Mayor Walsh Demands Educational Equity for All Students

Following a forum last week in neighboring Malden and simultaneous forums in other cities and towns across the state hosted by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents who are calling on legislators to overhaul the state’s current educational funding model to ensure equity for all students, especially those in low-income areas Boston Mayor Martin Walsh is weighing in on the issue.

The day after the statewide forums, Walsh joined a statewide coalition in announcing an education equity legislative agenda. The coalition of partners is led by legislators, cities, towns, teachers, students, and advocates who are joining together in proposing one comprehensive education finance bill to reform the Commonwealth’s education funding formula so that it better serves all students throughout the state.

“Every student in Massachusetts deserves a 21st century education and should have the opportunity to succeed, no matter their talent or challenges, family income or background,” said Walsh. “This bill will give us the tools to make that a reality. Boston is proud to stand with our partners in the Legislature and to join this coalition of cities and towns to advance a system of state aid that supports all of the talented and diverse students of the Commonwealth.”

During the state’s last legislative session a bill by State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) would have recalculated the cost to educate each student in public school districts known as the ‘foundation budget’ and poured millions of dollars into school over the next several years.

However that bill failed and educators are calling this mechanism the state uses to provide students with equitable access to educational opportunities ‘obsolete’ and must be revised to meet the expectations of today’s economy.

Because the state has not updated its education funding formula since 1993 to reflect districts’ real health insurance and special education costs, the amount of aid being provided to cover those costs is too small.

To compensate, many districts like Boston end up using money that would otherwise have supported core education programs—including Regular Ed. Teachers, Materials & Technology, and Professional Development. This also results in dramatic cuts in other areas of education.

The problem for low income school districts is there is a growing equity gap between schools in Boston and schools in more affluent areas of the state. When faced with such shortfalls, high-wealth districts can often draw on additional, local revenue. Lower-wealth districts, however, are generally unable to do so and the consequence is that they spend less on resources that are critically important to the quality of education students receive.

According to Walsh, Boston invests over $1.3 billion a year to educate over 65,000 district and charter public school students, a number that has grown by over $250 million since 2014. During this school year, the Boston School FY19 budget was the largest in the school department’s history. While progress has been made, more work and investment is needed to close achievement and opportunity gaps for all students.

Walsh said as Boston’s investments in its students, facilities and teacher has grown, state funding has lagged behind. Inequities in the the Commonwealth’s education funding formulas have failed urban school districts, like Boston, that educate the majority of economically disadvantaged, English Language Learners and special education students in the state. The current education funding formulas result in less net state funding every year for BPS students. “If the status quo persists and these formulas are not changed, in two years, Boston will receive no state education aid to support the City’s 55,000 BPS students,” said Walsh.

The Education PROMISE Act, sponsored by Chang-Diaz, Representative Mary Keefe and Representative Aaron Vega and supported by Walsh reforms state education funding by fully implementing the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) recommendations and addressing the underlying inequities within the Commonwealth’s education funding formulas, like Chapter 70. As a result of the bill, foundation budgets statewide will better reflect the true cost of educating students, and there will be a renewed partnership between the state and all districts in funding those foundation budgets.

“Children across our Commonwealth are waiting for us to fulfill the promise we made in our Constitution and in the 1993 Education Reform Act: that zip code should not be destiny,” said Chang-Díaz, lead Senate sponsor of the bill. “For 25 years, we have failed to live up to that promise-first unknowingly and now, for the past three years, knowingly. Our schools are suffering from death by a thousand paper cuts. This bill isn’t about providing ‘new’ or ‘extra’ funds. It’s about making good on what we’ve already promised.”

Cutline, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh during a recent visit to the Samuel Adams School in East Boston. Walsh is supporting a state bill that would overhaul the way state funding for schools is calculated in order to close an equity gap in the city and state.

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