SCHOOLS REFORM : A TON OF DISCONNECT

sumner school

^ recess at the Charles Sumner School on Basile Street in Roslindale

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An article in today’s Boston Globe discusses the $ 1 billion gap between two schools funding bills currently before the legislature. The so-called “Promise Act,” backed by a coalition of public school advocacy groups with support from Mayor Marty Walsh, seeks $ 2.4 billion, over seven years, in additional state funds. Governor Baker’s bill requests $ 1.5 billion over the same seven years. You should now read the article here : https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/06/16/report-nearly-billion-gulf-between-two-leading-school-funding-bills/KWpejZnLc8QMkhBy8ewJbI/story.html

Many questions come to mind about either bill. First, why must the State be the focus of funds for local schools ? If said funds are needed as urgently as the Promise Act advocates say, can’t they seek Proposition 2 1/2 overrides in the towns or cities thus needy ? I am especially unmoved by the Boston situation. Why does a City experiencing a long and propitious economic boom need State school funds at all ? The City’s tax valuation has doubled in the past ten years, yet the school budget has, in that time, increased only by 40 percent. Clearly a 2 1/2 override initiative is in order, so why isn’t one being — hasn’t one yet been — proposed ? And if many 2 1/2 overrides fail because taxpayers don’t see the need, why should the legislature arrogate to legislate school matters — which are locally governed by locally-chosen bodies mostly elected that localities have voted against ? Returning to the Boston question, I find it completely out of order for a City as real estate prosperous as Boston to ask for more State aid, when Massachusetts has so many cities that aren’t prospering at all and which badly need all the funds they can get. Nor am I moved by the argument that Boston educates so many students whose schooling costs much more than the average : English language learners, special need kids, kids with health issues. If a City as booming as Boston can’t meet these costs, we’re in serious incompetence mode.

But back now to the two funding bills. I quote now from the Globe article : “In Boston, where much of the city’s school funding gets diverted to charter schools, aid would jump from $220 million this year to $323.9 million in seven years under the Promise Act, compared to $232.6 million in Baker’s proposal, essentially the same increase the city would receive if the Legislature doesn’t overhaul the funding formula…” 

The $ 91.3 million dollar difference is almost precisely the $ 96,000,000 that Boston’s FY 2020 schools budget allocates for transportation. Most of that transport is required by the desegregation busing order entered 45 years ago by Federal Judge Arthur Garrity. This order should be terminated. No part of the City is segregated today, as many parts were in 1974. Today, most Boston neighborhoods are models of diversity. So why not bring back community schools ? Activists talk much these days about community — rightly so — but you can’t have true community without community schools. No institution binds neighbors together as solidly as they. With community schools, you also get PTAs, which enable parent-student-teacher after-hours interaction; and nothing improves school performance as effectively as teacher-student-parent interaction.

Campaigning door to door with a Council candidate in District Five, hardly a night of it goes by that we do not hear, from voters at the door, a desire for community schooling. Almost every mother we listen to, of school age children, is thinking of moving out because they don’t want their kids transported all over the place (and by a lottery assignment system that adds another layer of absurdity). Yet not a word of this issue is to be found in either of the two funding bills before the legislature.

The other schools issue that we hear at the door is the school system’s failure, even after 30 years of Federal grant availability, to render its utility usage energy-efficient. We hear of classrooms that are too hot in winter, too cold in summer. In this regard, the FY 2020 schools budget allocates $ 42,369,098 to “Property Services.” How much of that is attributable to wasted heating or air conditioning ? Probably not a little. Moreover, the system maintains buildings to serve 92,000 students, yet only about 55,000 attend. Why can’t the City close under-attended school facilities and end their “services” altogether ? One would think that those who advocate dramatic increases to the schools budget would be demanding this sort of saving. (You can read the FY 2020 budget here : https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzzLbJ_lC7U2SDB1N0RhUmNMN3A0RWhBemg0RUlzbzlKbmJ3/view )

Again, not a word of this is to be found in either the two funding bills or in the Globe article.

Between the legislating going on on  Beacon Hill and the actual concerns of actual voters, there seems total disconnect. One would think that in a democracy, the concerns of actual voters would come first or at all; yet in schools matters, such concerns seem blocked. Parents of school age have been moving out of District Five, to the suburbs in search of better schools responsive to parents since the 1980s : yet in that time nothing has been done to relieve this exodus. The voters just don’t seem to matter.

This is why I protest as I am now doing and will continue to do until the legislators dealing with schools priorities finally listen.

Which is not to say that I don’t support reforming the 1993 funding formula. If we are top have schools funding by the State at all, the formula for allocating it should, as argued by advocates, favor those districts most in need of outside funds. Districts that in 1993 made that cut may well not be the ones making the cut 26 years later. My only reservation is that if State funds are to be allocated to local school districts, they can’t simply be doled out. Specific improvement priorities should accompany them, as well as a state monitor to assure that said funds do in fact get spent in pursuit of these priorities.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

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