Education Aid Bill Released

Today, the legislature’s Education Committee released the Student Opportunity Act, a very significant education reform bill.  It is an especially promising bill because the House and Senate leadership teams are already in agreement on all of its details. 

The bill targets more aid to communities with the highest concentrations of low income students, but schools in every community will benefit.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) computes a budget for each school system in the state, known as the “Foundation Budget.”  DESE also computes an amount that the school system should be able to contribute towards that budget. The state then sends the difference between what the community can afford and the Foundation Budget as education aid.

Unfortunately, the Foundation Budget computation has not kept up with rising school costs.  On average, communities need to spend approximately 30% more than the Foundation Budget to run their schools.  The poorest communities in the state are unable to spend at that level and are therefore spending much less than the more affluent communities in the state.

In 1993, Massachusetts was among the first states to recognize its duty to assure that all communities are able to provide an adequate education and to adopt an education aid formula designed to level spending upwards.   The failure of the Foundation Budget to keep up with real costs has eroded that commitment to equality of educational opportunity.

The bill released today implements the recommendations of a commission that studied the real costs of school systems and recognized that the Foundation Budget is inadequate in four different categories: employee health care costs, special education costs, costs of teaching English as a second language, costs of educating low-income students.

The costs of health care and special education are readily documented and there has been little controversy about the increases needed in these categories.  While the costs of instruction for English Language Learners are more difficult to quantify, negotiators agreed relatively quickly on appropriate increases in this category.  It was more difficult to agree on the additional costs of educating low-income children.

The increment necessary to support the education of low-income children is, in fact, an unknown. Low income level is a proxy for a whole host of social and economic challenges which children may face.  We have so far not done enough to help children overcome these challenges; wide gaps in achievement levels persist between richer and poorer districts.

While an individual lower-income child is likely to face special challenges, their needs are magnified in districts where most of the other children also have low income.  The current Foundation Budget already recognizes this reality, but the new bill will greatly increase the budget multiplier for the most disadvantaged districts.   In those districts the amount budgeted per child will be approximately twice the budget in the most affluent districts.

In addition to making these fundamental changes in the Foundation Budget, which will be phased in over seven years, the bill responds to concerns that communities have not been fully reimbursed for the costs of charter schools and the costs of special education transportation. 

The state has consistently failed to reach 100% funding of its commitment to transitional reimbursement to school districts like Boston where many students choose charter schools. The bill contemplates a three-year phase-in of full funding for charter school reimbursement.

In some cases where special education students need to be transported out of district, the costs of transportation can approach or exceed the costs of the special education.  The bill would include transportation costs among the costs for which a community can be reimbursed through the special education “circuit breaker”. This change would be phased-in over four years.

All together, at full implementation, the school aid increases due to all these changes will be approximately $1.5 billion per year over and above projected aid levels under current law.  For the communities most in need which benefit most, the effect could be transformative, and all communities will experience relief from chronically rising costs.

Much more work remains to be done.  Both branches need to pass the bill and controversies may surface.  However, the emergence of a negotiated draft is good news for all school districts and represents huge progress towards equality of educational opportunity.

While I have not yet seen district-specific projections based on the final bill, my analysis of similar proposals suggests that the three communities I represent will be well served by the bill: Belmont, Watertown and Boston.

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Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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20 Comments

    1. Boston schools change superintendents more often that most people change their underwear. Throw as much money as you want at Boston, but it will do little good.

      Forced busing led to many people leaving Boston.

      Was busing a wise move by “progressives” (actually, regressives)? No.

  1. Yes, thank you Senator Brownsberger. This is excellent news, and I am hopeful this bill will pass. I do believe this will tremendously help all communities. Keep up the good work!

    1. Will, this is great news and great progress. I have been a teacher (still in service) since 1971 and I worry about who will fill the teaching jobs going forward.
      It’s not an attractive profession these days. Who will implement this in classrooms? Will there be active recruiting that includes financial and frontline support to entice young people to the work and keep them there?

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful recap of the complexity of what needs to be considered to update the formula. Helps to explain why it’s taken so long to do!

