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New comprehensive education finance reform legislation

January 17, 2017

Boston Public Schools

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Schools

Mayor Walsh's proposals aim to increase annual available funding for Boston Public Schools.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced today that he will file comprehensive education finance reform legislation at the State House that aims to invest equitably in public education and expand access to high-quality education for students of all ages.

"I believe deeply in public education and I will continue to fight for more resources for our students and our schools," Mayor Walsh said. "We are working every day to close opportunity and achievement gaps, meet the diverse needs of every kind of student and make our district schools top choices for every family in every neighborhood. I am committed to working with our partners on Beacon Hill to fix education funding formulas and getting every student on a pathway to success from pre-kindergarten through college and career, and I want to thank our legislative partners for their willingness to sponsor and support these reforms."

Boston Public Schools recently completed a Long-Term Financial Plan that identified 10 big ideas to unlock resources in the Boston Public Schools. The advisory committee identified a series of possible savings within the district that are now underway. To date, this has included streamlining the district's central office, maximizing efficiencies in transportation, and negotiating for a responsible Boston Teachers Union contract. This will help address the district's fiscal challenges and allow for funding to be reinvested in its students. In addition, the Plan identified that stagnant state education revenue, combined with steeply growing education assessments, will continue to contribute to the district's fiscal challenges.

Based on these findings, Mayor Walsh is recommending comprehensive education finance reform legislation that would increase annual available funding for Boston by $35 million for increased investment in education in its first year of implementation. The package would fix the broken charter school finance model, expand the use of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, more fully fund the cost of the Commonwealth's highest need students, and redirect existing tax revenue produced in Boston back to its residents. In addition, if the legislature substantially increases investment in education through a new revenue source, the Mayor's Chapter 70 Education Aid proposal positions Boston to receive a portion of the new funding, and to receive an additional $150 million annually for Boston students within several years.

"Mayor Walsh is proposing a set of needed legislative changes that better ensure Boston students - whether they go to district or charter schools - get the resources that support quality education," said Julia Mejia, Founder of the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network. "Collaboration and accountability across district and charter schools is important to me and the parents I serve. I'm glad the Mayor is supporting legislation for district and charter schools to partner on supporting students with disabilities. I am also encouraged by the school financing proposals and look forward to learning more about his vision to create a more equitable and sustainable funding mechanism. Ultimately our children should come above all."

The bills in the Mayor's legislative agenda on education include:

