Asks for “back-up” to sell funding formula tweak at State House
By Brendan Clogston
State Senator Sal DiDomenico has a plan to fix the city’s perennial school budget crisis, but it’s going to require some salesmanship on Beacon Hill. DiDomenico told the City Council during a presentation Monday night that he had a tweak to the state’s Chapter 70 school funding formula that would allow Everett to receive a larger – and from the senator’s perspective, a “fairer” – share of the state funding pool.
For three years, the Everett School Department has been struggling with a multimillion dollar hole blown into its budget by a change in how the state allocates Chapter 70 funding to help communities pay for free and reduced lunches for their students. Previously, districts counted the number of students in need on their own. Under the change, however, the state bases its figure on the number of students whose families are enrolled in poverty programs like food stamps. The problem for a community like Everett is that as a gateway community with a number of young and immigrant families, many either don’t qualify or don’t know about these programs.
“Our population doesn’t always apply for those programs,” said DiDomenico. “Even if they’re eligible for them, they don’t always know about those programs.”
As a result, the city has a large number of students for whom it provides free and reduced lunches, but the district is no longer receiving the necessary state aid to pay for them, creating a yearly budget crisis in the school district. It’s no simple problem of reversing the formula either, as Everett is one of only 15 communities – mostly poorer with a large population of immigrants – which have suffered as a result of the change, while the vast majority of cities and towns have seen their Chapter 70 funding increase.
Rather than changing the formula, however, DiDomenico is proposing adding a new criteria that could allow those 15 communities to receive a fairer share of the pot: the free and reduced lunch forms collected by the district. “Everett has done a very, very good job of collecting the free-reduced lunch forms,” said DiDomenico. “That has been the measurement for low-income students in our community. Other communities have not done as good of a job as Everett has collecting those forms. They are tenacious of getting every single form back. That is the true number of low-income kids in our community. People have petitioned the state so that that form is no longer in use; the criteria is now public benefits.”
“My suggestion is pretty simple: Add the free reduced lunch form as another criterion. So you can use any of the criteria in front of you, including the free-reduced lunch forms. There’s no change in the formula; it’s just adding this one piece to the formula which will solve Everett’s problem, and the problems for all 14 of the other communities as well.”
However, this change produces its own challenges: While most communities will continue to benefit under the formula, awarding more to the 15 communities necessarily reduces the amount of money available. In other words, Everett is still asking the rest of the state to take a hit to their school funding to solve a problem that doesn’t affect them directly.
“We need some backup at the State House,” said DiDomenico. “We’ve been working on this for three years. We know how to fix this. It’s just a matter of will we be able to influence the people we need to fix this. In the Senate we’re going to do something big, but we’re one of three branches.”
The City Council and School Committee are in the process of forming a delegation to bring Everett’s case to the State House.