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Disputed analysis of proposed education funding formula shows big boost for some, not all

Fog shrouded the Boston skuline as the State House dome stood out amidst the buildings on Beacon Hill as seen from Cambridge. JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff/file

Public schools in some struggling Massachusetts cities would collectively reap hundreds of millions of dollars in new state aid over the next seven years, according to a Baker administration analysis of a bill set for Senate debate on Thursday.

But many other municipalities, while getting more education money from the state, would also be on the hook to pay more from local coffers than current law requires, according to the analysis, which the Globe obtained through a public records request and which legislative leaders dispute.

The proposed changes to the state’s education funding formula mean 20 cities and towns would see a 50 percent or more increase in state education aid between now and the fiscal year that begins in July 2026. That includes six cities — Boston, Brockton, Lawrence, Lynn, Springfield, and Worcester — that would each see more than $100 million in additional state aid in fiscal year 2027 above what they received this year. Implementation is built on a seven-year timeline under the recently unveiled legislation.

Brockton public schools would see the largest growth in state help: Its aid would surge more than 75 percent over the next seven years, according to the Baker administration analysis. By 2027, the city’s school district — which has been vocal about its struggles — would receive $140 million more in education aid.


By comparison, Brockton is receiving about 26 percent more in state aid this fiscal year than it did seven years ago.

Every municipality would see some increase in its state aid under the bill, which overall would pump an additional $1.4 billion in direct local aid to schools over the next seven years, and is part of a broader bill that lawmakers say will help lift communities across the state.

But some will see far less than others. Nearly 200 towns and cities will see their share of the state-set minimum school spending go up under the proposed legislation.


The release of the analysis prompted some hand-wringing from legislative leaders, who have not released their own estimates of how the legislation they proposed would impact individual municipalities. Lawmakers argued that the figures released by the Baker administration, which rely on assumptions about future enrollment and inflation, did not give the full picture.

Senate President Karen E. Spilka said Wednesday that the analysis was based on some “flawed” numbers and suggests bigger fiscal impacts for many towns than the bill would actually produce.

“This bill will benefit every district in the Commonwealth,” Spilka said in a statement to the Globe. The Baker administration estimates of what the fully implemented bill would be for individual towns and cities are “incomplete and therefore create needless confusion.”

At issue is the 26-year-old funding formula the state uses to set a minimum budget for what it should cost to educate students in each individual district. The complicated formula weighs a number of factors to determine the so-called foundation budget — that minimum cost — as well as determine what each municipality can afford to pay toward it. It weighs such factors as property values, municipal revenue growth, and income levels. State aid makes up the gap between that local contribution and the overall budget minimum.

The bill’s unequal distribution of benefits as reflected in the Baker administration analysis is by design. Lawmakers said their goal in overhauling the state’s school funding formula was to bridge the divide in educational opportunities between poor and affluent systems by directing more money to districts that serve greater concentrations of students living in poverty or those with language barriers.


That divide was so stark that officials in some cities had been threatening to take the state to court.

Under the proposed legislation, Boston — the state’s largest school district — would get more than $115 million more in state aid by 2027, an increase of more than 50 percent over current levels.

“We applaud the Legislature for coming up with a compromise bill that really benefits the children of Boston,” said Justin Sterritt, the city’s budget director.

The Baker administration analysis projected that overall direct state aid to towns and cities would increase $2.1 billion by fiscal year 2027 over this year’s spending. Lawmakers, while not tying any new taxes to the proposal, have not explicitly said how the extra spending would be covered in future budgets.

Still, the district-by-district numbers could concern taxpayers who live in towns that are not likely to see very much benefit from the new formula.

Grafton, a small, semi-rural town southeast of Worcester, is among those that would see the least benefit. The town’s state aid would increase by less than 8 percent, or about $880,000, over the next seven years.

At the same time, the town would be responsible for a growing portion of school spending. By fiscal year 2027, Grafton would be obligated to spend $10.4 million more on its schools than currently required, for a total local contribution of $31.8 million.


By 2027, the town would be required to shoulder 77 percent of its foundation budget, up from 67 percent now.

In other cases, the share of state aid would remain steady but the city or town would still face sizeable increases in what they would have to spend on schools due to changes in the formula.

Peabody, for instance, would need to contribute several million more dollars toward its schools under the proposed legislation.

Peabody’s local contribution would increase by 39 percent to $67.2 million from the fiscal 2020 level, according to Baker’s analysis. Last year, Peabody spent $59 million in local dollars on its schools.

Many districts — including Peabody — spend more than they are required to under the formula, which will blunt the real-life fiscal impact of the formula changes, lawmakers on Beacon Hill argue. Indeed, in many cases municipalities are contributing more than what the bill would require them to in seven year’s time.

But the decision by many districts to spend more than they’re required could change in the event of an economic downturn.

The state Senate has not publicly released its own analysis of what the legislation it plans to take up Thursday would mean for individual districts, nor has the House.

Instead, Senator Jason M. Lewis, cochair of the Joint Committee on Education, has been meeting privately with lawmakers who request the information to discuss and provide added context, such as how the dollar figures could change if inflation runs higher or lower than expected.


Representative Alice H. Peisch, House chair of the education committee, sent an e-mail to lawmakers Wednesday cautioning them “not to place too much stock” in the Baker administration analysis, arguing it lacked important context.

The analysis was done by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education after multiple lawmakers and members of the media requested it.

“The Administration satisfied those requests with the best possible analysis of this legislation making clear that the analysis is a projection based on the best available data,” Tim Buckley, a Baker senior adviser, said in a statement. “The Administration is glad to hear that the Legislature possesses additional data regarding the impact on school districts across the Commonwealth and looks forward to that information becoming available.”

Baker’s office has said it is still reviewing the legislation.

The bill also would create a fund with up to $10 million annually for grants toward school-improvement efforts; increase spending on school construction projects; and add $90 million more to a separate pot of money that reimburses districts for some tuition and transportation costs for students with profound disabilities who attend private programs.

Victoria McGrane can be reached at Matt Stout can be reached at