Governor announces plan to boost aid for schools
Governor Charlie Baker announced a plan on Saturday to boost state aid for public school districts to what he called historic levels, but some education advocates said the proposal doesn’t come close to providing enough money to pay for programs and services required by law.
Baker told the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Association in Boston that he intends to set aside an additional $91 million for education in next year’s budget. If approved, state funding for the 322 school systems in Massachusetts would top $4.7 billion, an increase of at least $20 per pupil, according to a statement from Baker’s office.
“We are committed to investing in our cities and towns to support their efforts to drive our Commonwealth’s economic growth and prepare our children for a successful future,” Baker’s statement said. “We are proud of the strong municipal partnerships our administration has fostered and look forward to more collaboration ahead as we strive for stronger schools and communities.”
This year’s state spending plan included more than $4.6 billion for public schools, a boost of more than $116 million or 2.6 percent, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. The aid is also known as Chapter 70 funds.
At the same meeting with municipal leaders, Baker also unveiled plans to increase state aid to cities and towns by $40 million to just over $1 billion. More details of Baker’s budget proposal are expected to be revealed this week.
Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said a spending hike of about $20 per pupil falls short of increases from previous years.
“It has been somewhere between $25 to $50 per student for the last few years, and even that has been a struggle,” Koocher said.
The formula the state uses to determine school aid hasn’t kept pace with rising costs of special education, health insurance for employees and retirees, and other programs, he said.
Koocher added that Chapter 70 funds don’t tell the whole story: He’ll also be waiting to see what Baker plans to spend to reimburse districts for students who leave for charter schools and regional transportation costs.
State lawmakers have historically been more generous with education aid, but their budget plans haven’t been announced, Koocher said.
“This is just the first inning,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”
A spokesman for House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said lawmakers will review Baker’s proposal. A spokesman for Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg declined to comment, saying his office hasn’t reviewed the plan in detail.
Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said a 2015 report prepared by a bipartisan commission of lawmakers and educators recommended about $1 billion in new state spending on the state’s K-12 education system.
State senators responded by passing legislation that called for major new investments in public education, but the bill died without a vote in the House.
Baker’s budget proposal, Scott said, might not be enough to save some school districts from spending cuts and larger class sizes.
“This isn’t a fix. It’s maintenance,” he said. “We need a much larger investment to avoid the continued decline of programs and services in our schools.”
In a statement, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang said he plans to study Baker’s plan.
Last week, Boston officials said they intend to push for legislation that would give city schools an additional $35 million in aid during the plan’s first year with the possibility of bringing in an extra $150 million if the state finds new ways to pay for education.
City public schools received $216 million in Chapter 70 funds in this year’s budget, a school spokesman said.