Vice Chair Senator DiDomenico and Representative Brodeur and Members of the Committee:
MASC thanks you for giving us the opportunity to appear before the Committee and to file our comments with you. The Governor’s F.Y.2017 budget recommendations propose increasing Chapter 70, general aid to education, by about $72 million reflecting a 1.6% addition to prior year amounts. The recommended funding is well below the $111 million Chapter 70 increase found in the current FY 2016 budget and even further below other recent budgets. MASC recognizes the difficulty faced by the Governor in crafting a balanced FY 2017 state budget while having to fund surging health care costs and state pension obligations. Indeed school committees struggle with these same budget busters, most particularly health care and special education budgetary increases as was noted recently by the Foundation Budget Review Commission. MASC is disappointed that the important recommendations of the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission were not included in H 2. Further delaying the implementation of these recommendations exacerbates these inequities as they continue to multiply. Our schools are being short-changed by the Commonwealth, and a population just barely emerging from the worst economic downturn since the 1930’s is reluctant to increase taxes.
CHAPTER 70 RECOMMENDATIONS
MASC respectfully request that the Ways and Means Committees increase the $20.00 per pupil funding found in H2 to $100.00. This method of distribution is received by every school district in the state according to its student population.
Also, we request that you include some level of funding to special education and health insurance costs. MASC recognizes the budgetary problems facing the Commonwealth; however, the budget should not totally ignore the Foundation Review Commission recommendations concerning the spiraling costs of special education and health care.
Finally, we agree with the Governor that special education rates shall remain the same as FY 2016 except for programs that qualify for extraordinary relief pursuant to Section 31 of H.2.
Special Education Circuit Breaker
In the FY 2016 budget MASC was pleased that the Special Education Circuit Breaker account was fully funded and we request that this appropriation remains fully funded in FY 2017. The students benefited by this account are the most vulnerable population that school districts serve.
REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION
The Governor proposed that the regional school transportation appropriation be level funded in H2. MASC notes that the FY2016 funding fell well short of the 100% requirement of law, and we request that the Legislature fully fund Regional School Transportation.
Charter School Funding
Monies for districts sending students to charter schools would be raised by $20 million in H2 bringing total funding to $101 million. The charter school law (G.L.c.71, S.89 (gg) provides that reimbursement shall be equal to 100% of the charter school tuition in the first year and 25% of said tuition in years 2 through 6. Section 42 of H2 proposes a major revision to the charter school funding formula. This section changes the formula for providing reimbursements in FY 2017 to school districts experiencing increases in charter school tuitions as follows: 100% of the increase in tuition amounts from FY2016 to FY 2017; for any district with charter payments exceeding 9% of net school spending in FY 2017, an additional 50% of any increase in tuition amounts from FY 2015 to FY 2016; and for any such district, an additional 25% of any increase in tuition amounts from FY 2014 to FY 2015. This proposal can be read to eliminate any reimbursement after FY 2017. At the very least Section 42 reduces funding , which is now reimbursed over 6 years to a three year payout and reduces the current payout from 225% to 175%.
CHARTER SCHOOL FUNDING RECOMMENDATION
Keep current statutory language and fund the account accordingly.
In conclusion, we have frequently looked to the Legislature to remedy educational funding deficiencies recommended by various Governors over the years, and your assistance has been greatly appreciated. Thank you for your consideration of our recommendations, and we are available at your request for further discussion of these matters.