Expert: School Aid Funding Vulnerable To "Glitch"

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BOSTON (State House News Service— The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will get a more in-depth look next month at what one longtime budget watcher called a "glitch" in the school aid funding law that could lead to "a pretty serious funding crisis, particularly in low income districts."

Noah Berger, director of the Mass. Teachers Association's Center for Education Policy and Practice, brought up the issue with the Chapter 70 funding law at Tuesday's board meeting and called on Gov. Maura Healey "to just fix that glitch, it's pretty easy to do technically and it will have a very significant effect on funding for school districts." The problem, he said, has to do with the formula's inflation calculations.

"There's a provision in the law that caps inflation adjustments in Chapter 70 at 4.5 percent. That meant that while districts were experiencing 8 percent inflation and costs [last year], the actual resources coming to them through Chapter 70 were only going up based on a 4.5 percent inflation rate. That did lead to significant funding, even at that cap. But this year, the situation will be much worse," Berger, the former longtime head of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said. "The inflation factor that looks like it will be used this year, and you can check with your technical people, but it looks like it's gonna be about 1 percent and we don't yet have the final data. If that happens, then the amount of Chapter 70 aid that districts get will be, the new aid will be less than half of what it was last year. A reduction, probably, of over $300 million in new aid, which will have a pretty devastating effect on school districts."

The $56 billion annual budget that Healey signed in August contains a $594 million, or 9.9 percent, increase in Chapter 70 funding as state government continues to move toward full implementation of the 2019 school funding law known as the Student Opportunity Act.

The board did not discuss Berger's comments, but member Mary Ann Stewart brought up the idea of a "glitch" after a discussion of the board's Budget Committee's report on fiscal 2025 planning. She asked if it was "something we need to have a better understanding of."

Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley suggested the topic be put on the board's December meeting agenda so that Bill Bell, DESE's chief financial officer, can go over it in greater detail.

"As was noted, again, the inflation number has come down a little bit, but that thing moves. So I think Bill doing kind of a primer on that would be a good idea for the December meeting," Riley said.

Written by Colin A. Young/SHNS

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