LEXINGTON – Citing the critical imbalance in access to educational opportunities for public school students across the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents is imploring lawmakers to take action.
“We all believe that children, regardless of zip code, income level, ethnicity, or aptitude must have equal access to educational opportunities,” said Eric Conti, president of the superintendents’ association. “We need to insure all school systems have access to adequate funding. Why should a child in Brockton or Belchertown not have the same opportunities as a child in Burlington or Brookline?”
M.A.S.S. is pushing state lawmakers to overhaul the state’s education funding formula and rewrite the 25-year old legislation currently in place. A report by the Foundation Budget Review Commission shows the current funding formula underestimates the cost of public education by hundreds of millions of dollars. The formula, adopted in 1993, does not take into account information technology needs, special education costs, English Language Learners, or school safety demands, among other items that have become common parts of a 21st century school budget.
And a report released this week by the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership, “Number One for Some: Opportunity & Achievement in Massachusetts” outlined the significant funding disparities statewide that result from the outdated legislation. (See https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/09/23/push-for-more-school-funding-gains-ally/VYI3HueApcserSeQxh6ZeI/story.html)
Furthering the point, Conti said, is the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s release of 2018 MCAS data. The results showed 230 schools did not meet academic expectations. (See https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/09/26/state-will-require-new-assistance-struggling-schools/DBx3JFfvX92a3zZ4XN7oEP/story.html)
This only highlights the importance of focusing on schools referenced in the “Number One for Some” report, said Conti, the superintendent of the Burlington Public Schools.
“In 1993, we did not have such things as full-day kindergarten, full day pre-K, extended school days,” Conti said. “We did not have computers in classrooms, let alone information technology departments in our schools. We did not have points of emphasis on school safety, the social and emotional wellness of students, or the global marketplace we now prepare students for.“
M.A.S.S. contends that while some communities have been fortunate enough to provide local funding to support such initiatives, many have not. This has created significant inequity in both education and opportunity for all students.
“We aren’t using 25-year old cars or telephones, why are we supporting schools through a 25-year old formula?” Conti asked.
Tom Scott, executive director of the M.A.S.S. said the membership welcomes the accountability that comes with an updated funding formula. He said all superintendents recognize the importance of insuring that funds are used to provide much needed programs to students.
“We tout our school system in Massachusetts as one of the best in the country, but that is not the case. If we truly want to be number one, then we must focus on confronting and addressing the financial inequities in our schools,” Scott said.
“The cost of operating schools has changed dramatically. This is due to the dramatic growth in health insurance costs nationwide and the fact that such costs have increased at a significantly higher rate than the projected rate of inflation back in 1993,” Scott said. “The cost of health insurance and other fixed charges exceeds 1993 projections by 140 percent. Think about that – 140 percent and we’re not talking about technology, safety, special education or other needs of schools.”
The number of students identified in need of special services – both for those who excel and those who struggle – has become one of the primary focuses of all schools, Scott said.
“Some communities have emphasized individualized learning. Shouldn’t all schools have the opportunity to make that decision? The cost of providing equitable special education programs in schools statewide has increased dramatically but state funding of these critical programs has not. Actual costs are in many if not all cases some 60 to 70 percent higher than 25 years ago. We need to address this.”
The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, founded in 1973, is dedicated to the unique professional and advocacy concerns of school superintendents and assistant superintendents. Membership includes 277 superintendents and 148 assistant superintendents.