Globe Local

THE ARGUMENT

Is the state spending too little on public schools?

Ted Kempinski

YES

Ted Kempinski

Haverhill HIgh School history teacher; President, Haverhill Education Association; Parent of three children in the city’s public schools

Our school funding formula is badly out of date, and our students are suffering the consequences. The state Legislature must significantly increase funding as soon as possible so students in districts like mine do not have to wait another year to receive the education they deserve.

The current formula was developed 25 years ago after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled the state has a constitutional obligation to provide all students with at least an “adequate” education. That means the Legislature has to provide more funding to high-poverty districts because local property taxes can’t cover the costs.

The funding formula, known as the Foundation Budget, led to an infusion of new school resources in the 1990s, but now falls far short of what’s needed. Three years ago, a nonpartisan commission concluded that Massachusetts was understating the cost of public schools by more than $1 billion a year, and as a result vastly underfunding school aid. In districts such as Haverhill, we live that reality. Budgets are stripped bare.

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Three out of five students in Haverhill’s schools are identified as high need, yet we have too few social workers to identify and intervene with at-risk students. Students coping with significant problems at home or in their community can’t learn well. I believe we also need more student and family support services.

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We also cope with overcrowded classrooms. Stop and think about a kindergarten classroom with 25 energy-filled children and a single teacher is trying to teach them all how to read, or a a seventh grade history class of 30 students all working on formal essays. How much time will each student get with the teacher? Very little. Yet such student-to-teacher ratios are common in our district classrooms.

Haverhill’s schools, like so many others, are deficient in technology instruction. We have computers, but no systemwide computer technology teachers for our elementary or middle schools.

Haverhill is just one of hundreds of districts where inadequate funding is taking a toll on students and educators. Legislators must put aside differences and act quickly to increase school funding, for the sake of our students, our educators, and our communities.

Frank Conte

NO

Frank Conte

Wakefield resident, communications consultant, former director of communications for the Beacon Hill Institute

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Education spending in the Commonwealth rises each year, but apparently that isn’t enough. Although student performance in Massachusetts is among the best in the nation, public education always faces funding crises, as advocates keep reminding us. Put aside that even in sharp recessions, Massachusetts has always found the resources to support and prioritize education. This hasn’t stopped advocates from requesting more funding despite research studies finding no clear link between spending and student performance.

Perhaps unintentionally, the state Legislature has decided to move slowly on recommendations made three years ago by a commission regarding the public school funding formula. The suggested changes didn’t make it past the close of the recent legislative session. By failing to reach a deal, lawmakers showed claims that the state needs to spend up to $1 billion more on public schools to help cover the costs of health care and educating students with greater needs deserves more scrutiny.

I see no convincing evidence more state funding will improve the delivery of services to English Language Learning, special education, and low-income students. Health care costs already comprise a major share of the state budget.

Overriding this new set of issues is how to address the achievement gap between rich and poor children. One option in dealing with ELL and low-income students was foreclosed in 2016 when voters, siding with the teachers’ unions, rejected lifting the cap on charter schools. The same forces are lining up for more money and less accountability.

A recent report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center suggested the state could increase funding for reforms such as wraparound services, new school governance, and targeted professional development – all fuzzy ideas with no sure benefits. Money matters but it’s important to recognize how the money is spent.

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Now that the Legislature has failed to act, supporters from low-income districts threaten to sue the Commonwealth. But that, like the pleas for more money, is a fool’s errand. Ruling on a similar suit in 2005, the Supreme Judicial Court in the Hancock vs. Driscoll case found that the state was meeting its constitutional obligations to educate students.

Massachusetts school funding is good and plenty.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. Anyone interested in suggesting a topic or writing a piece can contact him at laidler@globe.com.