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Public school advocates have $950 million incentive to lobby for education funding bill, study finds

By Shira Schoenberg | Jun 17, 2019

Teachers, mayors, parents and public education advocates have launched a massive organizing effort to lobby lawmakers to reject an education funding bill proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, in favor of one sponsored by several Democratic lawmakers. Hundreds of supporters of the so-called PROMISE Act have shown up at a legislative hearing, press conferences and rallies with prominent supporters.

A new study by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center shows exactly why the coalition is pushing so hard. The difference between the two bills, according to the left-leaning think tank, is $946 million.

“It’s a very significant difference,” said Colin Jones, senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and the lead author of the report.

Baker’s bill, the PROMISE Act and a bill sponsored by House Education Committee Vice Chair Paul Tucker, D-Salem, would all implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, a 2015 commission that identified four areas of underfunding in the state’s education funding formula. These are employee health insurance, special education, low income students and English language learners. But each bill differs in the technical details of how those recommendations would be implemented.

The implications of the differences are difficult to parse, and the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center report is the most comprehensive analysis that has been done so far comparing the bills.

According to the report, state education aid, often referred to as Chapter 70 aid, would be $5.89 billion in fiscal 2026, if no changes are made to the funding formula. Under Baker’s proposal, state education aid would rise to $6.35 billion by the time the plan is fully implemented in fiscal 2026. But under the PROMISE Act, state education aid would be $7.3 billion — or $946 million more than under Baker’s proposal.

The PROMISE Act is sponsored by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke and Rep. Mary Keefe, D-Worcester.

The report is unable to price out Tucker’s bill because it does not specify how to calculate a critical part of the formula relating to payments for low-income students.

Although there are a number of differences between the bills, the biggest difference between the PROMISE Act and Baker’s bill financially is how to calculate payments for students in poor districts. Today, districts are given around $4,000 in additional money for each poor student. Baker’s bill would give a maximum of $4,800 for poor students in high-poverty districts. The PROMISE Act would provide a maximum of $7,900 — roughly doubling the funding for poor communities.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity for cities like Springfield and Worcester and many of our Gateway Cities to really put in programs that can close achievement gaps and raise what we’re doing for low income kids,” Jones said. “When there’s an approach like the PROMISE Act that dramatically increases support for low income students, it generates the kind of aid that’s more likely to make that type of thing possible.”

Chang-Diaz said the difference in funding between the PROMISE Act and Baker’s plan is “stark” and represents the difference between a school district hiring a fraction of a school counselor or starting a quality preschool program. “That is a difference between nibbling around the edges on the one hand and on the other hand something that’s trajectory changing for a young person in that situation,” Chang-Diaz said.

However, the more expensive plan is also likely to raise concerns about where the money will come from. None of the bills identify a new funding source, and it will be up to lawmakers each year to decide how to raise enough money to pay for the extra education aid.

Colleen Quinn, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Education, said Baker’s proposal is unique because it can be paid for with existing revenue sources.

“Unlike other plans, the Governor’s education funding plan is very specific about factors used to increase funding for low-income students, special education, English Language Learners, and how many years it will take to fully implement each of these increases,” Quinn said. “The Governor’s plan is funded with existing revenues, with investments beginning immediately and can be sustained over time.”

Chang-Diaz acknowledged that more revenue will need to be raised to afford the additional aid, but she said there is political will to raise more tax money. “That is a conversation that we are having in a robust, real and honest way in Massachusetts,” she said.

Geographically, poorer districts will benefit the most from the funding leap envisioned by the PROMISE Act.

Springfield would get $427.6 million in Chapter 70 aid in fiscal 2026 with no changes; $471 million in Baker’s plan; and $577.6 million under the PROMISE Act. Holyoke would get $81.8 million with no changes; $91.9 million under Baker’s bill; and $111.7 million under the PROMISE Act.

Worcester would get $324.2 million with no changes; $358.2 million under Baker’s bill; and $432.4 million under the PROMISE Act.

A wealthier area like Longmeadow would do worse under the PROMISE Act, compared to Baker’s bill. Longmeadow would get $8.3 million in Chapter 70 aid in fiscal 2026 with no changes; $8.9 million under Baker’s bill and $7.6 million under the PROMISE Act.

A group of parents last week sued the state, arguing that underfunding results in state officials not fulfilling their constitutional obligation to provide all students with an adequate education. The group generally supports the PROMISE Act, but would not say what legislative action would be sufficient to get them to withdraw their suit.


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