  3. Mille Grazie, Will, for informing us about this Bill. It is indeed “transformative”. Education is a significant way to lift
    poor people out of poverty.
    Let us know when we should start advocating for it.
    Anne Covino Goldenberg

  4. Can you say more about ” transitional reimbursement to school districts like Boston where many students choose charter schools.” What are the things covered by transitional reimbursements and how long is the transition period?
    Thanks,

    Kiril

  5. My impression is that billions of Massachusetts tax dollars have already been thrown at under-performing students and schools for perhaps 60 years with little effect.
    Take forced busing, for example: a total failure, pushed by people like Will Brownsberger due to “White guilt”. That cost, what – 500 million and millions of wasted hours riding on buses?
    Now the Boston schools are nearly all minority because people like Will wanted revenge against Whites.
    At what point are we going to have success?
    “Never” because money has proved not to be the answer to under-performing students and schools.
    I don’t have the answer, but I know it’s not money.
    Money does, however, soothe the consciences of White Liberals who have fled to nearly all-White communities (like Belmont) but drive into minority neighborhoods once in a while for kicks.

  6. Glad to see thing are progressing on this bill. Please continue to advocate for a swift passing. The highest needs children in our community have waited far too long for the opportunities that will result from this investment.

  7. It is quite obvious that the poorer communities will never catch up to the affluent ones regarding school funding and therefore the children in the poorer communities will never catch up and the wealth gap will continue. With this new bill (a few more pennies given to the poorer communities) very little will be accomplished so if the people of Massachusetts really want to solve this problem then they need to perform a root cause analysis as to why the students in poorer communities cannot met the educational achievements of the wealthier ones and then determine a solution to find to the problem. More money may help but it has not doe much in the past!

    1. The increase in funding proposed by this bill is a great deal more than “a few more pennies.” An increase in funding this large could be truly transformative.

      Having said that, you’re absolutely right that spending more on childhood education is not enough. For one thing, we need to be spending more on a lot of other social issues in addition to education. Homelessness, hunger, drug addiction, the carceral system, segregated neighborhoods, and uneven and inadequate public transit all contribute to worse educational outcome for children. We need to do more to educate parents. There are a lot of things that are proven to help that we’re not doing.

      However, the most significant factor in the quality of schools and the success of their students is something that we have been trying, and failing, to address for decades: fully integrated schools do better than segregated schools.

      Dee is right that whites fled the Boston Public Schools when they were integrated. That’s not the fault of integration or busing, it’s the fault of the racist white people who chose to flee rather than allow their kids to attend school with Blacks and Hispanics.

      Recent moves by BPS to return to a neighborhood schools model and to try to put kids in schools closer to their homes has made the problem worse. While there are good reasons to do those things, the fact of the matter is that Boston’s neighborhoods remain heavily segregated, so when we send kids to school close to where they live, the schools end up segregated as well.

      The data we have indicates that the only way to integrate schools that is effective in the long-term is to make the schools good enough that white parents choose to send their kids there rather than paying tuition to send kids to private schools. And guess what? That requires spending more money on the schools, which brings us full circlc back to this bill.

      I highly recommend everyone listen to this (and the “Part 2” after it) if you haven’t already:

      https://www.thisamericanlife.org/562/the-problem-we-all-live-with-part-one

      It is an amazing deep dive into this problem.

      1. Boston’s schools are not “segregated”. Look up the definition and please stop misusing the term for your own political purposes.
        Anyway, the Boston Globe reported that 87% of the students there are minorities.
        Forced busing helped make it this way.
        You “progressives” will never stop with your social engineering, will you?

    1. If revenue growth continues more or less as it has, the spending increases can be funded from natural increase, by prioritizing education spending. Worst case, recession hits hard. In that case, the roll out may be delayed, but we will stay the course. There was a 2006 reform of the formula that was slated for a four year roll-out. With the great recession, it took ten years, but we got there. Hopefully, with the next recession, we won’t get hit as hard as we did in 2008 through 2010.

      1. Are the funding amounts specified in the bill linked to inflation, such that if it does take longer than planned to get to full funding, the final, full funding amounts will be equal in real dollars to what was originally intended?

  8. Thanks for that very clear break-down. It sounds great and long overdue.
    I like especially funding needier schools and allowing for more replacement
    funds for money used up by nonpublic schools.

  9. I appreciate this summary of events, thank you. BPS is pretty much criminally underfunded and anything which rebalances this is an improvement.

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