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Lynn’s schools may have been underfunded by $47.1M

LYNN — As the city continues to face a financial crisis, a report shared last week shows an outdated state budget funding formula could be costing Lynn Public Schools an additional $47.1 million in state aid annually.

Lynn school officials support a new “Tale of Our Cities” report from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, shared during a community forum at Malden High School last Tuesday, which recommended an update to the state foundation budget formula.

In his second inaugural address, Gov. Charlie Baker said the formula, established in 1993, needs to be updated and his administration will propose changes when the state budget is filed later this month.

The foundation budget is the state’s estimate of the minimum amount needed in each district to provide an adequate educational program. Municipalities pay a share of the foundation budget, part of the Chapter 70 funding structure, the major program of state aid to public schools, based on an ability to pay, aggregate wealth, using property taxes and income.

The formula hasn’t been updated since it was established, leaving districts, especially low-income ones such as Lynn, spending significantly more than the foundation budget assumes municipalities need to educate its special education students, English Language Learners, and low-income students, and for health insurance.

“We’re not doing this so we can cut back on the city side,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee at a School Committee meeting last week. “We’re all part of one budget and we need to make sure the budget works for everyone, so that’s the goal.

“This is about the state stepping up and funding the way they should be funding the schools so we’re not worried about those kinds of challenges on health insurance, on special ed, and the kind of costs we don’t see from the state. We need to help fund those so that … we’re not having this battle between the city and schools to make ends meet across the board and that’s what this is all about.”

In Lynn, there’s a $13.7 million gap between what the foundation budget provides for special education and what the district actually spends, based on a $17.8 million budget and $31.5 million in funding, according to the presentation.

The gap for health insurance is $20.7 million, based on a foundation budget of $17.7 million and actual spending of $38.4 million, according to the presentation.

“I’m really hopeful that this (Tale of Our Cities) event draws attention to the desperate need for Mass lawmakers to revisit and update the formula,” said Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler.

The MASS is supporting an update based on the 2015 report of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), convened by the state legislature, which recommended that the formula’s healthcare and special education assumptions be updated and there should be additional funds for low-income students and English Language Learners.

That change in the formula, the committee found, would result in an additional $1 billion of state funding. The report shared on Tuesday night showed an update would result in a $1.8 billion increase in annual aid to public schools statewide.

In addition to the governor’s call for an update in his inaugural speech, legislation on a proposed overhaul of the formula is pending in the state legislature in the form of a bill filed by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who co-chaired the FBRC. The bill, which would have driven hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid to schools, died over the summer, according to WBUR.

The Lynn Teachers Union has joined with American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Massachusetts and the Fund Our Future Coalition of students, educators, parents, and community leaders from across Massachusetts to “press lawmakers to make long overdue fixes to our state’s education funding system,” reads a Fund Our Future pamphlet provided to the Item.

“The FBRC recommended investing in our neediest students: low-income students, students with disabilities, and English Language learners,” reads the pamphlet. “These are resources we desperately need to lower class sizes, increase social and academic supports and enhance enrichment opportunities for our students.”

The Lynn Teachers Union is planning a “walk-in” on Tuesday morning at Harrington Elementary School 7:45 to show support for the Fund Our Future campaign and for the teachers’ union on strike in Los Angeles.

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