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.