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ONE OF THE NATION'S HIGHEST ACHIEVING STATES MAY GO HIGHER
Commission Calls for Better School Funding Formula in MA
BOSTON -- Massachusetts leads the nation in test scores and
is one of only four states with fair
school funding but sees the need to increase its financial support for its
PreK-12 public schools in order to provide better and more equitable opportunities
for its students.
On November 2, 2015, state education leaders released the Foundation
Budget Review Commission's report and recommendations.
This bipartisan Commission, established by the Legislature to
examine the adequacy and effectiveness
of the state's current education funding formula, found that
the way the state calculates school districts' foundation budgets---the
starting point in Massachusetts K-12 school financing---understates
the cost of educating its nearly one million students to the
tune of at least $1 billion per year.
The report focuses on four components for its financial recommendations,
which recognize national trends and urge funding for: the surge
in health insurance premiums; the actual costs of special education;
the true costs of opportunity for students learning English; and,
the higher costs for the swelling numbers of students in poverty
and concentrated poverty.
- First, it notes that current assumptions fail to take into account the national surge in health insurance premiums over the past two decades, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars being diverted out of the classroom to cover insurance premiums. As a result, many school districts are unable to provide core educational components like art, foreign languages, or professional development, or targeted initiatives to reach their most disadvantaged students. To address this, the Commission recommends that the Legislature use actual averages from the state's Group Insurance Commission---the buyer of health insurance for state employees---to set insurance costs and inflation rates in the Foundation Budget.
report's second recommendation is similar: adjust the state's
calculations to more accurately reflect the current cost of special
education. Because special
education is a federal legal entitlement, school districts must essentially
pay their special education bills first, before giving resources to other priorities.
As with health insurance, the Commission recommended more accurate projection
of special education costs in the Foundation Budget, so that money may in turn
flow to additional priorities. They estimate the increase to foundation budgets
from this recommendation to be $115 million in FY2014 dollars.
- Increase the "weighting" given for English Language Learners (ELLs) in the
state's calculation of educational costs, to more accurately reflect the intensive
work districts must often do to bring ELL students, especially high school
students, to proficiency.
- Increase the "weighting" given for low-income students in school districts with high concentrations of poverty, in recognition of the unique costs caused by such concentrations. The Commission noted that weightings for these districts should fall in the range of 50% to 100% above the typical per pupil cost, and should be enough funding to pursue multiple interventions at once---such as, a longer school day in tandem with wrap-around services.
The report also calls for districts to be required to post a plan
online for how they are going to use the ELL and low-income funds
to serve the intended populations, and to publish their outcomes in
The Commission was also charged with identifying ways to use state
and local dollars in the most efficient and effective manner. Under
that charge, the Commission highlighted high
quality pre-school as an effective practice both for closing achievement
gaps and for reducing special education costs for the state and districts.
Paul Reville, recent former Massachusetts Secretary of Education
and one of the original architects of the current funding formula
from 1993, said: "If enacted, the recommendations in this report restore
to our communities the capacity to provide the services and supports
that will be necessary to educate all students---and all means all---for
success. The Commission has effectively outlined both the resources
and, more importantly, the strategies necessary to close persistent
achievement gaps. Now, we need to find the will to execute."
The report recommends that the proposed increases be phased in over
the course of multiple years to avoid shocks to state or local budgets.
The report represents a consensus across the educational community---from
legislators to teachers, school boards, administrators, department
officials, researchers, advocates, and business leaders---that Massachusetts
is falling short of its promise to provide the necessary resources
to give all children the opportunity to reach educational success.
In its conclusion, the report reads, "We advise a keen sense of the
urgency [in] addressing the identified funding gaps, and the moral
imperative of reducing the remaining achievement gaps."
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