The Education Aid Conversation for FY17

Chapter 70 — General Education Aid

Over the next few weeks, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will finalize the data underlying the Chapter 70 education aid distribution for next year and begin to explore options for tweaking the distribution formula. Over the past few years, I’ve been particularly concerned to influence the Chapter 70 formula to address the shortfall that Watertown has experienced. In Fiscal 2013, Watertown was receiving only 12.4% of its foundation budget in Chapter 70 aid, well below the target level of 17.5% set in the 2006 education aid reforms. In that year, that percentage gap meant that Watertown was underfunded by $1.38 million.

Watertown was not alone in being short-changed. The fiscal crunch of the recession prevented the state from meeting its commitments to increase underfunded communities. Every fall, Representatives Hecht and Lawn and I engaged with the Governor’s Administration and Finance team to make sure that they understood the larger issue and how it affects our communities. The Patrick administration did make considerable progress on the issue over the last few fiscal years. By FY2016, Watertown and other short-changed communities were lying much closer to their appropriate levels on the aid curve.
However, Watertown is still about $323,000 short of where it should be. (Belmont is closer, only $90,000 short, and Boston lies above the curve.) This fall we will continue our efforts to bring communities that are below the curve up to their target levels. The Governor and his Administration and Finance team will have the final call on what the distribution looks like in his budget draft that will come out in January. Because it is a significant cost item to fix all communities that are under the curve — approximately $45.6 million — it is very desirable for the Governor’s draft to solve the problem. Although the legislature has the power to adjust the distribution, it is difficult to reallocate the money to make an adjustment of that magnitude.

Special Education Aid

In the budget process, I always make special education aid a top priority, as it benefits all of my communities — Belmont, Watertown and Boston — more than other programs do. The Special Education Circuit Breaker allocation is based on actual out-of-district special education expenditures. It is not weighted towards communities with limited ability to fund education. So, since all of my communities are relatively healthy economically, one dollar of additional spending on the special education formula benefits them more than one dollar of additional spending on the Chapter 70 formula, which is primarily designed to benefit the communities with more limited resources. Over the last few years, we have been able to fund the Special Education formula at or near its maximum statutory level, up substantially from a low after the recession. Making sure this account keeps up with cost growth will remain a top priority. I will also push to address the under-recognition of the cost of special education identified by the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

Watertown has uniquely high spending in the special education context, perhaps as a result of families choosing to locate near the world-renowned Perkins school in Watertown. Representative Hecht developed special language for communities with extraordinary spending which I have fought to fund at a high level in the Senate Budget. In the FY16 budget, the Senate adopted an amendment raising funding for this language to $500,000. I will continue to press for strong funding of this language in Fiscal 2017.

Charter School Tuition Reimbursement

The education aid issue which most directly benefits Boston is the partial reimbursement to district schools that lose education aid as a result of students leaving to go to Charter Schools. I have also made this a budget priority and have co-sponsored the amendments offered by Senator Chiang Diaz to raise this item.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

33 replies on “The Education Aid Conversation for FY17”

  1. yes, I know everyone is afraid but law enforcement budgets in all towns are way over-funded and should be cut for other needed resources.

    1. Regionalization of fire services needs to be seriously considered as well, especially in small rural communities. It only gets lip service now.

      1. Regionalization makes a ton of sense but it is very hard to implement — ultimately, it depends on collaboration between the existing separate departments to work out the details and the process of regionalization usually breaks down. I’ve initiated it several times at the local level only to see it founder.

  2. As far as I can see, we need more alternatives to standard public school systems. I think the way we run public schools is hopelessly antiquated. Yet, there are so many interests involved that want to keep it in place, grinding along, that trying to change it through endless ‘reform’ efforts have not accomplished much. Will, I know it’s hard to do much where you sit, because of all these traditional interests fighting to hold back change, but please support home based education, chartered schools, independent schools, and other ‘outside the box’ innovative organizations that are coming along to replace the existing system.
    This change is going to happen, in my opinion, no matter what. The world around us is evolving rapidly, whereas our school systems are standing still. Education has to diversify or die. If we fight diversification, then we will be ill prepared to support and monitor it effectively as it comes along.
    For example, the taxi industry has become increasingly poorly managed over the past few decades. Service went downhill while fares went up. But we somehow never did much about it. The taxi industry and government were too closely entwined. Then Uber and Lyft came along and ‘wham!’ suddenly a whole crop of new issues arose. Now, we’re playing catch-up! I think we should be thinking ahead of the game, rather than reacting to changes after the fact.
    The conventional school system is like the old taxi industry. It’s obsolete. This trend of over-testing students is a sign of how bad it has become. It’s time to think forward, as much as possible. The fact is, there is no ‘one size fits all’ education system, either for individual students or for communities as a whole. Each community needs to adapt, as students need more choices and opportunities to be creative, set their own curriculum and agenda, lean in a more collaborative rather than competitive environment.

