Martha M. “Marty” Walz, a former state representative from the Eighth Suffolk district, and former chair of the House Education Committee, is now a senior advisor to Democrats for Education Reform – Massachusetts.
On Tuesday, September 13, she participated in a charter school debate with Boston City Councillor Tito Jackson on WBUR. At 56:30 into the debate (video below), Ms. Walz says:
We’ve been doing these district reimbursements for 17 years, and they have been fully funded in nearly every year except in the depths of the recession. The state has sent approximately one billion dollars back to school districts to help ease the transition when students go to charter schools, to help them readjust. What we’re seeing is that some districts are not making the adjustments that they need to make due to their enrollment. But let me also make another observation. When students go to a voc-tech school, the funding follows the student. When students participate in the METCO program, funding follows the students. And there are not district reimbursements for voc-tech schools and the METCO program. What’s really going on here is that the teachers unions are funding a campaign against charter schools ‘cause they don’t want the competition. So you don’t hear the teachers union complaining when kids go to a voc-tech school, and you don’t hear people complaining when kids get into the METCO program. So I think we need to be honest about the fact of what’s really going on here regarding student funding and what’s underneath some of these complaints.
- Charter school reimbursements started out at 100% of the legislative mandate in FY99, but dropped to 89% in FY02, 0% in FY03, and 31% in FY04. In FY05 the reimbursements went back to 100%, but started dropping in FY13 (96%). Reimbursements were at 97% in FY14, but dropped to 69% in FY15 and 62% in FY16. The percentage for FY17 has not been calculated and released, but the legislative appropriations for district reimbursement is:
- Adjustments due to enrollment? What adjustments are you thinking about? Let’s use Natick as an example of what is happening out there in the real world. Natick has a district enrollment of 5,417 students in eight schools. They lose 39 students to charter schools, and $435,421 ($11,165 per student) is going to be garnished from their $9,117,845 Chapter 70 account for their charter school tuition.WIth eight schools and 13 grades, chances are those 39 students are spread out among 13 grade levels in 8 schools, so you can’t just eliminate two teachers to compensate for the lost funding. Even if you could eliminate two teachers, you would save no more than $120,000. So what adjustments are being made? Cut librarians. Impose user fees for buses. Cut seven teachers systemwide and increase class size. Cut your material and supply budget. In short, you need to reduce $435,421 worth of services to the remaining students to pay for the 39 students who go to charter schools.
- No reimbursements for voc-tech and charter schools? There’s nothing to reimburse. The state will garnish $135,206,868 from Boston’s $216,128,435 Chapter 70 allocation (actual tuition is $147,807,447, but Boston will get a $12,600,579 reimbursement).
METCO? It’s funded by a state grant. Statewide, METCO provides $4,078.55 per pupil to receiving districts, plus $1828.95 per pupil for transportation. The METCO grant provides $13,381,718 in per pupil funding, plus $6,000,771 for transportation, to support 3281 students. No money is deducted from the Chapter 70 accounts of the METCO sending districts (Boston and Springfield). If METCO costs nothing, what is there to reimburse?
Vocational Technical Schools? Cities and towns vote to join regional vocational districts, have representation on the school committee, are funded out of a separate Chapter 70 line item (no garnishments) and the local share is subject to local appropriation by a city council or town meeting. None of those facts apply to charter schools.
The regional vocational district is a particularly interesting remark. Regional vocational districts operate just like regional academic districts, and are subject to the legislative whims of Chapter 70 allocations. They are subject to local appropriations that are discretionary for amounts above the state-defined minimum local contribution. If we had local accountability for local funds, and could decide if we want to buy into a charter school, you wouldn’t have boatloads of school committees, selectmen, and city councils voting resolutions opposing Question 2.
There’s so much more in the debate that we can argue. Watch the video, and listen for this amazing statement:
I want to mention to follow up on things that Councillor Jackson said, because he said three separate things that are factually incorrect. The first one is that charter school tuition drains money from Boston Public Schools, and that the real challenge Boston is facing, in terms of its budget, is because of charter schools. That is incorrect. The Boston Public Schools are held harmless. Charter school tuition comes from a different section of the budget.
Really? I would expect this from Liam Kerr, the DFER front man who debated Pat Jehlen. But from a former chair of the House Education Committee? She should have an intimate working knowledge about all aspects of Massachusetts school funding. Unbelievable.