School Funding:Meltdown Legislature Fails to Pass Education Funding at Last Hour

The last second ticked off the clock on Beacon Hill Tuesday night, July 31, and when the score was settled, education funding for Gateway cities like Everett and Revere was the big loser.

School Superintendents Ð including Revere’s Dianne Kelly, Chelsea’s Mary Bourque and Everett’s Fred Foresteire – voiced extreme disappointment this week that the Legislature could not come to a compromise last week on fixing education funding Ð an issue that has dogged Chelsea, Everett and Revere in particular for the last three years. The compromise committee, made up of members of the House and Senate, failed to reach a compromise between their separate bills before the end of their two-year session, essentially killing the plan that would bring more dollars to Chelsea.

Everett State Sen. Sal DiDomenico played a major role in the process, and said he was extremely disappointed that things didn’t get done.

“We’re leaving another generation of kids behind by not addressing the issue now,” said Sen. DiDomenico, who had helped to pass a comprehensive funding revamp bill in the Senate earlier this year. “The districts that lost the most are the ones that need the most help. It was our responsibility to step up for communities who are continuously doing more with less and in these circumstances we have failed them. I was willing to go the extra mile to make that happen. To not be able to make a deal is extremely disappointing. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road. This bill would have seen substantial funding increases to our low-income communities like Chelsea and Everett Ð indisputably.”

His colleague, Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain), had more choice words Ð especially for the leadership of the House. In a statement, she placed the blame directly on “House leadership.” She said the House put forward their “deal,” and with time the Senate agreed to that deal Ð only to be told that the House was rejecting its own deal.

“This bill shouldn’t have been difficult to negotiate,” she wrote in a statement. “[The Senate] offered multiple versions of major concessions Ð on structure, on content, on money. I have only good things to say about the House conferees, who I believe really wanted to get to a deal. Yet, in the end House leadership rejected all our offer, moved the goal posts, and then killed the bill completely Ð stunningly, by rejecting one of their own proposals. I’ve seen a lot in my 10 years in [the State House], but I’ve never seen so many rationalizations and double-standards employed to avoid doing what’s right for kids.”

Foresteire said something needs to get done soon, because the whole idea of revamping education funding is to give kids from low-income areas Ð kids who face many more challenges than their peers Ð a leg up to compete for good jobs and a bright future.

“What’s disappointing is the Senate conceded everything the House wanted and the House leadership killed it,” he said. “They didn’t concede on 80 to 90 percent; they conceded everything they wanted to get in there and then it got shot downÉI think everyone is disappointed because this is hurting our community and the inner city communities like ours. Instead of a level playing field, the field is slanted again.”

Chelsea’s Supt. Bourque said she was very angry when she heard the news that there hadn’t been a compromise.

She said that the time for waiting and watching for the state to take action is over.

“I just think it’s unconscionable that we aren’t putting student first and foremost in the budget,” she said. “We’re concerned about the economy and this is the next generation that will bolster that economy. It’s extremely short-sighted of our leaders to do this.”

She said that there should have been a compromise, as there were so many people willing to work out a solution, including Gov. Charlie Baker Ð who is a Republican.

“The House and Senate bills were so close in many ways,” she said. “It only required leaders to compromise at a certain point and they didn’t. It’s going to call on all of us for stronger advocacy moving forward. That’s what you’re going to hear from us. We have balanced our budget for this year. We made the difficult cuts this year and last year. We cut $2.7 million last year and $3.1 million this year. The greater implications and my concern is for the fiscal year 2020 budget. The situation will be much more difficult and we’ll be facing a third year of cutting $3-$4 million. Where do we cut? We’re already at class sizes of 30 students. We’ve eliminated all of our after-school programs.”

In Revere, Supt. Dianne Kelly said the fight must continue to make sure districts like Revere, Everett and Chelsea get the funding they need.

“I realize how devastating this is to all school districts but especially to our urban communities,” she said. “And so the fight for adequate funding will continue.”

House members on the Conference Committee with Chang-Diaz said they will continue working on a resolution despite the inability to finish the bill last week. The funding “fix” wouldn’t take place until the next budget cycle, meaning it would be in place July 1, 2019.

“While the House is disappointed we were not able to come to workable resolution, we remain hopeful and committed to continuing our efforts implementing the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations,” read a statement from Reps. Alice Peisch, Claire Cronin and Kim Ferguson. “We will continue to close the employee healthcare funding gap and address growing costs of providing special education services. Importantly, the House is also dedicated to ensuring that additional funding in the FY20 budget to support our ELL and low-income students is based on careful analysis that will ensure funding is directed to support the schools, classrooms and students who need it the most.”

Supt. Foresteire agreed, saying he believed that the Legislature would iron out its differences and solve the problem soon. He mentioned that he spoke to Speaker Bob DeLeo in Everett last Thursday, and they had a good, positive conversation about the issue.

“I have great confidence that whether it be Boston or the those at the State House, they’re not out to hurt people and to hurt a city like Everett,” he said. “There’s something going on we don’t know. There’s some issue getting in the way of getting it done. Bob DeLeo made me feel very something certainly will get done here.”

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