State funding hurt by outdated calculations
Posted by Sean Donahue on November 29, 2011
State aide for public education isn’t enough to cover the intended costs, leaving many Massachusetts districts operating below the baseline foundation budget – the state’s estimate of what a district needs to run its schools – according to a report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget) released on Sunday.
According to an article in Sunday’s Boston Globe:
“The state’s funding formula for public schools underestimates the rising cost of special education and teachers’ health care by more than $2 billion a year, forcing some schools to cut costs on regular education and creating inequities in a system designed to make funding fairer across communities”
The Education Reform Act of 1993 created the state’s foundation budget and changed the formula for providing state education aid to the to the Commonwealth’s K-12 school districts. The foundation budget is an individual calculation of adequate baseline spending amount for each district.
The Act, however, has yet to be fully reexamined and its 18-year-old assumptions are proving to be problematic. The foundation baseline underestimates current special education costs in Massachusetts by $1.0 billion and health insurance costs by $1.1 billion.
So what does this all mean? The original foundation budget was meant to provide funds for three extra teachers per every 100 low-income students in a district. Additionally, according to the MassBudget report, $380 (in fiscal year 1993 dollars) per low-income student was allocated for “expanded program allotment money to help schools expand instructional time for these targeted students.” Yet it appears low-income students may not be receiving that support. Despite the aid, spending on Regular Education Teachers is below foundation in most districts in Massachusetts.
According to the MassBudget report:
“Teacher salaries, adjusted for inflation, have remained remarkably level with the foundation budget’s original salary assumption. This means that teacher spending below foundation levels has likely been manifest in the form of fewer total teachers than foundation calls for, resulting in larger class sizes, less planning and meeting time for teachers during the school day, and the hiring of fewer specialist teachers, such as literacy specialists, language teachers, art teachers, etc.”
The unexpected increase in cost for special education and health insurance means money that was intended to supplement budgets isn’t keeping up with increases enough even to prevent further cuts from taking place in many of the state’s districts each year. While the wealthiest districts are finding other ways to fund their schools – the wealthiest top 20% of towns spend an average of 39% more than the foundation budget – the poorest districts aren’t keeping up. The study found the poorest 20% spend 32% below the recommended foundation budget.
The MassBudget report believes “these findings indicate that communities with greater wealth make it a priority to raise additional local revenue to fund education at levels significantly above baseline foundation amounts.”
MassBudget divided towns into five quintiles based on “the relative wealth of cities and towns that fund their local contributions.” Franklin does not fall into one of the wealthiest groups. MassBudget actually places Franklin into the second lowest wealth quintile (20%-40%) and finds the town spends $243 below the per pupil recommendation of $3,861 on Regular Education Teachers based on the foundation budget. Franklin also spends $226 below foundation of $481 on Materials and Technology and $35 below the recommendation of $139 on Professional Development. District funding information on MassBudget can be found here.
In tough economic times, it’s difficult for any town to fund the funding necessary to fill the gap created by the unexpected increases in teacher’s health care and special education costs, but the study provides some insight into an Act that may need to be revised and highlights a struggle many of Massachusetts’ school districts are facing.
“We’re well aware that the timing of this is not good,’’ Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents told the Boston Globe. “But we also think it’s important for people to be aware of what’s happening in school finance today so that over time it gets proper attention.’’
In the meantime, the community of Franklin and its School Committee must continue to do everything we can to assure our students are getting the great education Franklin has a history of providing and that includes making the most of every dollar available.