The taxing matter of education funding

Will lawmakers boost aid if it means new taxes?

When it comes to school funding, do we want to have our cake and eat it too? 

That’s the conclusion of an annual national poll of views on public education. According to the 51st annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, about 6 in 10 US parents say schools aren’t getting enough funding. But 7 in 10 say they’d rather see cuts in other spending than new taxes to steer more money to classrooms.  

Advocates for a long overdue revamp of the Massachusetts education aid formula expressed disappointment — and more — with the recent announcement that lawmakers would break for their August recess without a consensus bill emerging from the education committee. At one point, Sen. Jason Lewis, the co-chair of the committee, had expressed hope that legislation would be unveiled by the end of June. His House counterpart, Rep. Alice Peisch, was more circumspect about a clear timetable.

In announcing there would be no bill before the August break, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said last week, “I am hopeful that at least during this year that we will have it accomplished.” And that now passes for an optimistic timeline compared with Gov. Charlie Baker’s comments that he is “completely, utterly, and totally confident” that a bill will be passed by the end of the Legislature’s two-year session — next July. 

Why the hold up? What sort of accountability conditions, if any, to attach to new funding is one important issue to resolve. But the big divide probably comes down to money. 

There is nearly a $1 billion difference in funding between the two main bills being considered, with the so-called Promise Act sponsored by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and other liberal lawmakers designating substantially more money for districts educating low-income students than a bill filed by Baker.   

At the January rollout of the Promise Act, Chang-Diaz made an impassioned case for the funding boost — and addressed the cost issue candidly, saying new revenue would be needed to fully fund the legislation. 

How does that fit with a governor who has waved off broad-based tax increases, or a House that has also been tax-wary under DeLeo — who has already raised the prospect of considering new transportation revenue needs in the months ahead? 

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.

And does public opinion in Massachusetts line up with the PDK national poll, or is there stronger support here for new taxes for schools? In a MassINC Polling Group survey of Massachusetts voters last year, 55 percent voiced support for local tax overrides to support schools. But that’s different than raising statewide taxes to boost education aid, the lion’s share of which would be directed to districts educating lots of low-income students. 

The terms of the negotiations that have been privately taking place on Beacon Hill are clear. Where the debate will land remains a very open question.