Hiking school aid draws praise yet no answers on funding

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/05/06/hiking-school-aid-draws-praise-yet-no-answers-on-funding/

BOSTON – Formula changes that would let more state money flow to local school districts won praise Friday from labor and school leaders who also acknowledged that covering the nearly $432 million cost of the revisions poses a challenge.

Teachers union representatives, school committee members and administrators urged the Joint Committee on Education to support a bill that would implement adjustments to the school finance formula that were recommended last fall by the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

“We ask this committee to report this bill out favorably as soon as possible so it can still become part of the FY ’17 budget debate,” said Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni. “If it needs technical changes, then let’s make them. If it needs to be phased in over several years … we could right now develop a plan for how we’re going to do this and not be hamstrung by the austerity mindset. If we need to increase revenues in order to fulfill our constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding to all of our public schools, then the MTA stands with you.”

The bill (H 4219) was filed by Rep. John Rogers, a Norwood Democrat and former House Ways and Means Committee chairman who serves on the Education Committee.

Released in November, the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations include increasing the rates paid to districts for special education students, aligning health insurance costs and inflation rates to Group Insurance Commission numbers, providing “tiered support” for districts with high concentrations of poverty, and increasing rates for English Language Learners.

Education Committee co-chairs Rep. Alice Peisch and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz led the review commission, which also included Education Committee members Sen. Patricia Jehlen and Rep. Kimberly Ferguson.

The commission estimated that full implementation of its insurance and special education adjustments would lead to extra demand on Chapter 70 school aid that is distributed statewide. If they were phased in, the increase for a partial adoption the first year would be nearly $96 million.

Several Walpole officials told lawmakers Friday that insufficient state aid pushes the school funding burden onto property taxes, diminishing the ability of municipal government officials to control budgets and building hostility among taxpayers.

“The thing that’s so concerning is that you’re asking people on the local level to tax themselves more,” Walpole School Committee vice chair Jennifer Geosits said. “You’re asking people who are on fixed incomes to vote and get out there and vote to spend more money they don’t have. It’s sad what’s going on.”

Chang-Diaz told Geosits that she had “come pretty efficiently to the crux of the issue,” and Peisch said she “really hit the major challenge we face” with many competing interests fighting for the finite amount of money the state can spend.

“The reality is, the education budget has been protected more than many others,” Peisch, a Wellesley Democrat, said. “So I think we need to do a better job of educating the population about the fact that taxes are not necessarily a bad thing, and that at the end of the day we all benefit from the common good that is produced when we have a well-educated population.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey all pledged not to include new taxes in the 2017 budget, while Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has said his chamber is “ever at the ready” to consider ways to generate new revenue.

Written by Katie Lannan