State Aid Falls Short for Schools
State Rep. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) filed legislation that's aimed at reforming the formula used to determine state aid for school districts.
This story is part of a nationwide Patch series probing the economy's effect on local schools.
The town of Winchester recently put out its budget for Fiscal Year 2012. The school department, which roughly takes up 40 percent of the budget, saw a four percent increase in its funds from 2011 to 2012.
This school budget allows the schools to maintain its current staffing, provide for the increase in Special Education costs and hire two more full-time core teachers at McCall Middle School, which is projected to have an increase of 70 students next year.
“There are no new programs,” Superintendent William McAlduff said. “It’s lean. Moving forward if we would have to reduce the budget any further it’s likely we would need to look at reducing positions. This budget reflects our minimum needs.”
The budget is not yet official because residents will need to vote on a $1.44 million general override on March 29.
Out of the $36,086,824 school budget, approximately $6 million comes from Chapter 70 funds. Chapter 70 or state aid is supposed to figure out what the average cost is to educate a child in the community.
Recently, State Representative, Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), filed a new piece of legislation – An Act to Fulfill the Promise of Education Reform by Ensuring Adequate Funding for Student Success. The legislation would focus on updating the formula used to figure out the Chapter 70 funds.
Chapter 70 started 18 years ago in 1993, when the state passed its Education Reform Act. But the formula used to figure out the amount of state aid has never been updated since the bill was first passed.
“We are underfunding what it really takes to provide an adequate education for these kids,” Lewis said. “The amount that the state is contributing to these communities is insufficient.”
According to Lewis, the formula used for the Ch. 70 funds assumes certain costs, including teacher salaries, special education costs and health care.
“In 1993 the formula was created and the benchmarks for what the average costs are to educate a child have seen little or no change over the last 18 years,” McAlduff said. “But clearly the average teacher salary has increased since then. If the formula is to truly identify what it costs to educate a child, then those components need to be updated.”
Since the formula is used across the whole state, the funding is equitable, but Lewis doesn’t think the amount communities are receiving from the state is enough to fund the rising education costs.
“The assumptions that are made are outdated,” Lewis said. “Look at the change in technology over the last 18 years. And more children are eligible for special education today than they were in 1993.”
Lewis’ bill would have the Department of Education review the Chapter 70 formula, come up with new assumptions and find ways to improve efficiency in schools.
However, an increase in Chapter 70 funds would, in all likelihood, lead to an increase in the state budget. Lewis acknowledged that a potential rise in the state budget is not ideal, but that education reform needs to happen.
“Certainly that’s going to be a challenge,” Lewis said of a potential increase in the state budget. “But we have two options – we can be an ostrich with its head in the sand and avoid what’s happening in the schools or we can look at what it costs to properly educate our students.
“No question there will be tough decisions required down the road, but now’s the time to get started on it.”
The bill is expected to be referred to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Education for review and consideration and then it will move on to a public hearing. No date has been set for the hearing.