By Briana Vannozzi
When the school funding formula was established in 2008, the idea was for the money to follow the child. But what’s developed instead is a system that’s allowed nearly half of the state’s 600 school districts to become chronically underfunded.
“We have some school districts that are receiving three times the amount of aid than they should be and some towns receiving one-third of the aid that they should be. This means some towns are paying 50 percent more in property taxes than they should be and some are paying 50 percent less,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Sweeney dropped legislation today to fix the School Funding Reform Act. It comes after months of rumors that legislative leadership was concocting a bipartisan plan to reallocate how the money is spent.
“We need to commit roughly $100 million a year over the next five years so what happens is, you’re going to see — it’s like a scale some are going to come down some are going to come up but eventually you come to level. And the goal is to 100 percent funding formula. I don’t think any organization can make an argument that it’s unfair to be at 100 percent,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney is proposing a special commission to study and create a new funding plan that brings all districts to full funding within five years.
“The commission will come back to us in one year, with a recommended funding formula for all schools and it is an up or down vote. It goes directly to the floor,” he said.
“This is a big issue. We are receiving for next year 56 percent of the state aid that we’re due and yet our local tax effort is 44 percent above the local fair share. So our community has had to compensate where other communities are being overfunded. I think that’s the central issue,” said Newton Public Schools Superintendent G. Kennedy Greene.
The situation for Newton’s public schools — and hundreds of others — can be traced to the hold harmless concept created in the 2008 law. It gave districts a boost in aid before decreasing it, based on future enrollment and demographic shifts. That aid was supposed to stop. Yet some districts are still being doled out that money today.
“It has caused a massive disconnect in how schools are actually functioning and how they’re funded. The state continues to distribute more than half a billion dollars in hold harmless aid more than eight years after the School Reform Act from 2008,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey.
The Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick is on board saying in a statement, “The Legislature should decide rather than the courts. Instead of fully funding a broken formula, we should fix it by making it fair and more equal.”
“People may be skeptical about study commissions but I think the fact that we have time boundaries on it and it will lead to an up or down vote, I think it will put something on the table that should seek to make the formula work and be fair for all of us,” Greene said.
The commission will be made up of four members, likely financial experts including ex-treasurers. They’ll figure out if additional spending is needed or if existing funds can be used. Sweeney says he’s hopeful this will work for one reason. It forces lawmakers to vote, not make deals.