Katherine Clark S.211 School Funding Bill: Opening up Huge Chapter 70 loophole?

Bumped. I asked the Clark campaign for comment on this bill, but have not received one. I also asked Karen Spilka, the other candidate who knows a lot about Chapter 70. This response, which I received Sunday evening, is from Eric Hyers, Spilka's campaign manager:
Changes made to the Chapter 70 formula in Fiscal Year 2007 introduced the concept of establishing a target local share of school funding. The changes confirmed the relationship between each community's ability to pay with the amount of state aid they receive. The calculation is done each year by looking at property value, income and the community's foundation budget.

The target share is an ideal goal - and each year the legislature tries to appropriate sufficient money to provide additional funds to low and moderate income communities to get them closer to the target share. Because the target share is very different, in many cases, than what communities have been contributing to their schools, the changes in the required local contribution is moving incrementally toward the target share goals over a number of years. A good explanation of the process can be found here.

One problem with Senate Bill 211 is that it circumvents the predictable and fair process of moving communities to their ideal amount of local funding. Now the formula tries to direct available funds first to those communities that need it most. SB 211 creates a special "Equalization Fund" that direct money to communities that have previously received the smallest amount of state aid regardless of whether their need is greatest.

Another problem is that is that the "Equalization Fund" dollars would be distributed on a discretionary basis like grant funds are, but then added to the community's base aid and distributed permanently because each school district always receives at least the same Chapter 70 aid as it did the year before.

Senator Spilka does not support SB 211.
- promoted by david

Thursday, just two days after the 5th CD election, the Joint Committee on Education is hearing a bill sponsored by State Sen. Katherine Clark that could result in shifting more education funding to the wealthiest communities — “those that receive less than 17.5 percent of their foundation budget through Chapter 70.”

When I heard that Clark was behind this bill I did a double take. She is from the more blue-collar, middle class part of the district. Of the six communities on the eastern end of the 5th CD only Stoneham would benefit from her bill. The rest of those towns get well over 17.5 percent of their K-12 foundation budget from Chapter 70. Melrose receives 22%, Medford 21%, Winthrop 31%, Malden 59%, and Revere 63%. And the state supreme court decided in 1993 that these lower income towns and cities deserve that additional funding in a landmark decision. Two other Chapter 70 dependent 5th CD towns are Framingham, which gets 35%, and Holliston, which comes in at 29%. Boston, incidentally, has a Chapter 70 percentage of 28%.

Which towns in the 5th CD could be helped by S.211? Well according to the latest Chapter 70 formula spreadsheet from the DESE, those towns are:

Weston – 11.9% of funding from Chapter 70
Cambridge – 12.4%
Lincoln – 12.9%
Lexington – 13.9%
Wayland – 13.7%
Watertown – 14.0%
Waltham – 14.3%
Sherborn – 15.2%
Woburn – 15.5%
Stoneham – 16.1%
Belmont – 16.3%

This behavior is not new for Clark; back in 2011 MASC said she was a passionate advocate for the rich towns. They wrote that she “particularly sought funding to meet target aid to address funding shortfalls in school districts that receive minimum Chapter 70 funding.” Sounds like a noble cause until you realize that the 11 districts listed above already choose to spend between 21% and 99% more than the state’s minimum per pupil spending requirement. They choose to do this because they can afford it!

As a resident of a Middlesex County town demographically similar to the 5th CD towns of Malden and Revere, I wonder if the residents of those towns have taken the time to examine the possible damage Clark’s position might have on their chapter 70 allocations. When you give additional money to the districts of towns that easily are able to exceed the minimum, you lose the opportunity to help communities that badly need additional help. Both Malden and Revere failed to make the minimum state spending requirement in two of the last four years.

When towns don’t make the minimum school spending requirement you end up with failing schools. Here in Dracut we have a Junior high that is chronically under-performing, but the administration has no money to fix it. The can lead to higher dropout rates, more crime, more prisons. And people leaving the public schools in droves. How is that progressive? If there is a way to defend Clark’s action in sponsoring S.211 on progressive grounds, someone please tell me what it is.

