Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A few thoughts on the Foundation Budget Review Commission meeting UPDATED

Some of this recapitulates what I put in italics in the liveblog

I should start by noting that the Commission now has a month left in its extension, as its work is due the first of November. With the taking on of David Bunker, this means that effectively the commission has outsourced much of the work (as much of it remains) to the consultant.
Also, if indeed Mr. Bunker is the CFO of the Secretary of Education's office, is he on leave to do this work? Or being dispatched by the Secretary to do it? And if he works for the Secretary, doesn't that compromise his position as an independent artibiter, answering to the whole committee? This wasn't addressed at the Commission meeting.
UPDATE: Aha! Bunker left the office after a transition period after the change in administration (in other words, he worked for Secretary Malone; he was part of those leaving when Peyser came in as part of the Baker administration). And thanks to Senator Chang-Diaz's office for the additional information.

I'm also dismayed at how far removed much of the discussion remains from what the committee's purview is. Massachusetts has had, since 1993, a progressive education funding system in response to McDuffy. We do not anymore. Progressive education funding means that those with greater needs--both students and districts--receive greater support. This is what underpins the entirety of the foundation budget. I continue to not hear a great deal about this.
Connected to that, we heard yesterday floated the idea that they really should be looking at districts that have smaller amounts of spending with high test scores. This is specifically mentioned as something that cannot be a measure in the Hancock decision; equity of resources may not be denied even if districts manage high test scores with them.
Likewise, there was a suggestion that districts with spending over foundation and higher test scores should be looked at...missing that districts that can spend over foundation are generally higher income districts....which correlates with higher test scores.
And, as has been repeated particularly by Senator Jehlen, test scores cannot be the measure of a quality of education.
I'm confused as to why the Commission would be recommending that anyone look at Race to the Top grants. I know this is quite a few years back now, but we couldn't use Race to the Top funding for just anything; the application of those funds was very narrow. Here's the list of what Worcester used it for. That's completely unrelated to anyone saying, "What are your greatest needs?" or "Where are your greatest funding gaps?"
I'm stunned that somehow inflation has dropped off the list. We missed an entire year of inflation. The state set another year's lower. And we're in a year in which we're looking at a negative inflation factor for FY17 unless something dramatic changes.
There's also still not a real recognition of the need to move on low income. In fact, yesterday, this was characterized as something the Board of Ed needs to do; it isn't. The Legislature and Governor need to change Chapter 70. That has to happen before (or in, maybe, though that would leave us all wondering what our budgets are) the next budget.
Finally, the ongoing mistrust of the local budgetary authority--yes, that would be school committees--is insulting, frankly, and far removed from the actual work. The need to tie new money to particular areas, with no regard to what local budgets have done; the wish to track every new dollar for particular yields (even if there are overdue needs elsewhere); the overarching and pervasive sense that Massachusetts, with some of (possibly the?) closest tracking of education spending in the country somehow has dollars frittered away, is completely removed from reality. Every public district in Massachusetts passes a public budget in public session after public hearings. We are legally mandated to. We are publicly questioned on our decisions and must be able to defend them.
And, yes, we do know how to spend our budgets better than either Boston or Malden do, thank you.
The simple fact of the matter is that the foundation budget is undercalculated by AT LEAST two billion dollars. This isn't "new" money that may flow to districts; it's money the state (in many cases) owes public education. They've been borrowing classroom dollars to pay special education and health insurance costs for years now. That's a backlog that has accummulated in districts across the state. Those dollars cannot rightfully be tied to new strings, as these are in fact old dollars. They're just ones the state thought that they could ignore.
Time's up on that.

1 comment:

Dan said...

As always, great work Tracy. Thank you for sharing and for attending these meetings to represent all of us on school committees across the state.