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Toward a more fair, compassionate school budgeting process

Ruby Reyes

The Boston Public Schools needs a new way of budgeting. Boston needs to guarantee a baseline quality of education at every one of its 127 schools with foundational school budgets, in addition to equity-based weighted student funding.

Currently, BPS does not provide school budgets based on what facilities, programs and staffing students need. The BPS budget is based on a top down dollar amount that the mayor allocates to the school department as distinct from the dollar amounts allocated to the operation of other essential city services including health and hospitals, housing, libraries, parks and recreation, etc.

BPS is experiencing enrollment decline due in part to the impact of gentrification and charter schools. But basing Boston Public School budgets for each school on the number of students through a weighted student funding formula creates a system of winners and losers and shortchanges students when the enrollment in their school dips. The impact of losing only a handful of students means school leaders have to make decisions like whether to fund or defund a social worker or a librarian or whether to pay for books or field trips.

With over $12 million dollars in budget cuts in the school system last year, Boston Educational Justice Alliance (BEJA) began a visioning process for a new way to budget. We advocated for foundational school budgets that would ensure that each school, regardless of size, enrollment decreases, wait lists or zip code would provide a foundational quality education for each student. Our Blackstone school parents, who were slated to receive a $500K budget cut last year, came up with a list of demands of what their school was missing. This began the BEJA vision — a list of staffing, programs and supports that each school needs to have — the basics of what each school should have.

The BEJA pledge includes a range of necessities, such as a comprehensive parent engagement plan that values parent leadership and curriculum that is racially/culturally responsive. Other things are still missing like reading specialists or all-gender bathrooms in each school. It is our work in progress. Some schools have a little bit of each item on the list, while others are missing close to the entire list.

Review the pledge and think about whether your children have access to these basic things in their schools. Then ask yourself if you will do something about it. Find and sign the pledge at www.tinyurl.com/BEJApledge.

How to use the pledge:

1. use as a checklist for what is missing from your child’s school;

2. talk with others about your school budgets and

3. identify the most important needs to begin advocating for them at the series of budget hearings that begin in January. 

The BPS budget must fulfill the promises made by the city and the School Committee for a quality education, regardless of the size of a school or changes in enrollment. In a city as wealthy as ours, the Boston Education Justice Alliance refuses to accept that this is the best we can do. We need fully funded schools.

Ruby Reyes is director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance.

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