Getting to yes on new education funding

Will new money come with strings attached?

STATE LEADERS appear to be serious about finally passing new legislation this year that would update the state’s education funding formula for K-12 schools. But exactly what would a new funding bill look like?

Tracy Novick of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and Liam Kerr of Democrats for Education Reform tackle that question on The Codcast. Click here to listen to their spirited conversation, which offers a preview of the debate that’s likely to unfold on Beacon Hill.

A key question will be whether the state attaches new accountability or reform conditions to any increase in funding.

Novick says districts already contend with long list of accountability provisions the state has put in place and she argues that new funding should be considered money that is owed to districts by the state, which has not maintained its constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools. Kerr says new accountability measures would be fully in keeping with the state’s partnership with districts, and says lessons learned since the 1993 Education Reform Act should be applied to ensure that new funding reaches students in classrooms and is used effectively.

In 2015, a state commission reported that the school funding formula, devised as part of the 1993 law, was now shorting districts by $1 billion to $2 billion per year because of spiraling costs for health insurance and special education as well as the costs of educating English language learners and students from low-income households.

“The role of the state isn’t just to adequately fund education. It’s also to ensure adequate education, adequate outcomes for students,” said Kerr, something he said should be part of the conversation when the state “reopens the books” with talk of new school funding.

“It’s not really ’reopening the books,’” said Novick. “It’s actually paying money that’s already owed.” Novick, a former Worcester school committee member, has a daughter who is now a senior in high school and says the state has failed to meet its funding obligation for the entire span of her education. As for accountability measures, “the requirements that are already in place are the ones that aren’t being funded, so to impose additional requirements while you’re still filling the hole that the state itself has dug — it isn’t fair,” said Novick. “It doesn’t strike me as being in keeping with the constitutionality question around funding and indeed the state’s role in education.”

“I think this goes back to, can we trust cities and school districts to get the most of out of those dollars? I’m skeptical,” said Kerr, who trots out some figures on what Brockton recently spent on a new football field ($1.5 million) compared with $1.28-per-pupil expenditures for school supplies that have been cited in talk of a lawsuit against the state over inadequate school funding.

Novick says it’s clear where the new money would go in places like Worcester, which she says is short 700 teachers based on the requirements of the funding formula.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz unveiled a sweeping funding bill last week that would implement recommendations of the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said he wants to get something done. Meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Baker plans to file his own bill later this month, legislation that is likely to include new conditions attached to the spending.

Novick and Kerr did find some common ground: Both are skeptical of a provision of the Senate bill that would guarantee communities a minimum amount of net state aid after taking into account district reimbursements to charter schools for students they educate. The provision is a huge boon to Boston and would funnel millions of added dollars to the city, but that’s money that would not be available to distribute to other communities.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Kerr thought state officials would find agreement on an updated funding law. Novick was more cautious in her assessment.

“The whole notion that somehow this needs to tie us up in another accountability fight, I think, is something that is going to make it significantly harder, because of what not just local districts, but also the local legislators, know of their own districts and the kind of costs that have been incurred” meeting current requirements, she said.