Legislature Fails to Reach Consensus on School Spending

Legislature Fails to Reach Consensus on School Spending

There were high expectations that the legislature would act on findings of the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) to adjust the foundation budget for health insurance, special education, English Language Learners and low income students to increase funding by about $1 billion over five years. As a member of the FBRC representing MBAE, I encouraged members of the Conference Committee to resolve the few differences between the House and Senate bills to move the process of updating the foundation budget forward.  After all, those bills passed in their respective chambers without a single vote of dissent!

The major area of disagreement was on how best to identify the estimate for a foundation budget increment for English Language Learners (ELL) and low-income students in a way that provides a better chance for sustainable appropriation in the future. The FBRC also struggled with this issue and acknowledged that determining additional funding for ELL and low-income was not as straightforward as setting amounts for health insurance and special education, where there is a clear basis for a specific recommendation and cost estimate.

The report itself identifies problems in quantifying ELL and low-income student funding, using less precise language than for health insurance and SPED. The conclusion (p.11) was that “The Legislature will need to determine specific increments based on further review of data and debate”. While it is unfortunate that this determination has not been accomplished since the report was issued, I consider it reasonable to set a strict timetable for completing this “review” and acting on the FBRC recommendation to “Leave the exact calculation of each increment to legislative action”.  MBAE expressed support for a compromise that would ensure resolution of the ELL and low-income increments on a timetable that makes these adjustment amounts available for inclusion in the FY2020 state budget.

Throughout FBRC discussions, MBAE emphasized that measures to ensure the efficient and effective use of resources for education are essential to ensure these investments are serving students in the best way possible – particularly when state funds are limited. We believe that establishment of the proposed data advisory council is also an important step toward this end, but will only succeed if its members have the experience in data science and the knowledge of effective education resource allocation needed to act on the council’s charge. This charge must include tracking increased funding allocated for needier students to demonstrate these dollars are actually spent on those students; requiring evaluation of where funds are being used effectively and where they are not; and, streamlining reporting to provide transparent, actionable data.

MBAE will renew its efforts in the next legislative session to pass a bill that not only addresses shortfalls in the foundation budget but also strengthens and supports strategic, student-focused resource allocation decisions at the district and school levels.

For more on this topic, read The Boston Globe editorial here

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