MTA criticizes Ways & Means school funding proposal

The MTA is expressing dismay over the level of Chapter 70 funding provided in the House Ways & Means budget: $91 million, or just 2.8 percent over last year's level.

"If this plan is passed, it will be a real blow to students, families and educators," said Massachusetts Teachers Association President Catherine A. Boudreau. "Far too many districts have been cutting programs, increasing class sizes, deferring maintenance, hiking student fees, and under-funding their budgets for books, technology and supplies. They really need help from the state to get back on an even keel. This budget doesn't provide them with that help."
Where public higher education is concerned, the MTA gave qualified support to the House committee for allocating $53 million more than the amount in the current year, but noted that state spending on public higher education is still 24 percent lower than in fiscal year 2001, when adjusted for inflation.
"This is definitely a step in the right direction," said Boudreau. "But it is just one step in a long journey to restore higher education services to where they were."
The University of Massachusetts budget is increased by $27.3 million, or 6.2 percent over FY06 (including supplemental appropriations). State colleges are increased by $9.6 million (4 percent) and community colleges by $8.3 million (3.8 percent).

The committee's Chapter 70 proposal for funding local public schools is substantially less than the $278 million sought in the Funding Schools for Student Success bill filed by more than 40 House members, and also much less than the $164 million contained in the governor's budget.
"A $91 million increase may sound big, but in reality it is not nearly enough to allow districts to meet rising costs and restore services that were cut in recent years," said Boudreau. "It does not begin to address the challenge of closing the achievement gaps or guaranteeing that all children in this state receive a quality education."

Local school budget problems stem from at least two factors: School district costs, driven by increases in such areas energy and health care, are rising rapidly, and state Chapter 70 aid has been cut significantly since fiscal year 2002. When adjusted for inflation and changes in enrollment, Chapter 70 aid is more than $400 million less than in FY02.

The MTA is supporting the Funding Schools for Student Success bill, which changes the school funding formula to enable districts to reduce class sizes, provide extra help to struggling students and restore many programs – such as art and music – that have been cut. That bill is also supported by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers.
"We need increases in school funding now," said Boudreau. "If you put it off for another year, that's one more year that students will be deprived of the education they deserve."

On the governor's budget, the MTA prefers Romney's level of Chapter 70 to the level contained in the House budget, but opposes some of the strings attached to that funding in future years, such as removing health insurance from collective bargaining negotiations. In addition, the MTA opposes Romney's costly "pay for performance" proposals, which were rejected in the House plan.