School funding under review

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The sign outside Martin Elementary School welcomes back students for the first day of classes on Wednesday, Sept. 4. Staff Photo/Max Bowen

The Student Opportunity Act modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas:

  1. Fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission to ensure that the school funding formula provides adequate and equitable funding to all districts across the state. Provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years.
  2. Provides additional state financial support to help public schools and communities deliver a high-quality education to every student.
  3. Implements policy updates designed to maximize the impact of new funding in improving student outcomes and closing opportunity gaps.
  4. Identifies education policy areas requiring further analysis. The Department of Revenue (DOR) and DESE are directed to analyze the method of determining required local contributions in the Chapter 70 formula for the purpose of improving equity, predictability and accuracy.

Source-Student Opportunity Act Fact Sheet

School funding under review

Student Opportunity Act would benefit districts across the state 

Members of the Senate have approved a proposal for a $1.5 billion school finance overhaul, which would offset costs associated with special education, charter schools, and healthcare, among others. 

The Student Opportunity Act—now before the House—is designed to help school districts that serve high percentages of low-income students, according to a fact sheet provided to the North Star Reporter. At the same time, school districts across the Commonwealth would benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, along with increased investment in education aid programs such as transportation, school buildings, and special education.

Senators have filed 69 amendments to the bill (S 2350), recommending various ways to adjust or expand the funding formula rewrite. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr offered one amendment that could allow for a 10-year phase-in depending on state revenue, while other amendments would keep lawmakers in the loop on the implementation.

Expenses such as charter school costs have been an issue for the district. In the most recent budget, North Attleborough spent $2.25 million to send students to area charter schools. The state has sought to fully reimburse this, but the last Chapter 70 allocation only included $300,000 for the charter school expense. If the SOA is passed, this cost would be fully covered within a three-year period.

“The bottom line is this will be very good for districts across the commonwealth,” said School Superintendent Scott Holcomb. “We definitely know it will be more money than we have seen in the past.”

Holcomb said the formula used to determine how much in Chapter 70 aid each town receives would also be reviewed and updated through the SOA. The most recent budget saw an approximate 1 percent increase, while other towns got an increase of 11-12 percent. 

Other improvements proposed through the act include expanding Special Educating Circuit Breaker funds, providing more funds for psychological services, additional English Language teachers, more support for districts with high numbers of low-income students, and lifting the cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursement.

‘We should be able to do bigger projects or more projects,” said Holcomb. 

Despite these funding issues, Holcomb said there have been a number of improvements to the North Attleborough Schools, including the new 1-1 Chromebook program, which was recently expanded to grades 1-12. However, the small pot of Chapter 70 funding does have impacts.

“It happens every year,” he said. “Sometimes in personnel, sometimes in equipment. We begin [the budget process] with what we need and then it gets whittled down.”