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School funding formula needs an update

Good afternoon. My name is Anne Wass and I am President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. I am here to testify in support of the adequacy study proposed in Senate bill 278.

Sixteen years have now passed since the Education Reform Act became law, almost $4 billion in state aid goes to local school districts every year; and we are clearly due, some would say overdue, for an analysis of whether school funding in Massachusetts is adequate to meet the current needs of our students.

What is an Education Adequacy Study? In your packet, you will find information from the National Access Network explaining that it is a cost study, usually undertaken by education finance experts, to "estimate the amount of money needed for the educational services required to provide students the opportunity to meet state learning standards."

Massachusetts was the first state in the country to do an adequacy study, in 1991, as the basis for the foundation budget in the Education Reform Act of 1993. Since then, over 50 cost studies have been undertaken in over 35 states, and the methodology for determining needed costs is much more sophisticated.

Unfortunately, in Massachusetts, the foundation budget has not been updated in any significant way in 18 years--an entire generation of students. Just think about what life was like 18 years ago: technology alone has transformed everything we do and how we do it, from the computer to the Internet to the cell phone.

In 2007, Governor Patrick established "The Readiness Project," whose mission is to develop a plan for fundamental and systemic reforms to public education over the next 10 years. The Readiness Project’s Long Term Financing Subcommittee’s report, released in 2008, specifically recommended that a comprehensive "Adequacy Study" be conducted to: "quantify the level of resources required to provide an adequate public education to all children as required under the Massachusetts Constitution." You will hear today from the co-chair of that subcommittee, Tom Downes, who will tell you why the sub-committee came to that conclusion and why he still believes such a study should be undertaken.

SJC Justice Margot Botsford’s findings as Superior Court Justice in the Hancock school funding case were confirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court, despite the dismissal of the underlying case. Justice Botsford found that, despite the infusion of additional state funding since 1993, many of our school districts still lack the resources necessary to provide a quality education to all.

You will hear today from Norma Shapiro, with the Council for Fair School Finance, about the meaning of the SJC’s decision in Hancock, and why it is important to move ahead with an adequacy study.

Given all of this, why wouldn’t we want to update the centerpiece of our school funding formula as soon as possible?

There are some who say that the severity of the economic downturn prohibits us from even looking to increase funding for our schools. To this we say: we understand that it is very unlikely that education funding will be increased within the next few years, but this does not obviate our obligation to look to the future, to determine whether we are adequately funding our schools, even if we are unable to provide additional resources at this time.

Others say that the state should not undertake a study of this kind because it is likely to result in a finding that schools need to be funded at a higher level and, if the state is not in a position to increase funding to its schools, a lawsuit or other action would force the state to comply.

We do not agree with this assessment and, in fact, some would argue that a lawsuit could result if the foundation budget is not increased or an adequacy study undertaken.

This bill addresses the future funding concerns by requiring that the study be overseen by the Legislature and the Administration, so that any recommendations for increased funding could be coupled with a plan to provide the necessary dollars.

The bill is intended to help the state and localities plan for the future when additional investments and increased funding for our schools are economically feasible.

As originally filed, S. 278 contains the study as well as provisions to raise the foundation budget for three purposes: to reduce class size, to provide mentors for new teachers and to expand early education in the public schools. These specific proposals to increase the foundation budget were intended only as a first start in taking a comprehensive look at updating the foundation budget.

However, given the severity of the current economic crisis and the state’s budget deficit, we would like to propose, and the Senate sponsor, Senator Karen Spilka concurs, that the bill be amended by striking the first five sections of the bill, leaving the last two sections only: a study of the adequacy of the foundation budget and a small appropriation to fund the study.

We ask for your support for S. 278 and look forward to working with you on this important endeavor.

Thank you.