Final Fix : Sen. Didomenico Reports Major Education Funding Fix on the Way

State Sen. Sal DiDomenico said he is very optimistic and very happy about the pending state legislation that would fix the education funding formula for districts like Everett and Chelsea – districts that have suffered from a stagnating funding formula and drastic undercounting of low-income students for the past several years.

“Everyone has been very, very optimistic of this bill,” he said this week, while also visiting the School Committee for an update Monday. “It’s a once in a generation bill of historic proportions that will undo a wrong we have been committing for many years in the Legislature and as a state. We will be in a situation where every child has an opportunity to succeed. I can’t say enough. It’s what we have been waiting for. The day has come.”

The situation in funding the schools has been a stranglehold on education locally as budgets thin, and the needs for services continue to grow amongst a population that hasn’t changed in reality – but has been drastically undercounted on paper. It has led to shortages in both the regular (Chapter 70) state funding formula for the schools, as well in the formula used to count low-income students in the district.

Now, after having passed the Senate and House at the Legislature, DiDomenico said he is very happy with where the final numbers in the bill landed, and said districts like Everett and Chelsea would make out very well. In the Chapter 70 funding formula, he said the estimates of $19 million additional per year that had been hoped for end up being on the low end – though he was not at liberty yet to disclose the real estimated numbers.

“The $19 million figure is what we all thought would be the high-end of the spectrum,” he said. “The $19 million is a very, very conservative number. It will be much bigger than $19 million. Many had hoped for $19 million, and $19 million is a low number here – not the high end.”

The bill – which now only need to clear Gov. Charlie Baker – would set up Chapter 70 funding whereby large infusions of money over and above the normal funding would be given to all districts through 2027. Once there, a long-term fix would be implemented to increase budgets appropriately from year to year. In essence, over a seven-year period, the bill would fix the wrongs from the past several years – brining budgets in line to where many school district leaders have called for in the last two years.

“Budgets would no longer stagnate or decrease under this plan,” he said. “There would be gradual increase to get to the full number…We put in an extra $300 million last year to address this. We anticipate putting that same number regularly in each budget up to 2027. The real number investment would be $1.5 billion over that period of time.”

The second big piece of the bill changes the Economically Disadvantaged formula – a formula that had “robbed” Everett and Chelsea of millions over the last several years. That formula changed the way low-income students were counted, which in effect disregarded funding low-income students who didn’t qualify for programs such as MassHealth or other state social service programs.

“The Economic Disadvantaged piece has been fixed,” he said. “It’s being fixed in the short-term and in the long-term. In the short-term, we’ll go back to the percentage of low-income students the districts had before the change and that will be applied to current enrollment. We’re not going to go by the MassHealth and safety net programs that our kids often don’t qualify for – which has really hurt us.”

He said the long-term fix would be proposed by the state before Nov. 1, 2020. He said the long-term options that have been suggested so far all meet muster with him and would end the problem Everett and Chelsea have experienced with the change in counting low-income students. Another big change would be for charter school reimbursements, a problem that has plagued Everett, Chelsea and Boston schools for some time. Those districts have been critical that they have not been fully reimbursed for Charter School students over the past several years.

In the proposed bill, that problem would be solved incrementally over three years. Another funding gap that would close is the Special Education outside transportation costs. That has also been underfunded for several years, and the current bill would close that gap within four years, he said. He also said one of the key reasons everyone is now on board – as opposed to last year when the bill failed in July at the last minute – is that some legislators had to vote against the interests of their own district. That, he said, is no longer the case. “No one has to vote against their constituents,” he said. “That’s the big shift and why everyone is so excited about this bill…Both of the houses are in sync with this.” The only obstacle, however, is the governor. Gov. Baker has expressed concern over the numbers that are contained in the bill, and put out his own versions of what the numbers should be. That was far below what the Legislature had pegged, and DiDomenico said there is a lot of pressure on the governor and the Legislature to finish the plan. He said he credits Sen. Jason Lewis, and Sen. President Karen Spilka as well in getting the bill to passage. He estimated the Legislature would report out the final bill to the governor by the end of October. The ball will then be in his court

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