This past August, the Massachusetts Legislature was unable to come to consensus on updating the 25-year-old education funding formula for the state (the Chapter 70 Formula).
The Chapter 70 formula is used to determine the cost (per pupil) to adequately educate the students in a given district and then makes up “the gap” between what an individual district can afford to contribute per pupil and the amount left over. This formula was the result of the Education Reform Act of 1993 (legislation enacted in response to concerns about lack of equity in education funding in the state). Prior to this the state did not contribute significantly to education, leaving cities and towns more reliant on local property tax. As a result, towns with higher property values were able to better fund schools.
A report published in July by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center concluded that that formula is flawed and seriously underestimates costs (for example, the foundation budget for special education services was $1.19 billion below actual spending in fiscal year 2017). The flaws in this formula impact all districts but are especially poignant in lower-income communities. After receiving money from the state, local districts are still able to provide additional local revenues to their per pupil expenditure. For example, in FY 2010 Lynn was able to add $23 per student from local funding whereas Newton was able to add $5,195 per student.
In response to lack of movement in the Massachusetts legislature on school funding, Kathleen Smith, Superintendent of Schools in Brockton, stated,“When you talk about Massachusetts leading the nation, No. 1 doesn’t mean No. 1 for all students. . . . Unfortunately, kids in Brockton, Holyoke, Fall River, Lowell, Worcester, and elsewhere are the students who will be left behind.”
In districts like Brockton (with lower property values and higher incidents of poverty, thus less availability of adding locals funds to education funding), lack of appropriate funding translates into schools having to reduce or go without supplies, extracurricular opportunities, and educators (Brockton, for example, will have 35 fewer teachers during the 2018-2019 school year).