MTA calls for more revenue to improve education funding

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MTA President Barbara Madeloni criticized the fiscal 2017 budget approved by the Legislature Thursday for, among other problems, failing to adequately fund public higher education and failing to eliminate the burdensome, unworkable and unhelpful mandate that districts create “student impact ratings” for all educators based on student MCAS scores and District-Determined Measures.

The budget was released by a joint House and Senate conference committee on Wednesday, June 29, and approved by the Legislature one day before the start of the new fiscal year.

The budget includes significant cuts in some programs in response to a revenue shortfall — caused in part by years of tax cuts that have led to a structural deficit. The governor now has the option of vetoing specific line items.

“Although the state’s economy is in better shape than most of the nation’s, we still have major budget shortfalls because our revenues simply aren’t adequate to fund the public services this state needs to thrive,” Madeloni said.

“The Legislature should address this issue head-on by approving new revenues,” she continued, “and the voters should show their support for education and transportation infrastructure by approving the Fair Share Amendment in 2018.” That amendment is projected to raise almost $2 billion a year by increasing taxes on annual income over $1 million.

Madeloni also said that the MTA disagrees with the Legislature’s failure to change the state’s public education foundation budget formula in a way that would address recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, as well as the decision to eliminate the Full-Day Kindergarten grant program.

“Although preK-12 education was protected from cuts more than some other services, we are disappointed that the state is not doing more for both public schools and public higher education,” she said.

Information on some of MTA’s budget priorities appears below. Go HERE for more detailed information.

  • DDM mandate. The Senate approved getting rid of the DDM and impact rating mandates; the House did not. Although MTA members sent legislators more than 7,000 e-mails on the issue, the conference committee sided with the House. The MTA is pursuing other avenues to advocate for repeal, including making the case to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and weighing options for future legislative action.
  • FBRC: The Senate had agreed to partially alter the foundation budget formula in line with changes recommended by the FBRC; the House did not. These changes are needed to reflect the true cost of providing all students with a constitutionally mandated level of educational quality. The conference committee sided with the House. The MTA will continue pushing on this issue.
  • Higher Education Funding: The Senate recommended $22 million more in funding than the House did. The conferees sided with the House. Overall, funding for public higher education went up by only 0.8 percent, which is not enough to put funding in Massachusetts on par with most other states. MTA’s higher education leaders predict that the lack of adequate funding could lead to furloughs, layoffs and tuition increases for students.
  • Kindergarten Expansion Grants: This program was established to provide increased learning opportunities through full-day programs for kindergartners. The funds are used mainly to pay for staff, including sorely-needed paraprofessionals. The program, funded at $18.6 million in fiscal 2016, was eliminated in the FY17 budget. This will force districts that were counting on the grant to either reduce kindergarten staff or take money from other areas to maintain current staffing levels.
  • Retiree Health Insurance: The Legislature sided with the Senate on an MTA-backed measure to protect certain retirees who were threatened with increases in the share of health insurance premiums they are required to pay. MTA retirees lobbied legislators for this protection.
  • Chapter 70 Funding: The budget provided a $116 million increase in Chapter 70, which is enough to keep all districts at or above existing foundation budget levels. Districts will receive at least $55 more per pupil over what they received in FY16. Districts whose aid would have been negatively affected by the shift in the method used to count low-income students are held harmless with the additional aid. Essentially, the budget provides enough for most districts to maintain current services, but not enough to make significant improvements.
  • School Building Assistance: This line item was increased by almost $31 million from FY16, but is down more than $32 million from the House and Senate budgets due to lower-than-projected revenues for the FY17 budget.