Friday, September 11, 2015

Concerns around the connection between universal free lunch and school funding

I got a question yesterday about this coverage of concerns from Everett and Revere about how the loss of the free and reduced lunch measure will hit them on district funding. As I first posted in 2013 and more recently posted earlier this year, there are some significant concerns yet around the shift away from this funding model, and with regard particularly to Chapter 70, I don't think it's all been sorted out yet.
However, both Title I and Chapter 70 have (different) "hold harmless" provisions, which provide for changes in calculation, ensuring that districts DON'T have the sort of catastrophic drop in funding sketched out here. The idea that Revere's Chapter 70 funding would in one year plumet from 77 percent to 37 percent is...well, it's actually not possible under the foundation formula, which is 100% hold harmless. For Title I, the calculation (and I'm quoting DESE here) can only change for "population, Census poverty data, or enrollment" changes, and there's a floor to how much it can drop. Thus the concern that the Title I funding would slide like that doesn't pan out, either.*  

Now, the Legislature will need to address the funding issue, as Chapter 70 directly cites free and reduced lunch as a measure. Even before Worcester went to community eligibility, 21 districts had already moved to it, and several more have this year. That's a lot of districts that are just sailing on their previous free and reduced numbers, and I would assume it's also the majority of Chapter 70 aid received in the state. The Legislature does have to take this up, if only because Chapter 70 largely runs on real numbers (not averages or assumptions, with the exception of special ed).

*I do agree that Revere has a worrying gap between their free/reduced rate and their state certified number, in that it doesn't get them to the 40% they need for CEP. What's odd to me is Worcester is about the same on free/reduced, yet does hit over 40% for direct certification. See our backup from this vote for more. 

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