Sen. Lewis: Malden’s Chapter 70 school funding woes are real, efforts being made for potential budget relief
Malden State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Malden, 5th Middlesex) on Monday night delivered what had to be the most detailed, exhaustive explanation any Malden officials have ever received on the all-important Chapter 70 school funding program. The Senator also explained about how the Student Opportunity Act (SOA) affects Malden and other Massachusetts communities’ school budgets. Also in attendance at Monday’s meeting were local state legislators Reps. Steven Ultrino and Paul Donato.
But while the members of the Malden School Committee may have had their understanding of Chapter 70 funding enhanced considerably, the complexity and innate unpredictability of the process remained. Sen. Lewis did bring some brighter news, indicating that Malden’s Chapter 70 funding amount will increase this year, as it did last year.
In the course of his presentation, Sen. Lewis did explain that the increase in Chapter 70 funding would be “dampened” due to the increase in “Required Local Contribution” (RLC) that is driven by tenets of the Student Opportunity Act. He said that while he expected Malden would be able to see “a healthy increase” in Chapter 70 funding in the upcoming FY2024 state budget cycle, “the budget pressure would remain.”
For years, Malden municipal officials have contended that the formula for determining how much state funding this city would receive to help run its public schools is flawed, that Malden is being underfunded by Chapter 70.
Chapter 70 education aid is the Commonwealth’s primary program for distributing its portion of K-12 public education funding to the state’s 328 local and regional school districts. The Chapter 70 formula aims to ensure that each school district has sufficient resources to provide an adequate education for all of its students, taking into account the ability of each local government to contribute. The formula is designed to have an equalizing effect, with less wealthy districts receiving more state aid than wealthier ones.
Officials have looked at Chapter 70 money being sent by the state to neighboring cities, like Everett, for example, quite similar to Malden, officials and others say, and question why Everett received substantially more Chapter 70 funding than Malden. For example, in the present FY23 fiscal year, Everett received $92.6 million in Chapter 70 funding for its public schools while Malden received $54.07 million, even though Malden’s increase was its largest in a single fiscal year since 2013.
At Monday’s Malden School Committee meeting, Sen. Lewis, who is the chair of the Mass. state legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, detailed the Chapter 70 funding determination tenets and reasoning, in addition to how new funding mechanisms like the Student Opportunity Act (SOA) would affect Malden’s funding for its public schools. Sen. Lewis is the primary legislative author of the landmark Student Opportunity Act, which is designed to provide additional funding from the state to respective communities in the Commonwealth. The bottom line offered by Sen. Lewis after the nearly 40-minute presentation on Monday was that while Malden appears to be receiving an increase in both its Chapter 70 and SOA funding for the upcoming fiscal year, FY2024, from the state, it most likely may not be significantly higher that the funding delivered in FY2023.
A key reason for that development, Sen, Lewis explained, is that one of the tenets of the newest to the mix SOA are quantifying factors which drive up communities like Malden’s and others’ local contribution amounts to fund certain school needs. Basically, in concert with providing additional funding for the local schools, the SOA is also requiring more and greater services for the students, thus increasing the respective communities’ foundation budget requirements. Sen. Lewis, in the course of his presentation, did explain points where the Student Opportunity Act funds will directly impact Malden and other communities, such as providing full funding of charter school reimbursements as well as full funding for transportation costs for out-of-district students.
The Senator noted that the City of Malden has been extremely active and proactive in its attempts to tackle the issue of Chapter 70 funding. This activity includes over two years of intensive meetings between Mayor Gary Christenson, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy, City of Malden chief budget strategist Ron Hogan and Malden Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Toni Mertz and state legislators and their various staff members. He said that these discussions have yielded a listing of potential actions that could provide solutions in the form of budget relief as it pertains to school funding.
Sen. Lewis did stress to the School Committee members that the state legislature in general “does not have an appetite” to increasing funding for public schools due to the massive amount of additional funding being provided statewide already through Chapter 70, including the new funding provided through the Student Opportunity Act.
Two potential actions/solutions which could be best suited for Malden, Sen. Lewis explained – and later identified by School Committee Chair and Mayor Gary Christenson as avenues the city intended to pursue – are continued lobbying at the state level to establish a “Pothole Account” intended to provide additional Chapter 70 aid for eligible municipal communities. While this would be a “targeted solution and less costly, as well as be able to be flexibly designed,” it would also potentially be difficult to determine criteria for eligibility as well as reaching a consensus among state legislators in the determination of why communities like Malden would be eligible for additional Chapter 70 aid.
Another avenue, one which the Senator referred to as “most promising” would be an action to pursue “Pause Below Effort Increment” in the Chapter 70 formula, which would affect potential adjustments in the foundation budget assessment as well as local contributions percentages, as it pertains to targeted and actual local contributions. Other potential solutions which have been identified as a result of meetings between state legislators and staffs and municipal representatives – Hogan from the city side and Mertz from the Malden Public Schools – are less viable, according to information presented by Sen. Lewis, due to the aforementioned, anticipated lack of predictable support for increasing funding for state contributions to public schools above the established Chapter 70 and SOA determinations.
Sen. Lewis noted that Malden had partnered with the City of Salem, Mass., in the past year, as both communities faced similar challenges as to Chapter 70 funding. The partnership could prove valuable in the near future, he said, since former Mayor Kim Driscoll has been tabbed by newly elected Mass. Governor Maura Healy as Lieutenant Governor.
Sen. Lewis added he has refiled legislation which would address the foundation budget determination process and said he anticipates that now Lieutenant Governor Driscoll would continue her support of this potential legislation.
Sen. Lewis: Educational issues will be in the forefront during next state legislative session
In addition to an extensive, informational presentation on state Chapter 70 funding for local education funding he provided at Monday night’s Malden School Committee meeting, state Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Malden, 5th Middlesex) also outlined other important educational issues forecast to be tackled during the next state legislative session.
“Public Education continues to be a top priority of mine and the entire Malden state delegation, and a lot of important education issues are expected to be discussed and addressed in the upcoming session,” Sen. Lewis told the Malden School Committee at its regular meeting Monday night.
According to Sen. Lewis, legislation on these issues are tops on the list with legislation filed on each:
—School transportation costs
—Special education costs
—School facility construction costs (MSBA)
—Educator diversity, alternatives to educator licensure & Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) alternatives
—Vocational technical education
—Universal school free meals
—MCAS testing and accountability, including graduation requirement, what changes and reforms might be possible
—Access to early education and childcare, including public pre-K and Out of Schooltime care
—Public higher education