Throughout our nation’s history, Massachusetts has stood at the forefront on the issue of public education. The Commonwealth, holding true to that designation, was the first state to provide access to free public school for all children. A few decades after, we instituted the first special education program for students with additional needs.
Since the time of Horace Mann, we have recognized that education is the critical ingredient to producing a vibrant civil society, as well as a strong economy that continues to grow. While Massachusetts has enjoyed much success in the area of public education, the good test scores our students achieve cover up increasingly urgent crises in how we finance our public schools, in the areas of both adequacy and fairness.
The funding for our public schools is determined by the Chapter 70 formula which was created as part of the state’s landmark Education Reform Act of 1993. First, a “foundation budget” is calculated for each school district to determine the resources needed to educate the students in that district. Then, the “local contribution,” the amount that each municipality must contribute from its own revenues, is calculated based upon each community’s income levels and property values. Finally, the state government allocates Chapter 70 aid to fill the gap between the “foundation budget” figure and the “local contribution” figure. Additionally, if it so chooses, each community can put more of its local resources toward education if it wants to spend an amount greater than the foundation budget.
Much has changed in the more than twenty years since we passed education reform. Unfortunately, the foundation budget has become outdated and no longer accurately reflects the true cost to educate our young people in the 21st century. This is due to a variety of factors from increasing healthcare costs, to a growth in special education needs, to vast advances in educational technologies, to the foundation budget under-accounting for teachers’ salaries and professional development.
For these reasons, I fought in the Legislature to achieve a Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission, which will enable a careful and thorough examination of current educational needs and best practices, an important step toward achieving more adequate and equitable funding for our public schools. I am proud of having successfully advocated for the Commission’s inclusion in our FY15 state budget.
The Commission will be made up of legislators, educators, and other stakeholders, with a goal of producing substantive legislative recommendations by the summer of 2015. The Commission will hold a series of public hearings around the state in order to solicit input from Massachusetts residents. Once these hearings are scheduled, my office will publicize them to ensure that you have the opportunity to make your voice heard during this important process.
The work of this Commission will be a profound step toward updating the Chapter 70 formula and ensuring that all of our communities have the resources needed to provide our children with an education that is second-to-none and that prepares them for professional success that will contribute to our economy’s growth and our society’s vibrancy.
As it is my highest priority to be accessible to the residents of the 5th Middlesex district and to hear your concerns and feedback on all issues, I recently held a forum on education funding at Wakefield High School. Members of the community brought their questions and we enjoyed a thoughtful exchange of ideas and information. For many constituents, we demystified the Chapter 70 education financing formula, and we productively discussed ways to address inadequacy and inequity in state education financing, beginning with the Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission.
If you were unable to attend our recent forum, and would like to access the information we discussed – or if you have any questions or feedback about this or other issues – please don’t hesitate to contact me at my State House office at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or at 617-722-1206. I welcome our ongoing dialogue, and I remain committed to doing all that I can in the Legislature to ensure that our communities have the resources needed to prepare our young people for successful and productive futures.