Fund Our Future: Boston, Holyoke Mayor Backing Education Funding Push
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 7, 2019....The latest push in the years-long effort to reform the school funding formula will take on more shape this week, with advocates, educators and lawmakers gathering for a press conference in support of a bill that will likely be filed on Tuesday.
The bill -- dubbed the Education PROMISE Act, for "Providing Rightful Opportunities and Meaningful Investment for Successful and Equitable Education" -- would implement the 2015 recommendations of a Foundation Budget Review Commission that found the state's school funding formula inadequately accounts for costs including health care and special education, coming up short by $1 billion annually. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz is the bill's lead Senate sponsor, and Reps. Aaron Vega and Mary Keefe are the lead House sponsors, according to Chang-Diaz's office.
The press conference, where speakers will urge passage of the bill this year, is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday in Room 428, with Chang-Diaz, Vega, Keefe, representatives of the NAACP Boston, Massachusetts Teachers Association, Boston Teachers Union, and Massachusetts Association of School Committees, along with other groups, and mayors from across the state including Martin Walsh of Boston and Alex Morse of Holyoke.
The commission recommended adjusting the foundation budget formula to allow more funding for special education, health care and the costs of educating English language learners and low-income students, and establishing a data collection system to track spending.
Gov. Charlie Baker and Senate President Karen Spilka each singled out education funding in the addresses they gave to kick off the new legislative session last week, with Baker saying the foundation formula "needs to be updated" and that he would recommend changes in his budget proposal later this month. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has not delivered a session-opening speech and an aide said the timing of his address has not been finalized yet.
Baker in his past budgets has included what he has referred to as "down payments" toward the commission's recommendations, including money to help schools pay for employee health insurance.
Chang-Diaz said there is already "so much bipartisan momentum" behind the commission's report, noting the recommendations were made unanimously and that legislation to implement them has previously been backed by the Education Committee.
"At a third layer they were unanimously and bipartisanly embraced and endorsed by all of the members of the Senate including every single member of the minority caucus of the Senate, and they are supported by over half of the members of the House of Representatives," Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, said after Baker's inaugural address. "So there's a huge amount of momentum here, and I would love to see the governor in that spirit of bipartisanship and efficiency embrace that momentum that has already been well established and a set of recommendations that has been highly vetted, highly debated, highly
considered over the past three, five, eight years, depending on how you count it, and put his weight behind it."
Groups including the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance and the MTA last month joined forces as the Fund Our Future Coalition, calling for lawmakers to pass legislation in 2019 that would increase funding for public higher education by $500 million and public prekindergarten through grade 12 schools by $1 billion.
The campaign comes after the House and Senate last year passed different school funding bills, and a conference committee helmed by Chang-Diaz and Wellesley Democrat Rep. Alice Peisch could not bridge the gap between the two bills before the July 31 end of formal sessions.
The House and Senate were also on different pages on school funding during the 2015-2016 legislative session, in which the Senate passed a bill that would have tied an increase in the charter school enrollment cap to foundation formula reforms and new investments in education. The House did not take up that bill, and a charter expansion question was defeated at the ballot in 2016.
While Democrats for two consecutive sessions have failed to use their super-majorities to force an education funding bill to Baker, the Fund our Future Coalition trained its frustration at Baker last week after the governor signaled he's make education funding a priority in his budget filing this month.
"Governor Baker has shortchanged the students in our public schools for years, failing to repair the persistent inequity in education funding that exists between different communities in our state. Now, he is doubling down on a failed strategy by ignoring the Foundation Budget Review Commission's call for $1 billion in new funding for our local schools," the coalition wrote in an unsigned statement released after Baker's inaugural address on Thursday.
The coalition said lawmaker should reject Baker's proposal and fully fund local public schools and our public colleges and universities "this year."
"Educators and local community members know what our students need — the investment the state promised years ago and the ability to spend it where it’s needed most," the coalition said. "Every student in Massachusetts deserves the same great public education, whether their family is rich or poor, whether they are black, white, or brown, and whether their community is urban, suburban, or rural. Meanwhile, Baker doesn't even address the severe funding crisis in our public colleges and universities, which the Higher Education Finance Commission found are underfunded by more than $500 million a year. The cost of public higher education has skyrocketed in Massachusetts, limiting opportunities for students and forcing them to take on enormous debt. Our students can't afford another year of Baker's budget fiddling."