Chelsea Supt. Mary Bourque said just when urban educators plagued with a flawed funding formula thought they made some progress, the state yanked all that progress from under them recently.
Bourque, the past president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents and the co-chair of the Urban Superintendents Network, has been working with the state for more than two years to fix a problem for Chelsea and many surrounding districts involving low income students – now called economically disadvantaged. The change has cost the Chelsea Schools millions of dollars per year in funding that they expected, but no longer qualified for.
“In the urban districts, we’re all on fragile ice right now,” she said. “Everything is coming at us at one time. It really begs the question about whether the allocation for education of students of poverty going to be the place where the state goes to make cuts and balance the budget every year. That’s not what the Foundation Formula budget is meant to do. It’s really almost immoral.”
Schools like Chelsea, Revere, Everett and Brockton – among others – have been hamstrung for the last two years due to major reductions in state funding due to the change in the formula. That change entailed making economically disadvantaged students qualify for that title only if their families were on some sort of public welfare benefit. Unfortunately, in communities like Chelsea, many families don’t qualify for those benefits due to their immigration status or because they haven’t been in the country legally for five years. Without that, the schools don’t receive nearly as much money to educate a very difficult and needy population.
This year, Bourque said, they added several new “qualifiers” for the economically disadvantaged tag – such as programs that students in Chelsea might qualify for despite immigration status.
However, as soon as that battle was won, Bourque said the state turned around and lowered the amount of money given for each student – making the gain a complete wash.
“We worked hard with the state to come up with solutions and they did add more students to qualify,” she said. “But as soon as we got more students, they reduced the amount of money given for each student.”
Bourque said the Chelsea Schools are likely going to be down another $1 million from where they feel they should be in the coming budget year. She said they will keep working on it, though.
It has been a real learning experience for the long-time administrator, though maybe not a positive one.
“To ignore systemic injustice and failure while children’s futures are compromised is morally and ethically, wrong,” she said. “It is not who we are as a Commonwealth nor is it who we want to be. The Grand Bargain of 1993 (for Education Reform) is not more and hasn’t been for many years. It is time for courage and time for action; our children and their futures are far too important.”