Senator Jason Lewis Testifies Before Education Funding Commission

The Massachusetts Foundation Budget Review Commission recently held its first public hearing, and Senator Jason Lewis was pleased to deliver testimony to the Commission on behalf of the 5th Middlesex state senate district.

The Foundation Budget Review Commission 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 through the Chapter 70 funding formula.  The Commission was created by a provision in the Fiscal Year 2015 Massachusetts state budget that was championed by Senator Lewis.

“With actual school spending outpacing the Foundation Budget, our schools are under enormous financial pressure,” noted Senator Lewis.  “It is imperative that we take the steps necessary to update the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget in order to achieve truly adequate and equitable funding for our public schools.  From new technology to extended learning time, there are necessities we must address to ensure that every student in the Commonwealth has the opportunity to thrive.  This Commission will provide an important opportunity to raise these urgent issues, and that is why I was proud to champion the Commission’s creation.”

The first hearing of the Foundation Budget Review Commission took place in Danvers on November 17.  The coming months will see additional hearings in different regions of the state, culminating with a March 9, 2015, hearing in Boston, at a location to be determined.

Senator Lewis’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.  Please note that remarks were limited to three minutes per person and that Senator Lewis will be preparing extended testimony in written form for submission to the Foundation Budget Review Commission as it proceeds with its hearings over the coming months.


State Senator Jason Lewis’ Testimony before the
Massachusetts Foundation Budget Review Commission
As Prepared for Delivery – November 17, 2014

Senator Chang-Diaz, Representative Peisch, and Commission Members, I thank you for your service on this very important Foundation Budget Review Commission.  Like many of you, I have long advocated for the need to re-examine and update the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget, so I’m very pleased that this Commission has been formed and I appreciate the opportunity to offer my testimony today.

From the passage of the landmark Education Reform Act in 1993 until 2000, the Foundation Budget quite closely reflected actual changes in educational resource needs and expenses.  However, in the years since 2000, the Foundation Budget has risen an average of 3.4% per year, while actual net school spending has grown at an average of 4.1% per year.  As a result, the average school district in Massachusetts now spends approximately 120% of Foundation Budget.

The fact that the Foundation Budget no longer accurately reflects actual educational needs has put virtually every school district under enormous financial pressure, and has contributed to a widening of the gap between higher-income and lower-income districts, exactly the opposite of what we set out to achieve with the Education Reform Act.

The situation we find ourselves in is the result of a number of factors that have been identified in numerous reports over the past several years.  The two largest drivers of actual costs that have exceeded assumptions in the Foundation Budget are health insurance and special education.  We know that both of these cost drivers are largely beyond the control of our school departments or cities and towns.

Two other cost categories that were envisioned in the original Foundation Budget but have not kept pace with actual changes in educational needs and best practices are technology and extended learning time.  Consider that the Internet barely existed when the Foundation Budget was first established, and that the role of technology in our society and our schools is far greater today than it was in 1993.  Similarly, we now understand much better the importance of additional time — through longer school days or longer school years — to provide the academic and enrichment opportunities for students from high poverty neighborhoods that are vital to closing persistent achievement gaps.  I have seen the impact first-hand through two schools in my district, the Ferryway and Salemwood K-8 schools in Malden.  These two schools have made significant progress with grant funding through the state’s modest ELT initiative, but this funding source is both inadequate and likely unsustainable.  To remedy this, I believe that this funding needs to be part of the Foundation Budget.

Finally, I want to briefly mention three other significant areas that I believe deserve serious consideration as to how they should be treated in the Foundation Budget: first, library media services that are an essential component of a 21st Century education; second, full-day kindergarten which should in my opinion be available to all families at no additional cost; and, third, wraparound services or integrated student supports that are increasingly viewed as an essential complement to academic supports for at-risk children.  These services range from school-based medical and dental care to behavioral health and mental health to social work and family crisis response.

Massachusetts was once the pioneer in education reform and establishing a Foundation Budget-based school funding formula.  I hope with the help of this Commission we will once again lead the nation in ensuring that our school finance system enables every school and every student to thrive and be successful.