LYNN — Mayor Thomas M. McGee is supportive of a potential lawsuit three gateway city mayors have threatened to file if they’re not satisfied with efforts to fix the state’s outdated education funding formula. As for Lynn’s interest in potential litigation, he said “all options are on the table” at this point.
The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday the mayors of Brockton, New Bedford and Worcester said at a press conference that they would file litigation if the state legislature failed to follow through on promised changes to the 1993 foundation budget formula, which would potentially result in a significant increase in state funding to Massachusetts school districts. No deadline was given on when those changes would need to be seen by.
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 (ELL) and low-income students, and for health insurance.
“Obviously, the formula from 1993 is impacting communities like Lynn in a substantial way,” McGee said. “It’s probably a $47 million gap between what should be funded and what we’re getting right now … I think at this point, the city is looking at all alternatives to make sure we get the result that the city of Lynn and the students and the citizens in the city really expect and are looking towards.”
Patrick Moore, an attorney working with the cities, told the Globe that the lawsuit being prepared will argue that the state is failing to live up to its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education to students in those districts. The argument’s precedent would be a 1993 Supreme Court Judicial ruling that led to the current formula, which was prompted by another lawsuit from Massachusetts municipalities, according to the report.
“It’s great to see that both the House and Senate, and the governor are advocating in some respect for where we need to go, but we need to see real progress to get to where we need to be, so I think we’re going to push and address that challenge in as many ways as possible,” McGee said, adding he’s talked to a number of mayors involved in pushing the lawsuit.
“At this point, all options are on the table,” he continued. “We can’t just make incremental progress. We need to make sure that if we make progress in this budget cycle, that over the next two or three years, we’re going to get to where we need to be.”
A recent report from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents showed Lynn could be underfunded by $47.1 million annually. An update to the formula was recommended back in 2015 with a report from the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which showed the state was funding $1-2 billion less than it should be for K-12 public education.
The proposed state Senate Ways and Means Committee budget, released this week, would provide more Chapter 70 funding for the state’s schools, including Lynn for fiscal year 2020, than what Gov. Charlie Baker proposed this winter when he outlined a seven-year plan to revamp the funding formula, according to state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn).
Senate debate on the budget is set to begin later this month, but under the proposal, Lynn would receive an additional $18.15 million in state aid for FY2020 over what the city received last year, for a total of $185.8 million in Chapter 70 funds, according to Crighton.
If approved, the state budget would provide for the largest Chapter 70 year-to-year increase in aid to Massachusetts schools in 20 years, which would total $5.176 billion for a $268 million increase over FY19, according to Crighton.
“It’s a major increase across the state, but particularly a city like Lynn where the money is definitely needed, so we’re pretty excited about it,” Crighton said. “The Lynn delegation has done a great job advocating for this and I think everyone would say it’s a top priority. We’re going to see how this session goes, but I think everyone recognizes we’ve come up short for ELL, low-income and special education students.”
Crighton said both the House and Senate are committed to fixing the foundation budget formula, but understands the frustration that would drive the three mayors to prepare a lawsuit.
“I think it points to the need that a lot of communities are facing in terms of education,” Crighton said. “We are committed as a legislature to addressing those needs by updating the formula, but I recognize that communities are frustrated and they’re within their rights to pursue lawsuits as well. I think it just speaks to the need and frustration that’s out there.”