Our Opinion: Numbers crunching begins on education reform

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Beacon Hill's welcome decision to increase state aid to public schools, most specifically those in poor communities or school districts, will be complicated to implement. And complications have already emerged in assessing how the money will be broken down by communities and districts.

The analysis by Gov. Baker administration — brought to light by a public records request from the Boston Globe — alarmed lawmakers because 20 communities would be required to contribute considerably more to education over the next seven years than they will receive in increased state aid. Legislative leaders have responded by asserting that the Baker analysis of the funding formula is based on false assumptions about enrollment and inflation, with Senate President Karen E. Spilka declaring that the analysis was "flawed" and that the legislation "will benefit every district in the Commonwealth." The Senate on Thursday passed the $1.5 billion education reform bill without its own specific numbers breakdown.

Along with state aid to school districts, the funding process establishes a foundation that communities should contribute to education funding based on each municipality's aggregate property values and aggregate personal income. According to the Baker analysis, six cities, including nearby Springfield, will receive more than $100 million in additional state aid in fiscal 2027 than they receive for fiscal 2020. (The legislation recently introduced establishes a seven-year time frame for the introduction of the additional $1.5 billion in education funding.) The unequal distribution is intended as state officials want to narrow the gap in funding between poor and affluent school districts and provide more money to districts that serve a higher number of students living in poverty. However, there are a few towns, such as Grafton and Peabody, that would could end up losing $10 million or more in funding in the bargain.

Berkshire County districts would not receive similar windfalls, but they would not be hit hard with increased expenditures either. Pittsfield would receive an additional $35 million in funding by 2027 but would be required to spend an additional $10 million. For North Adams, revenue would increase by about $8 million and spending by just under $2 million. Other Berkshire towns and districts would receive relatively similar revenue increases and spending requirement increases, which wouldn't inspire any celebrations in those communities that expected a little more help. However, some of those communities already spend more than required under the current funding formula established in 1993, and the current initiative is designed to assist those poorer communities that don't have that option.

The Baker numbers generally reflect the goal of the reform effort, which is to help those communities most in need. The effort is not a panacea and not every community will benefit equally. The process is ongoing and there could be shifts to come when the House addresses the budget later this month.

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