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MASC & Romney's Budget

FYI

Forwarded from Glenn Koocher, Co-chair CPS and Mass Association of School Committees Executve Director

Sent: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 7:37 PM
Subject: Governor's Budget Recommendations

You may link to the governor's budget proposal in its entirety by going to http://www.masc.org and linking to it. MASC was among those briefed on the general parameters of the budget by the Governor's staff late this afternoon. The proposal is available by direct link from our web site. We will have a more detailed legislative alert in the mail by end of tomorrow and it will be on the web site by end of day as well.

The briefing and the budget explanation was presented, rolled out, spun, and timed brilliantly. Very carefully worded, it is difficult to draw comparisons with previous years' appropriations because they're not easily linked on paper, and there are several long and important, but very technically worded sections. The presentation was also made too late in the day for many organizations to release statements for the evening newscasts or tomorrow's newspapers.

Finally, vendors of MCAS remediation services and the other organizations that receive funding from the Department of Education to promote MCAS appear to be among the big winners. An additional $3 million was added to provide support in these areas. There was little clarification provided as to who ultimately gets this money, but as some districts face cuts, it seemed clear that vendors who have faithfully supported the MCAS graduation requirement will benefit handily with grants.

By taking the budget initiative so boldly, spinning it so skillfully, and linking the appropriations to all the other proposed cuts throughout the rest of the budget, the administration will increase the pressure upon the legislature. It makes the political dynamic more interesting and complex.

CHAPTER 70 AND THE FOUNDATION BUDGET

(This is the most complex section of the budget. We will be taking time to analyze the size of the appropriation and the method of distribution. What follows is a very basic summary.)

Chapter 70 is generally preserved while other aid to cities and towns is to be cut, so schools will not date as direct a hit as other departments, but schools may find it harder to win dollars to support a budget beyond the foundation budget level.

Also, Chapter 70 funding will be apportioned by town, not by regional district. Towns will be notified of their obligation to the regional districts based on foundation budgets per pupil. We were advised not to pay particular attention to the budget charts that note regional aid allocations because they may need to be clarified later.

The overall budget for education is actually increasing slightly at the state level. Under the governor's plan, the Foundation Budget will now equate to required Net School Spending. Among the principal points in the proposal are that Chapter 70 funding will be pretty much preserved, although many of the smaller grant funds or line items are being rolled into it. AMONG THOSE LINE ITEMS WRAPPED INTO CHAPTER 70 IS TRANSPORTATION WHICH IS ZEROED OUT IN THE BUDGET. (See below.) However, the method of calculating the Foundation Budget for each community is being redrawn and the distribution formula for the state aid is being revised significantly. In short, the attempt in redrawing the rules for fund distribution seeks to protect poorer communities so that they won't suffer as greatly and to put some pressure on wealthier communities to take a larger hit from the state but be able to make it up with local appropriations.

Because there are so many additional factors that go into what a city or town will receive beyond the simple Chapter 70, and because much is yet to be determined, it would be misleading to rely too heavily on the charts available on the printout from the state web site (link from MASC's opening page at www.masc.org).

Please note that one problem in general for higher income communities is that the formula and the theory behind it may undermine the philosophy that wealthier communities could/should appropriate more if they wished to have more for thier schools. By reducing local aid in general, these communities will have to fight a more aggressive battle with city and town officials to get those local appropriations and face the pitting of police, fire, and other departments against schools int he battle for what's left.

There is a new $50 million allocation to accommodate new housing incentives based on growth and occupancy permits. In short, this allows the state to anticipate new student enrollment growth ahead of time and fund the increases in school census on time.

It was noted that the minimum Chapter 70 aid would be 12% of a district's budget, which may be some consolation to those few communities who actually receive less than 12% now.

REIMBURSEMENTS FOR CHOICE AND CHARTER SCHOOLS

The proposal restores some funding to help offset the amount taken away and diverted to charter schools or to receiving districts under school choice. However, the recommendation hardly compensates for the loss of revenue and does not approach the amount under the formula in place that Governor Swift vetoed last year. Those who attended the Board of Education meeting on February 25 heard that there would be an announcement today of a restoration of some reimbursement to offset the loss of funds diverted to the charter schools. However, they could be doubly frustrated with the actual proposal today, a very dissapointing formula to return about one third of the foundation budget for the average students diverted over the previous three years. Eventually, this account will run out as charter schools fill up.

TRANSPORTATION

In district transportation is zeroed out, meaning it is wrapped into Chapter 70. Out of district, or regional transportation is cut by 50% over last year. While the law calls for a 100% appropriation, last year's funds were set at 73%. This year's 50% cut means $21 million will be available to fulfill a $56 million obligation.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

The circuit breaker is funded at $115 million, an increase of $45 million. This is a significant increase but not full funding of what the law would require to be expended.

SCHOOL BUILDING ASSISTANCE

An additional $22 million will be added and some new projects will actually be funded.

Look for more on the web site, in the actual text of the budget, and in our legislative alerts due out tomorrow and throughout the budget process.

Glenn Koocher MASC
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