Foundation Budget Testimony
March 22, 2019
Jennifer Davis Carey
Worcester Education Collaborative
In 1993 gasoline cost $1.16 a gallon, cell phones were non-existent, and Jurassic Park had just come to theaters. Also, in 1993, Massachusetts passed a groundbreaking education reform bill. That Act, among other things, included two important provisions that reflect core values of our commonwealth—high expectations for teaching and learning and adequate and equitable funding to assure that every child educated with public funds was offered an education that allowed them to acquire the knowledge and skills to become productive, contributing residents of our state.
Much has changed since 1993. Gasoline prices have more than doubled, cell phones are ubiquitous, Jurassic Park is a vintage film. Since this visionary legislation passed, the education sector has also changed. The cost of health care and insurance for school personnel has expanded exponentially. These items in local school budgets costs cities and towns 1.2 billion dollars more than the Foundation budget provides. The number of children diagnosed with special needs such as autism or other disabilities has burgeoned. Serving the needs of these children costs municipalities an additional one billion dollars beyond the funded amount. Further, the expectations of what it takes to provide a sound, competitive, 21st century education to the diversity of children residing in our commonwealth have grown over the decades since MERA’s passage.
We now know that multiple, simultaneous interventions are needed to help children living in poverty achieve their potential. We now understand better the supports needed for children to learn English as another language effectively. We know that work to support educators through performance review and work to improve their teaching practice will improve student outcomes.
We also know that our children will be asked to compete in an increasingly inter-connected, knowledge, and skill based global economy. And yet, children enrolled in schools in our high poverty districts struggle now to compete with those enrolled in neighboring, wealthier districts.
Our expectations for the outcome of schooling have grown and yet, since1993 the Chapter 70 funding algorithm has remained the same. As a result, simply put, schools in low wealth districts are strapped for cash. Due to the formula’s inadequacies, the education funding disparity between property wealthy and property poor districts is greater today than in 1993. And yet Massachusetts prides itself on being number one in education. And we are, but not for everyone. This is unconscionable. This is immoral. This leads to a situation in which a young person’s life prospects are largely determined by zip code—not by work ethic, not by interest, not by ability.
Wealthier communities routinely supplement the Foundation budget with local dollars, an option not available to those largely urban or rural low property wealth districts that serve the highest needs students. As noted in the 2018 report, Number One for Some, as a result, students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities are underserved and undereducated. They are more likely to be assigned a teacher without content knowledge in their subject area, more likely to be in a school with modest budgets for instructional supplies, with limited access to technology, with limited opportunities for class trips, with limited opportunities for electives, more likely to be in a school with limited opportunities, period. Because of this fewer than 1 in 3 Black and Latino fourth graders are on grade level for reading, half the rate for our state’s white students. Seventy-two percent of low income eighth graders are not on grade level in math—more than twice the number of white students. This does not bode well for our common future as a state. This is morally unacceptable.
This spring lawmakers have the opportunity and responsibility to address these funding disparities and to prompt meaningful improvement in the learning experiences and outcomes of historically underserved young people That will require significantly increasing funding to districts in our highest need communities to eliminate inequities between them and their wealthier counterparts. It will also require ensuring that these dollars are used in ways that advance opportunity and achievement for students of color, low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities. To maximize the benefits of additional funding for students, district leaders should be required to work with their school and local community to implement strategies that research, and evidence indicate work. District leaders should be required to report on what strategies they plan to use, why they chose these strategies, and how they will know these strategies are working. The accountability needed is not just to state as the funding agent, but to the community and ultimately the students, whose life prospects are at stake.
Our state has consistently demonstrated its commitment to education. Even in lean fiscal years, the state has largely preserved education funding. Massachusetts’ reputation for a well-educated workforce attracts businesses to our state and our cities. Investing in education is vital to our future. If we do not re-calibrate the funding system, we jeopardize our economic future along with that of our students. The time to act on this is now. Our children cannot wait. Massachusetts cannot wait.