Currently, many educational mandates are funded subject to appropriation and are often not funded at promised levels. Additionally, the outdated foundation budget formula results in assessments for educating students well below real world costs. These two dynamics result in funding shortfalls which cascade down to the local municipalities. In wealthier districts, those local municipalities are able to make up the gap, but in lower-income districts – which include many in Western Mass – communities are not able to raise sufficient amounts for school budgets. This causes severe underspending on core expenses – to levels well below what the foundation budget specifies. This means many of our schools don’t have the resources they need to implement effective strategies that could help all children succeed.
This underfunding is evident in the “above minimum” spending by local communities beyond the Chapter 70 minimum budget. From a recent report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy center: “In 2016-2017 districts spent $2.46 billion (23.3 percent) more than their requirement across the state, with the median district spending 29 percent more. This pattern provides clear evidence that district decision-makers find the current funding amounts in the foundation budget inadequate to meet the needs of their schools.” *1
To fix these shortfalls and bring our schools back up to the level of support and funding intended by the Education Reform Act the state should earmark funding specifically for educational mandates like transportation and special education – similar to what the millionaire’s tax was intended to accomplish. This would hopefully remove the uncertainty around annual school budgets for local committees and towns.
Steps should also be taken to ensure that the foundation budget calculus is regularly and systematically reviewed to ensure it is kept up to date with inflation and the other operational costs of educating our students. Even though the intent for such regular review exists in state law currently, political will and advocacy appears necessary to effectuate such action. This may require specific language on some legislation, perhaps as part of the implementation of any changes to Chapter 70.
Additionally, we agree with the assessment of the State Auditor’s report *2 which generally finds that regional school districts are suffering from funding shortfalls due to declining enrollment, inadequate aid and reimbursement from the state, and local member town budget issues. We also agree with the recommendations in that report to fully fund transportation and implement the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations.
Finally, we believe that no private charter schools should receive public funds. The argument that students need access to “good private schools” just means than they are leaving struggling schools, and taking desperately needed funding with them. Stop funding charters, start funding struggling schools. It is our position that this is an issue of human rights and social and economic equality and should not be continued on any level.