Published in the March 16, 2016 edition


LYNNFIELD — The School Committee is gearing up to join a number of area communities in the fight for Chapter 70 reform.

The Chapter 70 program, which was established by the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, is the major program of state aid to public elementary and secondary schools. In addition to providing state aid to support school districts, the program also establishes minimum spending requirements for each school district and minimum requirements for each municipality’s share of school costs.

School Committee member Dorothy Presser said the Chapter 70 formula has not been updated in the past 23 years. She noted the Suburban Coalition, which she is currently serving as president of, has called for local school committees, boards of selectmen and finance committees to sign off on a resolution requesting Governor Charlie Baker and the State Legislature to overhaul the Chapter 70 funding formula by implementing recommendations established by the Massachusetts Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC).

The FBRC was established by the State Legislature as part of the fiscal year 2016 state budget and was tasked with examining the Chapter 70 funding formula. The commission issued a report last fall identifying two areas, employee health insurance and special education, where the Massachusetts Foundation Budget significantly understates the true cost of educating students in the commonwealth. The report also stated the state has failed to keep pace with rising costs in both areas.

“The commission’s finding was that the areas of special education and employee health insurance are really understated and underfunded in the Chapter 70 formula,” said Presser.

According to the Suburban Coalition’s resolution that the School Committee will be signing off on, “If the recommendations of the FBRC had been implemented in the fiscal year 2016 budget, state funding for education would have been around $500 million more (than budgeted).”

“However, if Chapter 70 reflected the true cost of education, the number of be closer to $2 billion,” the resolution states.

Baker proposed increasing Chapter 70 funding by $72.1 million in his FY’17 state budget proposal. The town is expected to receive $4,131,921 in Chapter 70 funding in the FY’17 state budget.

Presser noted the state budget has “a long way to go in the House and Senate.”

“The governor’s budget for FY’17 increases Chapter 70 by only 1.6 percent,” said Presser in a post on the Suburban Coalition’s website. “It does nothing to recognize the findings of the FBRC regarding the systemic underfunding of the Foundation Budget in the areas of special education and employee health insurance.”

Presser said the purpose of the resolution is to “start the conversation.”

“(Chapter 70) is underfunded in a big way, but it doesn’t have an easy solution,” said Presser. “And its not like the (State Legislature) can throw another $500 million into Chapter 70 this year and its all set. We know it’s a big issue and we know it’s going to take a lot of conversations and time to implement it. We want to get the conversation started on addressing this issue.”

Presser noted 35 different boards and committees have signed on to the Chapter 70 resolution and 15 addition boards were scheduled to vote on it last week. The area school committees that have past the resolution include North Reading, Melrose, Amesbury, Arlington, Chelmsford, Peabody, Revere, Rockport, Salem, Wilmington and Winchester. Area boards of selectmen and finance committees have approved the resolution as well, including North Reading.

Presser encouraged the School Committee to pass the resolution to inform State Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading) and State Senator Tom McGee (D-Lynn) know the school board’s position on the matter. The school board will be discussing the Chapter 70 resolution at its next meeting on Tuesday, March 21.

Presser informed the Villager in an email she plans on asking the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee to support the resolution as well.

Making the case

According to the resolution, underfunding Chapter 70 “means the cost of providing a quality education has increasingly been borne by local communities, most often at the expense of other vital municipal operations.”

“Investing in education today leads to higher incomes, and thus less investment in police, prisons, subsidized health care, low income housing, welfare, etc. in the future,” the resolution states. “State and local economies are most effectively strengthened by investing in education and increasing the number of educated workers.”

The resolution stated: “Spending by school districts over the required net school spending amounts has increased, as a whole, for more than a decade, indicating that communities are using local property taxes and diverting funding from other portions of municipal budgets to fund their schools. In FY’14, the total spending above Foundation in the state was $1.7 billion. At the same time, the state’s commitment to municipal aid has declined. Since 2001, unrestricted local aid has been cut by 43 percent. The net effect is a combination of cuts to local and school services and an increasing reliance on the regressive property tax.”

The resolution continues: “The evidence overwhelmingly establishes the correlation between a well-educated workforce and higher income individuals. States that invest in more education have a higher paid workforce. Also, states that increase the level of education of their population see greater productivity and higher wages over time. The link can then easily be made between higher paid individuals and less reliance on various forms of government assistance, as well as lower rates of crime.”

The resolution added: “A state’s high school and college attainment rates are important factors in the state’s overall economic strength. Additionally, investments in education can have significant long-term impacts on state and local economies, as well-educated individuals tend to stay relatively local and contribute tax dollars to the state and municipality in which they reside. In general, the taxes paid over time by these individuals are substantially higher than the cost of their public education.”