Time for school spending formula update

Much has changed since 1993 and the days of renting videos from a store, using a landline and smoking with impunity. What hasn’t changed in almost 26 years is a state funding formula for education that public school officials insist — in fact, demand — gets upgraded.

Part of the state’s landmark Education Reform Act that included student testing reform, the “foundation budget formula” represents a state estimate of the minimum amount of money needed in each school district across the state to provide students with an education.

Education reform through comprehensive testing has been in place for decades but the formula became obsolete years ago. The foundation budget for special education spending in Lynn, according to calculations by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, is $17.8 million, but Lynn spends $31.5 million on special education, leaving the city with a $13.7 million gap to cover with city spending.

The gap between the foundation budget for health insurance spending locally is even wider with the city spending $38.4 million but only receiving a $17.7 million foundation budget.

Lynn School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler did not sound like he was overstating the case when he underscored “the desperate need” on behalf of the state Legislature to update the formula.

Mayor Thomas M. McGee said foundation spend shortfalls set the stage for an annual ” … battle between the city and schools to make ends meet …” Gov. Charlie Baker highlighted the school spending formula inequity during his Jan. 3 inaugural address to the Legislature and said the state budget his administration will file later this month will include proposed changes to the formula.

The urgent need to update the formula is only one part of the foundation spending story. A 2015 report on the funding formula calls for updating calculations for health care and special education and adding a funding mechanism for low-income students and English language learners.

In other words, it asks state officials to look at modern education challenges and provide money for cities and towns to meet them.

The superintendents association concluded that updating the formula would result in an annual $1.8 billion increase in aid to Massachusetts public schools. We encourage legislators to prioritize updating the formula during winter and spring month budget discussions.

Critics will find the suggestion of a spending boost an easy target for ridicule. They’re right: Education is an expensive proposition, but ignorance, including the insistence on using outdated funding formulas to aid schools, is ultimately much more expensive.

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