  3. Although Boston seems receiving fund above the line, we wonder where this money have been spent. Teachers with Sp. students are still searching for outside funds, such as Fundme and Donorschoose.

  4. Thanks for trying to increase the funding in the Watertown Public Schools. Let us know what we can do to help.

  5. Many years ago — in the 1970’s — I found myself reading up on the history of Boston School reform. I was struck and depressed to learn that people were talking about exactly the same issues in the 1920’s as they were fifty years later. Right then I lost all faith in the ability of the Boston Schools to escape this sad history and became a fan of charter schools. There comes a time when it is irresponsible not to learn from history.

  6. I realize that Watertown schools have always been under funded. Your efforts are greatly welcomed.

  7. Hi Senator Brownsberger:

    As a veteran special educator of title 1 school districts it is particularly informative to note the allocations of funds by chapter 70. I hope to research more in preparation for next year. You have pointed out that there is hope for progress in the planning stage. You have pointed out to me, specifically, that there is hope in planning ahead to next year.

    As a private tutor I see that Watertown and Belmont may be my stomping ground or high visability market for the regular education student who is not quite ready for special education. Boston may need my ELL and special education background as will many classrooms in several locations. Lets strengthen our charter schools, too. You help is always appreciated!!

  8. I want to add to my post. My apologies for the typo, (I do catch these.)

    On the rise, to make noteworthy are children on the autism spectrum, which means spreading out funds all over the grade levels. Consider me as an alternative.

    You will find me in the libraries.
    I will give a complementary lesson to grades Pre-K-eight with or without special learning needs.

  9. How about relief from unfunded mandates These shortfalls get picked up by the property taxpayers with a regressive tax.

  10. Education is a very important concern of mine. So I am glad to hear what you and Senator Hecht are doing to improve funding these programs. I like your priorities, Will. Stay on this path.


  11. As always, thank you, Will, for your thoughtful and informative comments. We are so fortunate to have you working for us and for our children and grandchildren.

  12. Thanks for all you do Senator. The $500,000 for extraordinary relief when spread amongst the communities that apply for it each year is a mere drop in the bucket, however. It should be tenfold that. There also needs to be consistency in the formula, from year to year, by which communities (school districts) apply for it. Another unfunded area is special education transportation. The high cost of transportation encourages districts to set up wholly inadequate programs (under the guise of inclusion) for students that should and deserve to be in highly specialized programs.

  13. would watertown be better served with charter schools? we know the teachers unions don’t. mr,Hoover and friends

  14. I am intensely disturbed by the level of racial segregation present in both the Watertown and Belmont school districts. As a resident of Watertown I am worried my tax dollars are perpetuating a separate and unequal education for African-American children of our city that disproportionally robs them of their potential, as well as raising local children without the diverse interactions that would lead them to grow up to see people as diverse individuals. What are you doing to reduce the racial segregation in the local school systems?

    1. I understand your concern but somehow dis-agree.

      Education is 20% society and 80% family based. It is kind of irresponsible to blame on the society only.

      With that being said, I support for Affirmative Action, but it should be based on income level instead of racial preference.

      By providing preferred access to kids with African American or Latin-American backgrounds, not matter if they have financial resources or not, what are we doing to the financially disadvantaged White and Asian American kids?

      This is a bigger form of social un-justice, their educational opportunities are deprived both by their financial status and racial status.

      1. Dear Senator

        I agree. I also think that affordable housing should be allocated based on economic hardship , not based on racial preferences .

      2. Dear Senator,

        Just one more point that may not be politically correct.

        There will never be enough affordable housing. No matter how hard the government will be providing at the expense of TAX PAYERS.

        Let’s face it, who don’t want free housing with subsidized/free utility? it is the laziness in every human nature.

        We can keep expanding the affordable housing and eventually put all citizens into “affordable” housing.

        Sounds like Utopian, correct? then there will also be very few tax payers willing to work hard. The whole system (no matter how socialism it might be) will break eventually.

        American spirit is about working hard, not about asking hard.

        Please take this as a joke. But since there will never be enough affordable housing (or welfare ), it is more important to design a welfare system (affordable housing ) that minimize fraud to help the truly needed. And the allocation of affordable housing should be based on financial difficulty or physical limit, not on racial preferences.

        Can you please provide some statistics about:

        What is the average time a family stays in affordable housing?
        Do they stay qualified? Is there any process to check their qualification every year?

        I am all about helping the poor. But does providing affordable housing to them actually provide or reduces the incentives for them to work hard?

