Marty Walsh, others again go to bat for higher school funding
The effort to overhaul school funding in the state is expected to receive a big boost Wednesday when Mayor Martin J. Walsh plans to throw his support behind a revamped bill that could provide hundreds of millions of additional dollars to public schools.
The legislation would guarantee a minimum amount of state aid to all school systems statewide — a measure that Walsh unsuccessfully sought to include last summer in a bill that ultimately ended in a legislative stalemate.
Walsh is scheduled to appear at a State House press conference Wednesday with key legislative leaders, including Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat who cochairs the Joint Education Committee, and other local leaders and advocacy organizations to unveil the legislation, entitled the Promise Act.
The push comes as Brockton and other school systems are contemplating a lawsuit against the state for allegedly failing to live up to its constitutional duty for to fund education adequately, while Governor Charlie Baker vowed this month that he would file his own bill on school funding.
“You can’t shortchange our kids,” Walsh said Tuesday during a City Hall media briefing. “You can’t shortchange educational opportunity.”
So far, the measure backed by Walsh and Chang-Diaz, who has been pushing to update the funding formula for the last eight years, appears to have the broadest support. Representatives from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, Massachusetts Teachers Association, Massachusetts Association of School Committee, the Boston NAACP, and other organizations are expected to speak at the press conference.
“There are a lot of districts working hard to make magic out of what they have, sort of MacGyvering it out there with some duct tape and spit and making some amazing things happen,” Chang-Diaz said.
But, she added, that approach is not sustainable and school districts need financial relief immediately.
The effort to overhaul school funding has been gaining steam since a legislative commission in 2015 found that the state’s 26-year-old funding formula had been underestimating the cost of schooling by hundreds of millions of dollars.
The current formula is based on a so-called foundation budget that attempts to predict the cost of educating each district’s students and a municipality’s ability to pay, weighing such factors as property values, municipal revenue growth, and income levels.
But the formula’s inflation mechanism failed to keep pace with the growing cost of education, forcing local communities to shoulder more for employee health insurance, special education, and specialized programs for low-income students and those with language barriers.
The legislative commission recommended revising the cost estimates to reflect true spending levels — a move embraced in the Promise Act.
A legislative fix was making headway on Beacon Hill last summer, with both House and Senate passing their own versions of a school funding bill, but a conference committee was unable to reach a compromise before the legislative session ended.
Walsh at the time expressed concern the bills could potentially leave the Boston school system with even less state aid.
Boston has argued for years that the state’s formula penalizes the city for having a large property tax base, strong municipal revenue growth, and spending well above state minimum levels on education.
Making matters worse for Boston, if the state increased the foundation budget levels on which the formula is based, the per-student tuition amounts to charter schools would have gone up, too.
The state covers charter costs by redirecting state aid from a municipality to the charter schools their students attend, and in Boston most state aid already goes to the charters.
In an effort to expand public support, the superintendents association has organized a series of forums, which began Tuesday night in Malden, to advocate for overhauling the school funding formula. Brockton and other districts also have been sponsoring forums.
“We must find ways to expand access to educational opportunities for all our students, teach viable work-related skills, and most importantly, ensure we include students in the bottom of the income bracket,” Tom Scott, the association’s executive director, said in a statement. “The Massachusetts economy is dependent on all of us to insure all students have the skill set for today’s workplace.”
Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke and Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera joined Walsh on Tuesday to advocate for changing the formula. Burke said superintendents every year are left with the same question — how are we going to pay for education — while often having to make some painful budget cuts.
“We really are just juggling dollars,” she said. “We really need the whole team to come together and do what is right for all children in the Commonwealth.”