Superintendent's Blog

Cutting Class: Underfunding the Foundation Budget’s Core Education Program

November 30, 2011 · No Comments

For today’s blog post, I am featuring a “special guest” piece authored by Tom Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. Tom has written a very informative piece about the chronic underfunding of education in the Commonwealth.

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center has released their comprehensive study of the Chapter 70 foundation budget, titled Cutting Class: Underfunding the Foundation Budget’s Core Education Program.  The study investigated and authored by Luc Schuster, Policy Analyst at MassBudget is a comprehensive examination of the now nearly two decade old basis for funding public education in Massachusetts.  The final released study is now available at MassBudget.org:

This thoroughly researched and clearly written report points out the most glaring deficiencies between what is being spent compared to the allowances in the foundation budget and draws attention to its effect on low wealth school districts and on regular education statewide.  The study was funded by our colleagues in MASBO to secure a factual outside view of much that we were experiencing locally but now viewed from a statewide perspective.  The study is an excellent review of the original intentions of school reform legislation and how it has evolved in the reality of present day costs and demands.  We encourage educators to read this important work and to discuss it by participating in a  growing statewide conversation about the  shortcomings of the foundations upon which state and local standards of support for the education of students are now set.

Key Finding:

1.       Foundation understates core SPED costs by about $1.0 billion

2.    Foundation understates health insurance costs by $1.1 billion

3.    Districts have not implemented the low-income student program envisioned in the original foundation budget

4.    Most districts hire fewer regular education teachers than the foundation budget sets as an adequate baseline.  The study was able to disaggregate special education teacher costs from regular education teachers, unveiling the lack of spending on regular education teaching caused by the required demands for special education teaching.  Only the highest wealth communities have been able to spend at foundation for regular education teachers.

5.    Inflation adjustments have not been fully implemented, causing foundation to lag behind true cost growth

6.    Other items uncovered by the study and its analysis

a.     Page 10:  One third of all students attend schools spending essentially only at the foundation budget.  These students live in and attend schools mostly in low-income school districts.  Research from other sources indicates that the greatest achievement gap exists in low income school districts.  The study analyzes school districts by sorting them into quintiles of wealth, “the least wealthy 20 percent have average spending right at their average foundation budget, whereas the wealthiest 20 percent of districts spend 39 percent above foundation.  These findings indicate that communities with greater wealth make it a priority to raise additional local revenue to fund education at levels significantly above baseline foundation amounts.” Page10.

b.    Spending on items that are now forced to be considered as discretionary such as supplies, materials and technology is well below their foundation budget allowance, with most spending less than half that allowance.  Only the highest wealth quintile spends up to the foundation allowance on professional development.  By contrast the greatest achievement gap exists in the poorest districts where professional development is underfunded.  Other grant sources are noted as an alternative source of this funding.

c.     Teachers today have higher levels of education than existed in 1990 when 48.1% of teachers held master’s degrees.  In 2007-09 61.6% hold master’s degrees, also reflecting higher standards to achieve and maintain professional status.

The study is an excellent base for discussion of the short comings of the present allowances within the foundation budget.  It clearly points out that of the $ 9.1 billion in required minimum spending in the FY 2010 foundation budget school districts are forced by current circumstances to spend $ 2.1 billion (23% of all required spending) above what is allowed in the foundation budget for unanticipated on two items alone, special education costs and health insurance.  Money for impactful important spending to fund teaching and learning is being consumed by the faulty assumptions in the historic foundation budget that needs to be corrected.

This latest study, coupled with previous MASS studies, and the MBEA/Boston Foundation Report, A Bargain Not Kept: School Funding Realty, authored by Ed Moscovitch, released in December 2010, makes clear that corrections are long overdue.  Representative Jason Lewis and others have filed H 153 to fund a foundation study.  MASS support that study, but immediate action is needed for schools to draft their budget plan for FY 2013.

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