Rather than one really long email about the budget this year, I'm writing 3 less long ones.
This one is about a bill the Senate passed two weeks ago that could have an important impact on future budgets.
The Foundation Budget
In 1993, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Massachusetts has a constitutional obligation to offer all children an adequate education, regardless of the wealth of their communities.
That same week, the legislature passed the Education Reform Act, which established a Foundation Budget. The Foundation Budget was based on calculations of what an adequate education would be: for example 4 teachers for every 100 middle school students, with amounts for instructional materials, administration, and other aspects.
For seven years, we kept the promise. Local aid to education increased by $1.2B per year. Three studies of MA school finance reform in the 1990s found that achievement of students in previously low-spending districts went up.
However, since then, aid to education -- Chapter 70 -- has not even increased to keep pace with inflation. We have among the greatest gaps in spending between rich and poor districts in the country. For more on the Foundation Budget, see my 2016 newsletter.
Gov. Baker promised in 2014 to increase local aid, including education aid, by 100% of revenue growth. While he has proposed increases in general local aid that match that promise, his education aid proposals have consistently been below revenue growth.In addition, his proposals always involve distributing aid in ways that don't increase equity. That is, they don't give more money to low-income, low-resourced districts than to affluent ones.
In fact, James Vaznis reported recently in the Boston Globe that "Although Baker’s proposal increases aid by more than 2 percent overall, approximately 60 percent of school systems would receive an increase of less than 1 percent in general education aid, the review found. Two school systems under state receivership, Holyoke and Southbridge , would see aid increase by a mere 0.2 percent. Southbridge may have to cut 30 positions in the coming months." Holyoke and Southbridge are among the three districts that educate the most students in poverty. They spend right at what's required by the outdated foundation; the average district spends 23% above the requirement.
Once the governor presents his budget, it is harder for the House or Senate to make major changes in the distribution, although we usually add to the total.
The bill the Senate passed two weeks ago (for the third time; the House has never done so) would update the Foundation Budget calculation with the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission Report, which found that the state has been underfunding education by over $1 billion a year. It would force the governor and legislature to be more accountable, and to face their obligation to fund education equitably and adequately.
Every year, the administration and chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means get together in December and agree on revenue estimates for the next year -- this allows them all to begin to draft budgets based on those estimates. The Senate bill would require them at the same time to make a projection of a schedule to implement the Foundation Budget.
It is time for the governor and legislature to face our constitutional obligation to educate all children equitably. I hope it will not take another lawsuit. Last time, the court process took over a decade.
We talk about holding schools and teachers accountable. It's time to hold ourselves accountable:
“If we cannot bring resources in the classroom to the foundation goal...we cannot in good faith continue to hold teachers and principals accountable for reaching the reform law’s performance goals.”
--Ed Moscovitch in Mass. Business Alliance for Education,
“School Funding Reality: A Bargain Not Kept,” 2010