State budget increases education spending but falls short

State budget increases education spending but falls short

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2019 budget provides modest increases for schools and colleges, fails to update education funding formula

The fiscal 2019 state budget passed by the Legislature provides modest increases for public schools and colleges, but falls short because it fails to implement key recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission or provide the resources needed to make debt-free college a reality.

“Our highest priority at the MTA is to make sure all students have the opportunity to learn at excellent, well-funded public schools and colleges,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy. “We are still a long way from achieving that goal.”

Najimy also expressed disappointment that the Legislature failed to include the Safe Communities Act in the budget. This act would have restricted local police from acting as immigration agents.

“The act is critical in protecting our students and would help them come to school free of worry of being separated from their parents," Najimy said.

The $41.88 billion budget is currently before Governor Charlie Baker, who has 10 days from July 18 to sign it or veto specific sections. The Legislature has until July 31 to override any vetoes.

Legislators voted to increase spending above the amounts in the earlier House and Senate budgets after receiving information that revenues have been coming in at levels higher than projected. Education received some of the additional funds, with preK-12 schools receiving 4.6 percent more than was provided in the fiscal year 2018 budget, as originally approved, and public higher education campuses receiving 3.5 percent more.

"Our highest priority at the MTA is to make sure all students have the opportunity to learn at excellent, well-funded public schools and colleges. We are still a long way from achieving that goal.”

MTA President Merrie Najimy

"The increase in Chapter 70 and other line items will help some districts reverse cuts and recall some educators who were laid off,” said Najimy, “but it doesn’t go nearly far enough in making sure all students are educated in well-equipped, fully staffed schools that provide them with the support and services they need to succeed. In particular, schools in our low-income communities continue to struggle."

She added, “The increases in public higher education do not come close to restoring funding that has been cut over the past two decades, which explains why our students have some of the highest debt in the country. In fact, UMass recently announced a 2.5 percent tuition increase, making the cost of attending even less affordable.”

The budget makes modest increases in the foundation budget, the formula that determines how much each district must spend to provide all students with an “adequate” education. But it does not come close to addressing the shortfalls identified by the nonpartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission. That commission determined in 2015 that the formula needs to be updated to reflect the actual costs of educating students.

The foundation budget formula is being addressed more ambitiously in separate bills recently passed by the House and Senate. The Senate bill calls for a phase-in of increases in several major areas where projected costs are too low: health insurance, special education services and educating English learners and low-income students. Once fully phased in, the Senate bill would increase state education spending by more than $1 billion a year.

The House version only addresses the shortfalls in health insurance and special education and would increase spending by about one-third as much as the Senate bill does. Both of those bills are now before a joint House-Senate conference committee, which has no deadline for taking action on reconciling the differences.

“Passing a fully funded foundation budget bill is our highest priority for our preK-12 schools,” said Najimy. “It’s up to the Legislature to find the revenues that are needed. Quality education is too important to put off for another day.”

Najimy expressed disappointment that several MTA-backed provisions were not included in the 2019 budget, including:

  • A mandate that districts provide young students with at least 20 minutes of recess a day.
  • Establishment of a special Commission on UMass Boston Debt.
  • A proposal to freeze the health insurance premium percentage split for certain municipal retirees.

MTA-supported provisions that were adopted include:

  • Increasing a public employee’s post-retirement earnings cap from 960 to 1,200 hours per year.
  • Eliminating the cap that denies welfare benefits to children born while their parents were already receiving welfare benefits.
  • Providing new protections for UMass Boston centers and institutes, including the Labor Resource Center and the Trotter Institute.