As expected, new ed funding helps Gateway Cities
But all communities benefit, even the state’s wealthiest
MASSACHUSETTS’S POOREST CITIES will receive the most new money under the first year of implementation of a new education funding formula, but even wealthy communities will see their funding increase.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal, released Wednesday, offers the first look at how the Student Opportunity Act, a landmark education funding bill signed into law last year, will impact funding levels for each district.
The law is meant to address the persistent gap in educational achievement between students in poor and wealthy districts. An analysis of district-by-district distributions shows that poor, urban school districts – many of them in the state’s former industrial Gateway Cities that are struggling to remake their local economy – will be getting the most new money.
”The calculations did what the formula has always been intended to do, which is direct additional resources to the students who need it most, in this case the Gateway Cities and the poorest cities in the Commonwealth,” said Marty Walz, the former House chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee.
The analysis only looks at the Chapter 70 funding formula, the main bucket of state aid to local schools, and does not look at other new money that districts will get under the law for special education, charter school tuition reimbursement, or from a new grant program aimed at closing achievement gaps.
Overall, Baker’s budget provides $303.8 million in new Chapter 70 aid, compared to the amount distributed in fiscal 2020.
The city that will get the biggest boost is Lynn, which will receive an additional $30.2 million. That represents a 16 percent funding hike and brings Lynn’s total aid to $216 million. Lynn is a heavily Latino community, with a high poverty rate. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, nearly 40 percent of families with children in Lynn schools receive public benefits.
Lawrence and Brockton, also poor, urban districts, will each receive around $21 million in additional money, an 11 percent funding bump for both districts.
Worcester and Springfield – the state’s second- and third-most populous cities – get the next-highest funding boosts, with $18 million and $19.6 million, respectively, in new money.
Colin Jones, senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a liberal-leaning think tank, said Gateway Cities generally receive a large portion of state education aid because local taxpayers do not have the ability to pay a lot for education. They are also the communities with large numbers of English-language learners and poor students – populations that are better funded under the new formula. He said the new funding to Gateway Cities has been needed for a long time.
“This is starting to reverse cuts, starting to add more teachers, reduce class sizes,” Jones said.
Because Boston has high property values and wealthy taxpayers, it is a minimum aid community, which means local taxpayers, rather than the state, pay more than 80 percent of the total education budget. That will continue in fiscal 2021. Boston also has declining enrollment, which affects the amount of state aid it can receive.
However, Boston also has large numbers of poor students and students learning English. Once the additional money for low-income students and English-language learners is more fully phased in in future years, Boston can expect a significant boost in state aid – an estimated $100 million more by the seventh year of implementation, according to city officials.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has pledged to use city money to increase funding for Boston’s public schools by $100 million over three years, even before all the new state aid kicks in. Boston is expected to get additional money next year from the new law due to higher reimbursements for charter school tuition.
On a percentage basis, some small towns – Hardwick, Worthington, Monroe, and New Braintree – get the biggest increases, although those districts get relatively small amounts in terms of total dollars.
Among larger districts, Quincy and Revere stand out with increases of 23 percent, or $6.5 million, and 15 percent, or $10.4 million, respectively.
Baker says his budget proposal fully funds the first of seven years of implementation of the Student Opportunity Act, with money set aside for high-poverty districts, English-language learners, special education costs, and employee health benefits.
Baker said his administration will work to ensure that each district uses the money on “proven strategies” for student success. “Providing additional funding to districts is important. It’s equally important this money is well spent,” Baker said at a press conference announcing his budget proposal.
While several advocates who helped shape the bill praised Baker for the total funding amount, they are only beginning to dig into exactly how the money is being distributed.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston, a former Education Committee chairwoman who led the 2015 commission that determined that the formula was inadequate, criticized Baker for phasing in the funding increases more quickly for English language learners, special education, and employee health benefits than for high-poverty districts.
Under Baker’s proposal, the funding increases for the first three categories will be phased in at 14 percent this year – or one-seventh of the total amount, with the expectation of a seven-year phase-in. The money for poor districts will only be phased in at 4 percent this year.
According to the Department of Education, Baker chose to phase in the high-poverty district funding more slowly because the law also changed the way poor students are counted. As a result, the state is counting nearly 47,000 additional students as low-income and paying more for them accordingly.
Chang-Diaz said the law requires all four changes to be phased in equitably, and since the achievement gap for low-income students is the “biggest and longest-standing hole,” it should ideally be addressed first, not last. “It’s not right,” Chang-Diaz said.
Worcester School Committee member Tracy Novick said she is disappointed that the low-income money is being phased in more slowly, since that is the area with the most need, and where the impact on the achievement gap could be the greatest. “If the point is about what are we doing for the kids who are neediest, this doesn’t seem to be bearing that out,” Novick said.