On Friday, a large and diverse crowd – that included Governor Charlie Baker, New England Patriot football players, mayors, educators, parents, students, and legislators – gathered at the State House for an important hearing on education funding.
At the heart of the hearing were calls to update Chapter 70, the funding formula that calculates how much state funding Massachusetts public schools receive. The funding formula was put into place in 1993, and has not been updated in 26 years. In 2015, guidance for overhauling Chapter 70 was released in a report written by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which was co-chaired by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston), who was then a co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, and by Representative Alice H. Peisch (D-Wellesley), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education.
(We covered the 2015 report in our blog, and Strategies for Children was a non-voting advisory member of the commission.)
The commission’s report called for more funding for K-12 schools, specifically by updating the reimbursement rates for health insurance, special education, low-income students, and English Language Learners.
The report also cited the importance of early education. The report notes that while the commission lacked the resources to make “specific recommendations on early education, it was a practice that was frequently highlighted in both national literature and in feedback from model districts within the Commonwealth both for closing achievement gaps for disadvantaged students and in reducing special education costs for districts and the state.”
The report also encourages the state to learn from the federally funded Preschool Expansion Grant programs and consider “whether the Chapter 70 funding formula can be adapted appropriately as a funding vehicle for the ongoing provision of pre-school.”
Four years after the report’s release, the goal of overhauling Chapter 70 has many champions.
“Rep. Aaron Vega, a Holyoke Democrat who is leading the House efforts on the bill, said that the measure was roughly 70 percent the same as Baker’s legislation, but that the 30 percent where they differ is where most of the money is concentrated,” WBUR reports.
The State House News Service adds: “Syndie Cine, a parent and early childhood educator, said she moved from Boston to Quincy in hopes of finding schools that were not struggling. Instead, she said, she found tight school budgets are ‘a statewide problem.’ ”
Cine said, “The Promise Act provides the necessary support, filling in the socioeconomic gaps and fulfilling the commitment to our young children and young adults by adequately funding the future.”
Here at Strategies, we agree that Chapter 70 should be modernized.
“Strategies for Children has been closely monitoring the school funding debate,” says Amy O’Leary, director of SFC’s Early Education for All campaign. “Through the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership (MEEP), of which we are a member, we signed on to joint testimony calling for the updated formula to address equity and better serve our most vulnerable students.” The MEEP partners released the #1 for Some report last fall.
“If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, we have to start earlier,” says O’Leary.
Stay tuned as this debate develops throughout the coming months, and contact your legislators to share your thoughts about the school funding formula.