Massachusetts lawmakers made big changes to the state’s education funding formula two years ago, boosting spending on special education, low-income students, and English learners. But key aspects of the state’s money-sharing mechanism remain unbalanced. Schools in the wealthiest communities end up with a disproportionate share of the state’s new education dollars.
A report released last week by two business groups highlights the gap and calls on lawmakers to revisit the formula. Their report suggests three ways to prevent wealthier neighborhoods from automatically receiving additional aid at the expense of others. As their analysis makes clear, lawmakers need to revisit this nearly 30-year-old formula, again, this time to ensure that government dollars are distributed fairly.
The report last Thursday revisited an analysis first published in September 2020. The pool of education funds it examines represents a significant portion of local school budgets, of the $ 7.2 million pledged to Danvers this past. school year at $ 6.9 million for Gloucester, $ 4.3 million for Newburyport and $ 9.2 million for North Andover. Funding is especially critical for cities with even larger workforces and larger low-income populations, like Haverhill, online for nearly $ 70 million, and Salem, which will receive $ 26 million, according to the Department of the state of primary and secondary education.
But even though Chapter 70 money seeks to “make up the difference between what a proper education costs and what a local community can afford,” according to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Alliance for Business Education, the allocation of a new state education funds tilt in favor of richer neighborhoods. Efforts two years ago to increase funding for education have in fact boosted state aid in certain categories at a faster rate for richer neighborhoods, “at the expense of accelerating investments in less wealthy communities, ”the groups noted.
“This is state money that could otherwise be used to accelerate increased funding to districts with higher needs that do not have the capacity to fully fund their schools,” said the director of the trade alliance, Ed Lambert, and president of the greater Boston chamber, James Rooney, wrote in the initial report, released last September. “This is funding that could be used to fill the yawning gap in opportunity and achievement for high-need and low-income students, gaps that have likely been widened by recent school closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. ”
How the state’s obscure formula for funding education actually favors the wealthier districts is not always clear.
For example, the groups find, the formula in Chapter 70 ensures that no school district receives less state education assistance from one fiscal year to the next, even if it enrolls less. students. Of the $ 5.5 billion the state will spend on local education this year, about $ 398 million is secured through this provision.
But this money is not distributed evenly on a per student basis. Out of nearly 250 districts benefiting from this provision, additional state funding amounts to $ 322 per student in wealthier districts, compared to $ 100 per student in poorer districts. . The result, then, is to channel education dollars from the state unevenly to higher income communities.
Business groups are calling on lawmakers to phase out this provision from Chapter 70 funding. They are also calling for the elimination of another provision that promises a minimum number of dollars per student, regardless of a district’s financial conditions. particular. They are also calling on lawmakers to raise the threshold for maximum local contributions to local school districts. Finally, they call for an analysis of any new public aid to education to assess the results and “determine whether unfair impacts ensue, and provide recommendations to revise the proposal so that public funding is distributed equitably”.
It is a complicated matter to delve into the nuances of the state’s education funding formula, both in terms of the complexity and the politics of pitting school districts and communities against each other. Giving more to some inherently means taking from others.
Yet the state must ensure that by distributing the funds necessary for basic education, it does not reward well-to-do neighborhoods at the expense of those at the other end of the income spectrum. It is important for lawmakers to revisit the formula to ensure that the state’s approach is balanced.