Mayor Walsh Announces Legislation to Overhaul How Boston Finances Education

Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Marty Walsh announced he plans to file education finance reform legislation. And his proposed plan hits on multiple pain points that have long been afflicting our city’s public education system.

“We are working every day to close opportunity and achievement gaps, meet the diverse needs of every kind of student and make our district schools top choices for every family in every neighborhood,” Walsh said. “I am committed to working with our partners on Beacon Hill to fix education funding formulas and getting every student on a pathway to success from pre-kindergarten through college and career, and I want to thank our legislative partners for their willingness to sponsor and support these reforms.”

In light of findings from a recent long-term financial plan the Boston Public Schools underwent, Walsh is putting forward legislation that could increase annual available funding for Boston by $35 million. Those funds could then be reinvested into our city’s public schools.

In short, the plan would tackle items, such as overhauling the currently flawed charter school finance model and redirecting existing tax revenue back to Boston residents. But if you want to take an in-depth look at Walsh’s legislation, it includes the following bills, according to a press release:

Make the Massachusetts School Building Authority responsible for charter school facilities charges and makes charter schools eligible for MSBA funding for school construction and renovation sponsored by Representative Adrian Madaro. Currently, cities and towns pay a facilities rate to charter schools and are then reimbursed by the State, making municipalities essentially a pass-through function. This reform would both relieve districts of $35 million in annual costs and afford charter schools the same opportunities as their district school peers. The $35 million freed up by this change, paired with the more affordable direct funding model proposed by the Mayor, would allow for charter transition funding, which is currently underfunded by 54%, to be nearly fully funded. Boston has contributed almost $1 billion to the MSBA since its creation, but has only been approved for $65 million in capital spending.

Reform charter school financing by reducing the state’s overall liability while returning to a true partnership between the Commonwealth and its cities and towns sponsored by Senator Sal N. DiDomenico. The proposal would replace the broken charter reimbursement model with a new three year transition funding system. Current law provides for the Commonwealth to reimburse the city for the full first year costs of charter growth and five years of partial growth. However, over the past three years, the Commonwealth has not approached full funding to cities and towns (and district students) for transition costs, leading to an aggregate $48 million in lost revenue for Boston alone. While the Commonwealth was allowed to underpay on its statutory commitment to Boston’s students, the City of Boston’s full $154 million assessment was deducted directly from its education aid. The transition funding formula was created to account for the difficulty of immediately achieving savings when students leave district schools to attend charter schools. Under the proposal, the Commonwealth would fund 100% of the growth in tuition in Year 1, 50% in Year 2, and 25% in Year 3 directly to the charter schools, with the municipality responsible for the balance in Years 2 and 3. Cities and towns would be responsible for 100% of the cost from the fourth year on.

Adjust the charter school per-pupil tuition calculation to recognize the full transition costs for students leaving BPS to attend charter schools, rather than just the amount funded through the transition funding formula sponsored by Senator Sal N. DiDomenico. Due to a flaw in the current formula, the charter assessment directly penalizes communities that have had their charter reimbursement appropriations underfunded.

Increases Circuit Breaker reimbursement for the highest need and highest cost students sponsored by Senator Sal N. DiDomenico. Boston Public Schools students overall face more significant and more numerous disabilities than students in other districts. BPS has seen an increase in the number of high need students and DCF involved students placed in group homes who require private placement. These students in out of district educational programs cost an average of $84,000 per pupil. Currently, the state reimburses districts for 75% of costs above 4 times the average pupil cost. The proposal would change this threshold to 3 times the average pupil cost. If fully funded, the change would increase BPS funding by about $6 million.

Finds efficiencies in school transportation by allowing district and charter schools to split transportation costs equally if transportation schedule agreements cannot be reached, and by prohibiting charters from passing costs of third party transportation to districts sponsored by Senator William Brownsberger and Representative Daniel Ryan. The City dedicates significant resources to school transportation, spending over $100 million, or 10% of the annual BPS budget. In recent years, BPS has made numerous policy and operational changes aimed at reducing its own transportation costs, but has limited ability to influence the charter transportation costs that it is responsible for.

Fixes the Chapter 70 Education Aid Formula for communities that spend beyond state guidelines and serve high cost populations, but that do not receive significant education aid increases sponsored by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz.The Commonwealth’s Chapter 70 per pupil Education Aid to Boston has been decreasing despite rising costs of educating students. Boston’s per pupil Chapter 70 Aid decreased from $3,519 in FY08 to $3,365 in FY17, while City funding for BPS and charter schools grew by almost 40%, leaving the City, with its limited revenue raising ability, to fill the gap at the expense of other City programming. If new state revenue is identified for education aid, the proposal caps the municipal revenue growth factor at 2 1/2% for communities like Boston that teach the most economically disadvantaged students, are investing more in education than required, and are not receiving any new foundation aid. With the Mayor’s proposal, Boston could fundamentally change its State Education Aid picture and invest an additional $150 million per year in its students within the next several years. If the Commonwealth identifies a new revenue source for education, the Mayor’s proposal combines needed foundation budget updates for economically disadvantaged students, special education, and English Language Learning with a local contribution reform for communities like Boston.

Close the “quality gap” in pre-kindergarten seats in Boston by Fiscal Year 2025 by creating approximately hundreds more quality pre-kindergarten seats, which would be funded by redirecting surplus revenue raised in Boston from the Convention Center Fund to the City of Boston. This proposal would guarantee free, high-quality pre-kindergarten for every four-year-old in Boston by dedicating $16.5 million to early education in Boston. This legislation will redirect two Convention Center Fund revenues that are produced exclusively in the City of Boston: the Boston Sightseeing Surcharge and the Boston Vehicular Rental Transaction Surcharge. Neither revenue source is directly related to convention center business, and Convention Center revenue is almost entirely raised in Boston. However, in recent years, Fund surpluses have been used to balance the statewide budget. In FY16 alone, the Commonwealth drew $60 million from the Convention Center Fund to close the year in balance. Boston residents have a strong claim on this revenue, and supporting early education will make a difference in the lives of thousands of children and families in Boston, and will provide all children with equal opportunities for success. The Walsh Administration has added hundreds of pre-kindergarten seats over the past three years and, while families now have virtually universal access to pre-kindergarten seats, they do not have universal access to free, high-quality seats.