  • Make the Massachusetts School Building Authority responsible for charter school facilities charges and makes charter schools eligible for MSBA funding for school construction and renovation sponsored by Representative Adrian Madaro. Currently, cities and towns pay a facilities rate to charter schools and are then reimbursed by the State, making municipalities essentially a pass-through function. This reform would both relieve districts of $35 million in annual costs and afford charter schools the same opportunities as their district school peers. The $35 million freed up by this change, paired with the more affordable direct funding model proposed by the Mayor, would allow for charter transition funding, which is currently underfunded by 54%, to be nearly fully funded. Boston has contributed almost $1 billion to the MSBA since its creation, but has only been approved for $65 million in capital spending.
  • Reform charter school financing by reducing the state's overall liability while returning to a true partnership between the Commonwealth and its cities and towns sponsored by Senator Sal N. DiDomenico. The proposal would replace the broken charter reimbursement model with a new three year transition funding system. Current law provides for the Commonwealth to reimburse the city for the full first year costs of charter growth and five years of partial growth. However, over the past three years, the Commonwealth has not approached full funding to cities and towns (and district students) for transition costs, leading to an aggregate $48 million in lost revenue for Boston alone. While the Commonwealth was allowed to underpay on its statutory commitment to Boston's students, the City of Boston's full $154 million assessment was deducted directly from its education aid. The transition funding formula was created to account for the difficulty of immediately achieving savings when students leave district schools to attend charter schools. Under the proposal, the Commonwealth would fund 100% of the growth in tuition in Year 1, 50% in Year 2, and 25% in Year 3 directly to the charter schools, with the municipality responsible for the balance in Years 2 and 3. Cities and towns would be responsible for 100% of the cost from the fourth year on.
  • Adjust the charter school per-pupil tuition calculation to recognize the full transition costs for students leaving BPS to attend charter schools, rather than just the amount funded through the transition funding formula sponsored by Senator Sal N. DiDomenico. Due to a flaw in the current formula, the charter assessment directly penalizes communities that have had their charter reimbursement appropriations underfunded.
  • Increases Circuit Breaker reimbursement for the highest need and highest cost students sponsored by Senator Sal N. DiDomenico. Boston Public Schools students overall face more significant and more numerous disabilities than students in other districts. BPS has seen an increase in the number of high need students and DCF involved students placed in group homes who require private placement. These students in out of district educational programs cost an average of $84,000 per pupil. Currently, the state reimburses districts for 75% of costs above 4 times the average pupil cost. The proposal would change this threshold to 3 times the average pupil cost. If fully funded, the change would increase BPS funding by about $6 million.
  • Finds efficiencies in school transportation by allowing district and charter schools to split transportation costs equally if transportation schedule agreements cannot be reached, and by prohibiting charters from passing costs of third party transportation to districts sponsored by Senator William Brownsberger and Representative Daniel Ryan. The City dedicates significant resources to school transportation, spending over $100 million, or 10% of the annual BPS budget. In recent years, BPS has made numerous policy and operational changes aimed at reducing its own transportation costs, but has limited ability to influence the charter transportation costs that it is responsible for.
  • Fixes the Chapter 70 Education Aid Formula for communities that spend beyond state guidelines and serve high cost populations, but that do not receive significant education aid increases sponsored by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz. The Commonwealth's Chapter 70 per pupil Education Aid to Boston has been decreasing despite rising costs of educating students. Boston's per pupil Chapter 70 Aid decreased from $3,519 in FY08 to $3,365 in FY17, while City funding for BPS and charter schools grew by almost 40%, leaving the City, with its limited revenue raising ability, to fill the gap at the expense of other City programming. If new state revenue is identified for education aid, the proposal caps the municipal revenue growth factor at 2 1/2% for communities like Boston that teach the most economically disadvantaged students, are investing more in education than required, and are not receiving any new foundation aid. With the Mayor's proposal, Boston could fundamentally change its State Education Aid picture and invest an additional $150 million per year in its students within the next several years. If the Commonwealth identifies a new revenue source for education, the Mayor's proposal combines needed foundation budget updates for economically disadvantaged students, special education, and English Language Learning with a local contribution reform for communities like Boston.
  • Close the "quality gap" in pre-kindergarten seats in Boston by Fiscal Year 2025 by creating approximately hundreds more quality pre-kindergarten seats, which would be funded by redirecting surplus revenue raised in Boston from the Convention Center Fund to the City of Boston. This proposal would guarantee free, high-quality pre-kindergarten for every four-year-old in Boston by dedicating $16.5 million to early education in Boston. This legislation will redirect two Convention Center Fund revenues that are produced exclusively in the City of Boston: the Boston Sightseeing Surcharge and the Boston Vehicular Rental Transaction Surcharge. Neither revenue source is directly related to convention center business, and Convention Center revenue is almost entirely raised in Boston. However, in recent years, Fund surpluses have been used to balance the statewide budget. In FY16 alone, the Commonwealth drew $60 million from the Convention Center Fund to close the year in balance. Boston residents have a strong claim on this revenue, and supporting early education will make a difference in the lives of thousands of children and families in Boston, and will provide all children with equal opportunities for success. The Walsh Administration has added hundreds of pre-kindergarten seats over the past three years and, while families now have virtually universal access to pre-kindergarten seats, they do not have universal access to free, high-quality seats.

"The Mayor's proposal to move forward with Universal Pre-K in Boston, and his creative idea for funding using Convention Center surpluses, is a powerful step toward making sure we address achievement gaps as early as possible," said former State Representative and president of Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children Marie St. Fleur. "I am encouraged that consistent with the work of the Kids First Task Force the Mayor will focus on expanding quality Pre-K seats in the city by funding both school-based seats and seats in community settings. This is the only way that we can ensure that parents have broad access to the best pre-K instruction and that we draw fully on the strength of all of Boston's early learning providers."

Mayor Walsh's legislative agenda on education is part of the Walsh Administration's comprehensive effort to expand opportunity to education opportunity for students of all ages. Since 2014, Mayor Walsh has increased funding to BPS by $93 million to support important programs and improve students' futures.

Notable investments include:

  • Extending the school day to at least 6 ½ hours for most kindergarten to 8th graders, adding 120 hours of learning time for over 23,000 students that didn't previously have it.
  • 750 more children are in high-quality, free pre-kindergarten classrooms through targeted investment and community partners.
  • Launching 4th grade "Excellence for All" in 13 schools so that hundreds of additional 4th grade students will have access to rigorous academic and enrichment experiences.
  • Achieving the most schools designated as Level 1 or Level 2 since 2012.
  • Offering tuition-free community college to eligible students.
  • Improving graduation rate at BPS, reaching an all-time high of 70.7%.