The Codcast: Getting to yes on new education funding

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. Their spirited conversation 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.

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.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

There is concern over the state’s growing pension liabilities, which include more than 1,000 retirees currently collecting more than $100,000 per year. (Boston Herald) Meanwhile, Boston University finance professor Mark Williams says “painful decisions” need to be made to keep the MBTA’s pension fund solvent. (Boston Globe)

A Globe editorial says it’s long overdue for the Legislature to get out of the liquor license business.

The Baker administration approved permits for a controversial Weymouth natural gas project. (State House News) The governor also let a flame retardant bill die by not signing it. (State House News)

Senate President Karen Spilka filed an ethics disclosure saying she won’t take part in any sports betting legislation related to DraftKings because her son works for the company. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston city councilors Lydia Edwards and Kim Janey are proposing a new surtax on residential sales of more than $2 million and on “flipping” of a property through two sales within two years. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

In a stunning and unprecedented development, the FBI opened an investigation of President Trump in May 2017 following his firing of James Comey, with the probe reportedly focusing on whether the president was working on behalf of Russia against US interests. (New York Times) Little record exists of several meetings Trump has had with Russian president Vladimir Putin, a situation experts also call unprecedented. (Washington Post)

Newly elected US Rep. Ayanna Pressley is looking to sell her condo in Dorchester’s Ashmont section. (CommonWealth)

The American Prospect takes stock of ExxonMobil’s Supreme Court defeat in its legal battle against Attorney General Maura Healey over company records related to climate change.

ELECTIONS

Paul Schlichtman of Arlington says it’s time to get off the ranked-choice voting bandwagon, which he says is not appropropriation for a one-and-a-half party state like Massachusetts. (CommonWealth)

City Councilor Joseph Camara on Friday became the eighth declared candidate in Fall River’s March 12 mayoral recall election. (Herald News)

In Sunday’s New York Times columnist Frank Bruni offers a lengthy warning to fellow journalists not to repeat in the 2020 campaign cycle their practice in 2016 of doing Donald Trump’s bidding by breathlessly covering every inane attack tweet he launches at opponents, all while be pilloried by the president as enemies of the people. It does not seem to be catching on, as the Globe and Washington Post both have pieces this morning on Trump’s latest racially-tinged attacks on Elizabeth Warren.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Airbnb reported a banner year in Massachusetts in 2018, with 1.2 million guests using its services. (Berkshire Eagle)

With China refusing to purchase many recycled materials, the recycling business has hit the skids. It’s now cheaper to get rid of a lot of materials as trash than it is to recycle them. (Berkshire Eagle)

EDUCATION

Experts say anti-bullying laws are necessary, but not sufficient, to stop rampant harassment of students in Massachusetts schools. (Boston Herald) In a recent survey, 15 percent of the state’s 1 million K-12 students said they had been bullied, but only 2,000 cases, representing less than 1 percent of the student population, are reported each year. (Boston Herald)

Los Angeles teachers are moving ahead with a strike. (NPR)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

There is some evidence that the state is making progress in combating the opioid crisis, with some South Shore communities recording a significant drop in overdose deaths in 2018 compared with the previous year. (Patriot Ledger)

ARTS/CULTURE

The New Bedford Museum of Glass is moving to a new location — a mansion that once belonged to one of the pioneering investors in the city’s glass industry during the 19th century. (South Coast Today)

TRANSPORTATION

Commuter rail ridership is up more than 20 percent since 2012. (CommonWealth) To ease congestion, state transportation officials are exploring the possibility of linking commuter rail lines outside the city — a sort of ring road for rail. (Salem News)

New Orange Line cars are being put through their paces during overnight test runs before the MBTA starts putting them into service, something that could happen within a few weeks. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Peter Papesch, Franziska Amacher, and A. Vernon Woodworth say it’s time for Bostonians to admit climate change can’t be beat and call a retreat to higher ground. (CommonWealth)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo says she will reluctantly support legalization of marijuana because the state is encircled by states doing so. She figures Rhode Island will face many of the costs associated with legal marijuana so it may as well recover some of those costs through its own sale process. (Providence Journal)

COURTS/CRIMINAL JUSTICE

There are more than 390,000 open warrants in Massachusetts, with cases dating back as far as the 1970s. (Enterprise News)

MEDIA

Digital First Media, a hedge-fund-backed media group known for slashing costs at the publications it has purchased (Boston Herald/Lowell Sun), has acquired a 7.5 percent stake in Gannett Co. and made an offer for the entire newspaper chain. (Wall Street Journal)

Here’s the offer letter.

The Boston Globe dumps its vice president of advertising, Michael Bentley, for failing to “create a safe, welcoming, and comfortable working environment for all employees.” (Boston Globe)

Stephen King saves freelance reviews of local books in the Portland Press Herald.