Here is the actual language of S.211, An Act relative to establishing a Chapter 70 equalization fund:

SECTION 1. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, there is hereby established a Chapter 70 Equalization Fund, to meet the deficiencies in the base Chapter 70 aid that a community received at the inception of the Education Reform Act of 1993 as calculated pursuant to the communities which receive less than 17.5 per cent of their foundation budget through Chapter 70 for such municipalities; provided, that a municipality seeking funds hereunder shall apply for money through the fund to the Department of Education (“Department”); provided further, that the Commissioner of the Department shall issue a finding concerning such applications, after consulting with the school district regarding the merits of such application; provided further, that assistance under this fund shall be available on a recurring basis and funded in item 7061-0010 in the annual operating budget; provided further, that funds distributed from this item to a municipality shall be considered base aid used in the calculation of the minimum required local contribution for any fiscal year; provided further that all money appropriated for this item shall be taken from the Local Aid Fund.



Discuss

22 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. I'd like to hear more about this

    I’m a Lexington resident, and a quite close follower of school politics here. But I’ll tell you the last thing Lexington and peppy towns like us need is an increase in general ed funds from the state.

    It’s Special Education funding we are struggling with, and Kindergarten funds. That’s where I’d like to see more money from the state.

    I read you loud and clear. There is a tendency among some of our Democrat friends to play to the advantage of elite well to do towns, and neglect the poorer and needier places in the state, of which we have many.

    What we need is more people like Sen. Warren, who are Democrat activists all right but will always stand up for the little guy.

    In this race, only one candidate keeps bringing up issues of poverty, incarceration and the dreaded Three Strikes You’re Out Legislation he opposed and helped change. But his pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.

  2. Updated

    Links and percentages have been updated and FY14 numbers are now used.

  3. Clark and the 1%

    This issue is troubling, especially when you also consider Clark’s loan of $250,000 to her own campaign. How did she get $250,000 to loan to her campaign? That’s a lot of money for a state senator. It sure looks like Clark is a member of the 1%, and it sure looks like she favors rich communities. The congressional district is primarily working class, however.

  4. How on God's green earth is Waltham receiving less than 17% of their chapter 70 foundation budget

    Heck, we are below Sherbourne and Belmont as a percentage. Absolute disgrace. How is Melrose over 20%, they are wealthier than us.

  5. the key to waltham

    Dan –
    It appears that Waltham gets less chapter 70 money because of the presence of enormous commercial buildings along Route 128. A portion of that tax revenue offsets the fact that your houses are worth less than those in Belmont.
    The number you want to look at is “EQV Per Capita” which can be found on the following page:
    http://www.mass.gov/dor/local-officials/municipal-data-and-financial-management/data-bank-reports/property-tax-information.html

  6. I'm not clear on the details...

    …so I don’t want to pre-judge until I understand a lot more about the issues and the proposal.

    But I do want to say that if this post is an accurate portrayal of the proposal, it should once and for all end this idea that she is a fine progressive, just a small degree difference between her and Sciortino.

    Redistributing ed funding to wealthy communities when we know full well that dire needs for funding help in our poorer urban communities is Weldian.

  7. WAS THIS was a Richard Tisei / Scott Brown proposal?

    Let’s Google the title of the bill to find out more… in 2 minutes I was able to determine that:

    a) It looks like this was a Republican proposal in 2007 cosponsored by Scott Brown:
    http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/senate/185/st00/st00379.htm

    b) It looks like it was reintroduced by Sen. Clark in 2011. There was a hearing on the bill on April 21, 2011 and it was reported favorably, ending up in the rules committee, appears to have died there.

    I am wondering if the bill was ever voted on by the committee or the full house. Also if Mass Budget and Policy center ever did an analysis of the effects. It looks like it might pull money out of general local aid, too.

  8. Katherine Clark = Bad constituent services

    How else do you explain why Bob is still waiting for a response to his question? How can Karen Spilka get back to Bob pronto?

    Katherine Clark comes across a arrogant. She fails to respond to the misleading brochures sent out by Emily’s List. She ignores Bob, which is giving BMG the finger (my opinion, not Bob’s). Anyone but Katherine, IMO. I wish there was a recent poll, i would vote for the candidate who has the best chance of stopping Katherine, assuming she is either first or second (except for Carl, never would vote for that guy).

    • Re: Katherine Clark = Bad constituent services

      Dan, vote for the best guy (or gal), not for the one most likely to stop Clark. The polls are not necessarily weighed for likelihood to go out and vote, and for the quality of the candidate’s ground game.

      Just vote for the candidate who is most responsive to his or her constituents. The record there is very clear. There’s only one candidate with a two way web site, taking comments, questions and suggestions of policy details big and small.

      And only one candidate giving out his cell phone # and email address to all constituents.

      • That's it?

        Just vote for the candidate who is most responsive to his or her constituents.

