Senate approves foundation budget reforms to bolster public education
Boston — Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield, has announced that the Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted Thursday to pass a key education reform bill to update the state’s 25-year-old funding formula.
S.2506, “An Act modernizing the foundation budget for the 21st century,” was introduced by Joint Committee on Education Chair Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, D-Boston, and was co-sponsored by 36 senators including Hinds. The bill implements the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission, which found that the foundation budget formula is drastically underestimating education costs. This has forced deep cuts to classrooms and critical programs, and one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation.
Established by the 1993 Education Reform Act, the foundation budget was designed to ensure that every Massachusetts student was provided with a quality education. However, the formula has failed to keep up with rising fixed costs like health care and special education that have outpaced initial estimates. It also underrated what it actually takes to educate English language learners and students living in poverty. The FBRC found these combined costs have led the Commonwealth to underestimate the cost of education by $1 billion–$2 billion every year.
During the debate, Hinds sponsored an amendment to the bill establishing a new line of funding to support the unique needs and challenges faced by rural school districts. The amendment, co-sponsored by Sens. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and Don Humason Jr., R-Westfield, was based on the findings of the January 2018 report “Fiscal Conditions in Rural School Districts” by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and bolstered by a study released by State Auditor Suzanne Bump last fall. In her report, Bump called for major updates in the structure and finance of the state’s regional school districts.
Hinds’ amendment would establish a new school aid formula, separate from Chapter 70 funding, for rural school districts. The proposed formula is based on two major factors:
- Rural factor: student density per square mile of a school district; and
- Ability to pay: the average per capita income of a school district.
An annual general appropriation would be necessary to fund this new policy.
After conferring with colleagues and leadership, the amendment was withdrawn from consideration by Hinds after he spoke passionately on the need for establishing this necessary financial assistance for the most rural school districts in the Commonwealth. Hinds, who represents 52 rural communities across western Massachusetts and serves as co-chair of the Legislative Rural Caucus, intends to pursue this matter later this month when the Massachusetts Senate debates the fiscal year 2019 state budget.
S.2506 will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.