Cape educators target flawed funding
Cape teachers unions and school officials are joining a campaign by the Massachusetts Teachers Association to increase state funding and bring millions of extra dollars to public schools on the Cape and Islands.
“The funding formula needs to be fixed,” said Lauri Gilbert, a Bourne teacher and president of the Bourne Educators Association.
The union supports the MTA’s Fund Our Future campaign that is calling for legislation that over the course of about five years would increase funding for pre-K through Grade 12 public schools by $1 billion statewide, and raise an extra half billion dollars for public higher education.
Underfunding has led to increased class sizes and cuts to art, music and library programs in pre-K through 12 schools and to rising fees and tuition and student debt in public colleges and universities, said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
“Nationally, we’re seeing schools have been under attack for a few decades with austerity policies,” Najimy said.
The issue is that the funding formula established by the Education Reform Act of 1993 has not been updated in years and does not take into consideration the rising costs of teacher health insurance and educating children who are English language learners, disabled or from poverty-stricken homes, Gilbert said.
“The needs of our students have increased, but the funding from the state hasn’t,” she said.
Over the years, Bourne has lost elementary school librarians, seen the number of kindergarten assistants decline and imposed a fee for high school students to ride the bus, Gilbert said.
Opportunities for professional development have shrunk, and families participating in full-day kindergarten through a lottery program have had to pay a fee, although a free, full-day kindergarten is in the budget for next year, according to Bourne Superintendent Steven Lamarche.
Bourne schools are owed $809,000 in additional state funds under Chapter 70, according to the MTA website.
The interactive map on the site shows that the Barnstable school district would receive $4.7 million, and the Dennis-Yarmouth regional district would get $2.6 million in additional Chapter 70 aid in fiscal year 2023 if the primary recommendations of the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission were phased in over five years.
“It is clear that the current foundation formula is not reflective of the true costs of educating students,” said Barnstable Schools Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown.
The 1993 reform act created something called a foundation that established a minimum level of spending for students in a public school district.
The state makes up the difference after local communities make a required contribution based on property taxes and income, but it’s not enough, Mayo-Brown said.
The foundation budget has not been updated in 25 years, said Mayo-Brown. She said the Barnstable district is receiving $10.6 million in Chapter 70 funding from the state this year.
“At its core, the foundation budget is the minimum projected amount to provide students with an ‘adequate education.’ In Barnstable, ‘adequate’ is not the threshold for which we strive,” Mayo-Brown said.
With less funding from the state, more of the burden of the cost falls on the local community, Mayo-Brown said.
“In our current fiscal year, our required foundation budget is $60.3 million, whereas our local appropriation was $67.8 million,” she said.
The foundation budget is supposed to be reviewed and adjusted every year, Najimy said. “It wasn’t. It was wholesale neglect,” she said.
Waves of tax cuts worth $3.5 billion since the 1990s also have taken a toll on schools, said Najimy, who called school funding the “central issue of the year in Massachusetts.”
“The formula hasn’t kept pace,” said Dennis-Yarmouth Regional Superintendent Carol Woodbury.
It hasn’t taken into consideration the increase in English language learners in the district, who as of Nov. 7, accounted for 413 out of 3,100 students in the district, Woodbury said.
Cynthia McCormick, Cape Cod Times, January 19, 2019