        That’s all that matters now?

        I agree that Brownsberger stands above the rest on transparency, but that 1) shouldn’t excuse important policy/leadership/personality distinctions, and 2) isn’t even the full story on quality of constituent services.

        • Definitely don't vote on personality

          Doubleman, vote policy and leadership – not personality.

          If there are any lessons to learn from what happened to the People’s Pledge in this race – think about four of the five candidates who wanted to amend the Constitution, and can’t even write and abide by a People’s Pledge among friendly Beacon Hill colleagues.

          These are people who want to go to Congress to write law, mind you.

    • Not Bob.

      For the record, it was me, not Bob, who asked both the Clark and Spilka campaigns for comment on this issue.

      • David- is my point valid about the Clark Campaign ignoring your simple request for clarification?

        If this is how she treats BMG, just think how she (and her staff) will treat Joe Six Pack. I hope you, like Bob, make an endorsement soon, it will be worth more than The Globe.

        • David's endorsement

          Dan, with all due respect for David – his endorsement will matter to us readers of BMG. How many of us are Joe Six Packs is another discussion.

          Too late for any endorsements to trickle down at this point. But I look forward to hear from David, he is a balanced guy always judging on the merits, although I stand apart from him on this proposed amendment to limit the right of free speech for corporations in the Bill of Rights.

          And he can still persuade me that’s the right thing to do, if he can explain how he plans to deal with the case of book publishers, newspapers (which are corporations), and documentaries like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (produced and distributed by corporations).

          • Andrei, I've written a lot on Citizens United -

            you may find this post to be an interesting place to start. As I’ve said many times, I think that some of the proposals to amend the Constitution to “fix” Citizens United would do more harm than good. To that extent, I agree with Will on this.

            • Re: I've written a lot on Citizens United

              I’ve read your post, David. We are closer to each other on this subject than I believed.

              • In general,

                as I said in my endorsement post today, I don’t think the CU issue is all that important because the reality is that there is basically zero chance of any sort of constitutional amendment getting through Congress right now.

  9. One minor correction for the record

    dracutfire’s post cites Stoneham as one of the communities that would benefit from this bill. Stoneham is in fact in the 5CD and in Clark’s current State Senate district. The town has been pushing the legislature for years for reforms in the Chapter 70 formula that would treat Stoneham more fairly and I suspect Kathyrn’s sponsorship of this bill is in support of those efforts. We can still debate the merits of the bill but I don’t think you can cite as evidence of poor constituent service.

    • OK, let's look at her entire district

      You are right, Stoneham is in the 5th CD, I made a correction! Let’s remember, however, that this isn’t getting money for a traffic signal. This is the statewide chapter 70 formula and if you direct the local aid funds to the wealthier towns there is likely to be a loss somewhere else. I stand by my statement that most of Clark’s district would be hurt by S.211.

      Here are some hard numbers:

      1) There are exactly 5762 students in the Fifth Middlesex District towns of Wakefield and Stoneham.

      2) There are 21693 students in other five towns that Clark represents: Malden, Melrose, Reading, Winchester, and Lynnfield — the towns that would NOT benefit from the S.211 legislation.

      So her bill is in the interest of 21% of students in her district but against the interests of 79% of the students. She is not exactly representing the 1% — but she is doing something which diminishes the redistributive intent of the current Chapter 70 formula. So this is a clear different between Clark and Spilka.

      As for the situation with Stoneham, the town has a lot of highway access and commercial revenue that Melrose does not have. So there is a good reason why Melrose gets a higher Chapter 70 percentage than Stoneham.

    • district no longer includes lynnfield...

      I was just informed that redistricting removed Lynnfield from her district… this means that there are four towns with 19517 students that would not benefit from S.211… o the 79-21 split should really be 77-23 with the new district boundaries!

  10. Education

    Karen Spilka entered the political arena on the issue of Education funding and won her first election to the local school board. Education, sustainability and equitable funding have been her passion.

    I have been surprised at the pale level of attention that education has received in the debates and campaigns thus far and thank dracutfire for raising this critical issue for the district, commonwealth and the nation.

    Karen’s inner compass with a commitment to fairness, economic and social justice and doing what is right in both the present and long-term for the middle, young and old are what makes her a great candidate.

    Her understanding of Ch 70 (state’s lingo for education funding) and federal education issues – especially special education at a time when Autism Spectrum and other challenges to health, education and public policy are burgeoning – are really needed in Congress.

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Fri 19 Dec 5:02 AM