Column: Strengthening Public Education for All Our Children
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” That is a profound guiding notion as we seek ways to strengthen public education for all our children.
Massachusetts students perform very well when compared to students in other states and even other countries. But these impressive results mask the constant struggle that our schools face to find adequate resources to meet growing demands and new challenges.
One of my top priorities since I first began serving in the state legislature has been to review and update the Chapter 70 school funding formula, which was originally created as part of the Commonwealth’s landmark 1993 education reform law. The formula was supposed to ensure that every school district has the necessary resources to provide its students with a high quality education, but it is clear today that the formula does not (and, in some cases, never did) provide adequate and equitable funding to all districts.
Last year I was very pleased that legislation I filed to create a Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission was enacted by the legislature and signed by Governor Patrick. The work of this special Commission will enable a careful and thorough examination of current educational needs and best practices, a vital first step toward achieving more adequate and equitable funding for all our public schools. The Commission is due to issue its findings and recommendations in June and has been holding public hearings around the state to solicit input from parents, teachers, school administrators, community leaders, and other stakeholders.
I attended and testified at the hearing that was held in Danvers in November. I stressed the fact that the Chapter 70 foundation budget no longer accurately reflects actual educational needs, putting school districts across the Commonwealth under enormous financial pressure.
The two largest drivers of actual costs that have far 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.
Another cost category that was envisioned in the original foundation budget but has not kept pace with actual changes in educational needs and best practices is technology. Consider that the Internet barely existed when the Chapter 70 formula was first established, and that the role of technology in our society and our schools is far greater today than it was in 1993.
An important issue that I emphasized in my testimony is the benefit of extended learning time (ELT). We now understand much better than we did in 1993 the importance of additional time — through longer school days and/or longer school years — to provide academic and enrichment opportunities that can help close persistent achievement gaps. I believe that ELT funding needs to be part of the foundation budget for those school districts that would like to implement it.
Finally, I spoke to the Commission about the need for greater access to affordable pre-school and the need for full-day kindergarten, which should be available to all families at no additional cost. Research has shown us the exponential benefits of engaging our youngest learners. This is an investment that pays great dividends over time.
Massachusetts was once the pioneer in education reform. I hope that the work of the Foundation Budget Review Commission will help us once again lead the nation in ensuring that every school and every student can thrive and be successful.
You can learn more about school funding and the work of the Foundation Budget Review Commission at www.mma.org/foundation. Please contact my office at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or (617) 722-1206 if you would like to share your thoughts on this topic or provide input directly to the Commission.