A state budget advocacy organization – Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center – has released a report this week detailing a five-year roadmap to fix the state’s education funding crisis – a plan that would require $888 million over five years and mean $21 million more in state funding per year for Chelsea Schools.
Colin Jones of Mass Budget told the Record that the report – titled ‘Building an Education System that Works for Everyone: Funding Reforms to Help All Our Children Thrive’ – details a plan that would allow the state to increase school aid – specifically to communities like Chelsea Revere, and Everett – by around $200 million per year over a five-year period. That phased approach would lead to restoring what the 1993 education reform law promised, he said.
“The big picture is our school funding and the system isn’t really providing the resources that are needed for kids across these Gateway Cities like Chelsea,” he said. “The formula for funding hasn’t been updated in 25 years and the school district with the least wealth are facing the worst of it. We looked at the budgets and found that many of these districts are spending 25 percent below what they are supposed to spend on teachers. To make up for it, they have to shift money from other areas or get additional revenues or make cuts to other areas. That’s leading to these big budget gaps.”
Supt. Mary Bourque said the research confirms what the Chelsea Schools have been saying for quite some time.
“The Mass. Budget research validates what we have been saying as superintendents for years,” she said. “In 2013, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents did their own research which placed the underfunding of school districts at over $2 billion. In 2015, the Foundation Budget Reform Commission – of which I was a member – placed school districts also at over $2 billion underfunded. Now in 2018, we have MassBudget research attesting to the same. It is time to address the flaws that are well documented by multiple groups. It is time to fund our schools and place our students first.”
Jones said the formula fix needs to address the disparities between wealthy and poorer districts. Right now, he said Weston spends around $17,000 per student, while Chelsea Revere, and Everett are around $11,000 per student.
He said it should be the other way around.
He said the current formula requires districts to spend a set amount on teacher salaries, and in order to do that in the current funding climate, districts like Chelsea have to cut the extras, ask for City money or seek out grants. If that doesn’t happen, then it leads to cuts, bigger classes and no extras. Another byproduct is not being able to maintain school facilities properly.
“There are big gaps in these districts and it’s where you’ll see bigger class sizes, less money for the arts and less for enrichment programs,” he said. “You see them have to cut ties with long-time successful partners. They can apply for grants, but they shouldn’t be in that position. Education reform was about the districts doing their job at educating the kids and the state giving them what they needed to do it…We’re now starting to see a backsliding to what it used to be like before education reform.”
In Chelsea, the Foundation budget now is at $113 million, and state Chapter 70 education aid is $90 million. Under the new plan by Mass. Budget, by 2023, the school foundation budget would be $134 million and the state Chapter 70 aid would be $110 million.
It’s a gain of some $21 million per year in aid that the Chelsea Schools have been calling for over the past several years.
Jones said they consider their report a blueprint for fixing the statewide problem – a problem that is especially apparent in cities like Chelsea Everett, and Revere. He said he is hoping that it garners attention on Beacon Hill and becomes a point of discussion.
“We can fix this,” he said. “We have a blueprint now. These things will cost money to implement. There is a price, but we’re in a good economy and we’ve had good revenue collections at the state level. We’re looking at a phased approach of $200 million each year for five years.”