In an update to the Everett School Committee, State Sen. Sal DiDomenico said there is more momentum on Beacon Hill to fix the education funding formula than ever before.
The situation has hit Everett, Chelsea, Revere and other Gateway Cities the hardest in that it undercounts the numbers of low-income and high needs students.
Assistant Supt. Charlie Obremski estimated that Everett was shorted just this year alone by $6.5 million due to that change, which came many years ago.
DiDomenico has made it his mission over the last three years to push for a change to the system so that Everett would be able to get a full count and full funding. While there have been several stalls in that effort, it now looks like a solution is coming soon, he said.
“Now we’re at a place where I believe there’s a lot of capital built up,” he said. “They are tired of hearing from communities like ours that are getting short-changed. I thought we could get it done by August…but we did not. I believe this fall there will be a permanent solution.”
Several years ago, the state reconfigured the funding formula in how low-income students were counted. While Everett, Chelsea and Revere often did an outstanding job of filing the self-reporting forms that determined low-income status – and unlocked more state funding – bigger cities in the state didn’t do such a good job and pushed for a new automatic system. That system focused on automatically counting those that are signed up for state and federal benefits. However, in places like Everett and Chelsea, there is a substantial amount of undocumented residents that don’t get counted, and many residents here legally that have not been in the country long enough to qualify for those benefits (it requires one to be here five years before qualifying). That results in a large number of students not being counted as “economically disadvantaged” even though technically they are in that category.
“What we lost from the new economically disadvantaged definition this year is pretty much what we requested from the City in mid-June,” said Obremski. “If we had the same mechanism in place , we probably wouldn’t have had to request that money from the City.”
DiDomenico said this year the State Budget did spend an historic amount of money on education funding, and that resulted in a $6 million increase coming to Everett over last year’s funding. That came with a great fight, and it was the same kind of fight that has gone on year after year, he said, to restore funding to places like Everett and Chelsea through temporary sources or “pothole” accounts.
Yet, there has never been a time like now on Beacon Hill to bring in a permanent fix, which under the current proposals, DiDomenico said, would equal “double digit” increases to Everett’s school funding numbers.
A key moment for getting the solution in place is in the coming month, he said. That’s because the official student population counts – along with the specific low-income and demographic information – publishes to the state on Oct. 1. Those numbers are then used to create the following year’s state funding for each district.
DiDomenico and the School officials said they really hoped that something would be in place for Oct. 1 so that the correct numbers can be returned for next year’s budgeting.
“I can almost guarantee it,” DiDomenico said. “The will of the House and the Senate is to get this done. People are just tired of so many questions. We know the promise from DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and the Administration that everyone would be held harmless and it was a lie. They lied. Communities like Everett and Chelsea got hammered by this change. They promise to address it year after year…and we never fix the underlying problem…It’s a good bet we fix it in the next Fiscal Year. There’s too much riding on it.”
He said they are working out several aspects of the “fix” so that all communities can jump on board. It cannot, he said, be something that helps Everett and hurts someone else.
A looming process that hasn’t gotten much attention is the upcoming federal census.
DiDomenico said with the climate of fear in the immigrant community, places like Everett stand to be severely undercounted. That would result in the loss of federal funds for schools, City services and block grant programs – which are all based on population.
“In this time of federal uncertainty, people are afraid to sign any document that gives out personal information,” he said.
To combat that, DiDomenico said he has secured $2 million in the State Budget to be used in places like Everett to bring in community leaders in immigrant communities. Those leaders would work to assure them that there are no consequences to getting counted in the Census, but only positives for the overall community.
DiDomenico also explained he was able to get several other pots of money for the schools as well, including:
•$75,000 for the high school music program.
•$50,000 for technology upgrades or technology purchases.
•$100,000 for the Engineering is Elementary program with the Museum of Science.
•$75,000 for an opioid training counselor for the Schools and City.