        Enough bold word said and wish you an enjoyable long weekend ( and Columbus day )

  15. Thank you for this report. I will need to examine it in more detail.

    My concerns stem from the fact that a call can be placed to the Superintendent’s Office to inquire as to their insight on external and/or after-school programs to improve reading literacy. Unfortunately, no response ever came from the Superintendent’s office on this issue. How can parents help to improve the quality of their education if those in charge of it are not equally invested?

    Willing and able school reading specialists would be happy to help provide after-school assistance but such help is disallowed. I understand the conflict of interest issues but if parents are willing to pay for it and there are no alternatives, what is the harm? This would also help to reinvest dollars out of pocket directly into the school community as opposed to funding external models elsewhere.

    My other concerns with respect to the budget shortfall stems from the fact that a child can be dropped off at the school with absolutely no English fluency. Welcoming such students makes for a great diverse community which we embrace, but at the same time resources need to be put in place to help the child and the classroom be successful. Is there an ESL immersion program that helps? Perhaps so, but I have no idea. How many educational dollars are spent to catch up other students versus having other students excel ahead of the curve?

    Tough issues and questions but I appreciate your office embracing the challenge to answer them. Diversity helps to make the whole better than the sum of its parts. Funding sources and innovative thinking just need to help adequately support it.

      1. Thanks for the response. Do the “conflict of interest rules” get set by the school district or by the state in providing the funding? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a combination of both but perhaps not.

        There must be some way to encourage the use of school resources (rooms, educators, etc.) to develop after-school learning programs for reading comprehension, ESL, etc. Additional funds creating prototype models for such usage might be an answer.

        I will look into the school committee response regarding the allowance of using resources (rooms, educators) after school for an agreed upon fee so thank you for that insight.

        1. I spoke with the Superintendant’s office, Special Education Coordinator, School Special Education Coordinator, and then the Guidance Office.

          It sounds like there are some restrictions attached to legislature approved state funding for schools. Parents are unable to approach reading specialists for example to provide additional after-school help for an agreed amount. This is my interpretation from my discussions and can best be described as a conflict of interest rule.

          I understand the basis and rationale for this, but I think it handcuffs parents and educators from seeking additional ways to improve student learning advances. It also leads to me spending money at a for-profit and/or outside entity for supplemental learning as opposed to reinvesting it in an after-school setting within the community.

          1. Conflict of interest rules — if that is what is involved — are set out at a high level by state law and fleshed out in detail by the State Ethics Commission.

            I think I understand the issue here — reading specialists are supposed to a lot for the kids. If they were allowed to also do private work for the same kids, that would give them a lot of incentive to charge for stuff they are supposed to do anyway. The rule may come from several levels of law.

            1. Again, I understand the rationale.

              However, the resulting scenario is as follows:
              -Parents who desperately want to help their child succeed in school and are willing to invest in helping to achieve that end.
              -Zero insight as to potential supplemental reading help provided from the school system due to perceived liability issues from referrals.
              -Lack of continuity in providing reading assistance to the child if a supplemental program is even found.
              -A likelihood a child might be kept back in school which would cost the school system more money, resource allocation, etc. which could have been avoided had there been a supplemental reading program either through the school or coordinated through the school.

              This is precisely why public schools are struggling. There has to be a better way.

              From what I have seen with reading specialists in particular is their interest and satisfaction in helping children excel in an area of previous difficulty. There has to be a balance in allowing such programs to proceed after school.

              This is both a problem and a lost opportunity:
              ==> spending money at a for-profit and/or outside entity for supplemental learning as opposed to reinvesting it in an after-school setting within the community<==

  16. 25 Avon Road, Watertown, MA. I have just learned that Wednesday the supplemental budget will include $600,000+ for “educational” zip line in Sandwich, when Watertown needs ESL and special ed funding for a diverse, inclusive town! To add insult, the money was earmarked for non profit Heritage but is run by a for profit adventure park.Construction to be done by brother of insider who earmarked it. Please stop this abuse!

      1. I’ve done some further research on this. It is incorrect that the construction is being done by the brother of the Senator who is sponsoring it. I don’t think there is any of that kind of corruption in this instance. I gather that has been alleged by local opponents of the project but it is not correct.

        I also understand from Senator DeMacedo that the funding does, indeed, benefit the non-profit Heritage park which most people in Sandwich feel positive about and view as a desirable tourism investment. I gather the funds will be used for a parking lot. I’m not aware of the involvement of a for-profit company in the operation, but, for better or worse, there are often partnership projects between for-profit and non-profit entities.

        I think it is fair to question infrastructure investments to enhance tourism, but there is a lot of that on the Cape. It’s not something I would advocate for, but at this small scale in another Senator’s district, it is not something I would push back on.

  17. Hi Will,
    Charter schools really do take the top students and give them right back to us when they do not do well. Thanks for supporting Boston Schools.

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