Advocates unhappy with education funding calculations
Questions raised about use of 2020 enrollment data
THE BUDGET BEING voted on by the House would provide more funding for K-12 education than Gov. Charlie Baker proposed – but education advocates say it doesn’t go far enough.
“The current House proposal fails to keep our promise to students, families, and our community,” said Vatsady Sivongxay, executive director of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, a teachers’ union-backed coalition of students, parents, and educators, on a Zoom press conference.
The crux of the issue is over how to reimburse districts for anticipated enrollment increases next year.
The Chapter 70 education funding formula is based on school district enrollment on October 1 of the prior year. This year, with many districts still operating remotely in October 2020 due to the pandemic, public school systems lost 37,000 students. While some students who switched to private schools are likely to remain there, other students – homeschoolers or kindergarteners who stayed home this year – are expected to return to public schools next year.
The House Ways and Means budget – which also has the agreement of Senate budget-writers – dealt with the issue by planning to create a new $40 million reserve fund to help school districts that were adversely affected by pandemic-related enrollment changes. To get the money, districts would have to show they had a reduction in enrollment in October 2020, followed by an increase in October 2021, and that volatility affected their Chapter 70 allotments. No grants would be distributed until December 1.
But teachers unions and their allies have said that is not enough money.
Christine Mulroney, president of the Framingham Teachers Association, said on the MEJA-organized call that using October 2020 enrollment data “falls short” for a community like Framingham. That month, the vast majority of Framingham students were learning remotely. Now, she said, many families are eager to send students back in person next year. The district needs money to provide additional social workers, after–school support, and other services that students need as they return post-pandemic. “We need legislators to fully fund schools by using pre-pandemic enrollment data,” Mulroney said.
An amendment to the House budget that was introduced by Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley, a Boston Democrat, would have added another $80 million to the grant fund. A separate amendment sponsored by Rep. Natalie Higgins, a Leominster Democrat, would keep the $40 million funding level, but allow some of the money to be distributed earlier, even before October if the enrollment data warrant it.
House leadership, in consolidating education-related amendments into one large amendment during Monday’s budget debate, rejected both those amendments. The consolidated amendment was approved by the House.
Sivongxay, the MEJA executive director, said the group will now turn its lobbying efforts toward the Senate, asking senators to increase funding for districts with enrollment shifts.Colin Jones, senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, estimated that another $90 million is needed above the House plan to fully fund every district’s enrollment. (Jones’s estimate uses the higher enrollment number of either 2020 or 2021 in every district.) Jones said he would prefer to see the money included in the Chapter 70 funding formula, rather than through a separate grant, since the grant program leaves districts uncertain as they plan their budgets about whether they will get additional money and how much. Baking money into the funding formula also means it will be more likely to continue in future years, rather than relying on one-time funding through a state grant or federal aid.