Education funding formula failings prompting changes

More than two decades after the state passed a landmark law aimed at narrowing gaps between poor and wealthy school districts, education advocates say education funding is still out of balance.

On Beacon Hill, lawmakers are debating changes to the 25-year-old education funding formula that would begin to address those differences, though leaders in the House and Senate remain at odds over increases for schools that teach English language learners and those with large populations of low-income students.

Last week, the House approved spending $500 million over the next five years to help districts better cover the costs of special education and employee health care. At the same time, lawmakers opted to study the issue of helping English language learners and poorer students.

The plan differs from a Senate proposal approved in May, which included funds for those two groups of students.The two plans are headed to a six-member committee tasked with working out a final version.

“How long should poor children have to wait while we continue ‘studying,’ rather than simply giving them the resources they need to learn?” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, who helped lead the Foundation Budget Review Commission that proposed changes to the funding formula three years ago.

The commission found the state’s approach to education funding woefully underestimated costs for school districts.

Lawmakers are running out of time to reach compromise on how to change it. The Legislature is scheduled to end formal sessions for the year on July 31.

Baseline budget

The so-called foundation budget — a key element of the 1993 education reform law — uses a complicated formula to determine how much communities get for education funding from the state. It factors in the size and makeup of a school district’s workforce and student enrollment, among other things.

The funding plan was supposed to be recalculated every four years to reflect changes in costs, but advocates say that hasn’t happened.Now many wealthy communities are spending more than the minimum required by the state, while the poorest districts struggle with costs.

 

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