increase of over $1.2 million in state aid next year, or 24.7 percent of the city’s foundation budget. The state is required to supply a minimum of 17.5 percent of the foundation budget.

The city would also receive $10 million in reimbursements for funds lost to charter schools, a 50 percent increase.

Baker’s proposal has also drawn ire for a provision that would allow the education commissioner to withhold funding to districts that consistently underperform or fail to make changes required by the state.

“While Massachusetts public schools offer many children a strong education, that success has not reached all students,” Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said. “The measures included in the governor’s proposal will help us ensure that the Commonwealth’s most struggling schools are on the right track to offering their students a strong program and engaging instruction.”

The spokesperson for the Department of Education said that this funding would be held in a trust fund in order to incentivize reforms, and that money would not be taken out of classrooms, only central administration.

However, advocates are concerned that this part of the bill would negatively affect the districts which need the most help.

“This appears to be a lever the state could use to demand that districts implement the detrimental policies — perhaps even privatization schemes — that officials such as Education Secretary Jim Peyser have long supported,” the Massachusetts Teachers Association said in a statement. “These could include forcing districts to accept new charter school seats or establishing takeover zones, rather than implementing changes that educators and parents in the district believe are needed.”

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