Thursday, December 31, 2015

That's not how this works (on funding the FBRC report)

From a Bay State Banner interview with Governor Baker in which he commented that his budget is going in the right direction:
In this 2016 fiscal year, the Baker administration put an additional $111 million into Chapter 70 funding, which helps support district schools and is tapped to support charter schools. This represents a 3 percent increase — the highest amount the state has ever provided to municipalities, says the Baker administration. 
The increase is not great enough to bring baseline school funding to the levels they should be within one year but may be on track to close the gap in four years, according to the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission.* 
No, it isn't.

The increase in last year's Chapter 70 funding was largely caused by two things: changes in enrollment (more kids plus more kids with special education or ELL needs, and other foundation level changes) and inflation (which last year was 1.5%). That chapter 70 increase also includes the minimum increase given to non-foundation communities, which last year was $25/pupil**.

The enrollment changes, the inflation rate which should be observed and the years in which it was not (the rate is negative; inflation isn't), and, I suspect, the communities which receive the minimum increase aren't going to vanish because someone decided to deal with the Foundation Budget Review Commission Report. Further, none of those things are dealt with in the two cost drivers specifically cited by the Banner: special education and health insurance.
The costs in the FBRC are OVER AND ABOVE the minimum regular foundation budget increases. So, no, last year's much-touted $111 million increase over four years isn't going to cover the needs of the FBRC, or even of the two biggest drivers of the FBRC.

But there are a couple of things that I'd suggest the Legislature could be working on even this year around starting to deal with the report:

  • Inflation: a slightly negative inflation rate in no way reflects the actual costs of running a school districts. Whether the state decides to change how this rate is calculated--and I would suggest that they should--this year, when the accepted rate is set at something slightly negative, but the general budgetary assumption should be something more than 2%, would be an excellent chance for the Legislature to make up some of the ground lost in the years the state set the rate otherwise. 
  • Low income: as I've hammered on at some length, unless the state intends to go for yet another year of using everyone's old numbers (which I believe puts some districts on FY14 numbers), they need to redefine low income in the MGL. Given the substantial negative changes some districts saw in their numbers, I'm not sure that, say, Worcester's estimate would fly. The Legislature should recognize, however, that if there are a substantial number of kids being missed through the Economically Disadvantaged calculation, they're being missed for more than a calculation on lunch, and there needs to be a broader (not-just-DESE) effort to find them. Then maybe numbers like WPS (and others) would work.
  • ELL: This is the only one in which a clear number change tied to particular kids was part of the report. That's as straightforward as it gets.
I've heard a number of suggestions that the state could only have the sort of funding needed to substantively deal with the report if the Fair Share amendment passes. Maybe. The concern there is it kicks the whole issue out a few years. The school districts still have kids to educate and budgets to balance now, though; it can't wait.
Don't believe, however, that having the regular chapter 70 increases is somehow magically going to do that.

*The phrasing here is a little deceptive; I don't think the paper intends to suggest that the report said that the gap could be closed this way in four years, but it could easily be read that way.
**Note that this is not actually part of the foundation budget in any way.

1 comment:

Bruce Kiernan said...

In my opinion, the lack of Boston Public Schools support for the FBRC conclusions in the past has amounted to de-facto, silent opposition - a willingness to let it fail. The FBRC faces substantial budget and legislative challenges, given the distribution of those who benefit from the changes. Without Boston's support, does it have a chance? The current administration could demonstrate their commitment to equity by supporting the FBRC changes.

The previous Superintendent did not advocate for changes in FBRC, and warned of "unintended consquences" to the changes. It appears his calculation was:
- Total Chapter 70 aid state-wide was probably not going to increase; and
- A substantial increase in the foundation budget might result in Boston receiving less Chapter 70 aid.