State Sen. Sal DiDomenico said this week there is more momentum on Beacon Hill to fix the education funding formula than ever before.
The situation has hit Chelsea, Everett, Revere and other Gateway Cities the hardest in that it undercounts the numbers of low-income and high needs students in the district.
Supt. Mary Bourque last week told the School Committee that the formula problem has underfunded the School’s Special Education program by $17 million. Each year as well, the City’s School Department has said it is losing several million dollars in funds it believes it should be getting – all of which has resulted in painful cuts during budget debates.
DiDomenico has made it his mission over the last three years to push for a change to the system so that Chelsea would be able to get a full count and full funding. While there have been several stalls in that effort, it now looks like a solution is coming soon, he said.
“Now we’re at a place where I believe there’s a lot of capital built up,” he said. “They are tired of hearing from communities like ours that are getting short-changed. I thought we could get it done by August…but we did not. I believe this fall there will be a permanent solution.”
Several years ago, the state reconfigured the funding formula in how low-income students were counted. While Chelsea, Everett and Revere often did an outstanding job of filing the self-reporting forms that determined low-income status – and unlocked more state funding – bigger cities in the state didn’t do such a good job and pushed for a new automatic system. That system focused on automatically counting those that are signed up for state and federal benefits. However, in places like Everett and Chelsea, there is a substantial amount of undocumented residents that don’t get counted, and many residents here legally that have not been in the country long enough to qualify for benefits (it requires one to be here five years before qualifying). That results in a large number of students not being counted as “economically disadvantaged” even though in reality they are in that category.
DiDomenico said this year the State Budget did spend an historic amount of money on education funding, and that resulted in an increase coming to Chelsea over last year’s funding. That came with a great fight, and it was the same kind of fight that has gone on year after year, he said, to restore funding to places like Chelsea through temporary sources or “pothole” accounts.
Yet, there has never been a time like now on Beacon Hill to bring in a permanent fix, which under the current proposals, DiDomenico said, would equal signficant increases to Chelsea’s school funding numbers.
A key moment for getting the solution in place is in the coming month, he said. That’s because the official student population counts – along with the specific low-income and demographic information – publishes to the state on Oct. 1. Those numbers are then used to create the following year’s state funding for each district.
DiDomenico and the School officials said they really hoped that something would be in place for Oct. 1 so that the correct numbers can be returned for next year’s budgeting.
“I can almost guarantee it,” DiDomenico said. “The will of the House and the Senate is to get this done. People are just tired of so many questions. We know the promise from DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and the Administration that everyone would be held harmless and it was a lie. They lied. Communities like Everett and Chelsea got hammered by this change. They promise to address it year after year…and we never fix the underlying problem…It’s a good bet we fix it in the next Fiscal Year. There’s too much riding on it.” He said they are working out several aspects of the “fix” so that all communities can jump on board. It cannot, he said, be something that helps Chelsea and hurts someone else.