In 1993, the Massachusetts legislature passed an education reform bill that was meant to put the public school systems throughout the Commonwealth on an even keel. The plan was to formulate an algorithm to calculate a foundational budget for each district, which would be paid in a mix of local and state funds. This would remove the reliance on property tax to pay for the school budget and give poorer communities the opportunities to have public schools on par with wealthy communities.
Initially, the algorithm and the reform bill worked in closing the gap in the schools systems. As the years went on, though, the legislature neglected to review the algorithm that calculated the foundational budget. The algorithm was no longer able to determine the necessary budget for an adequate education.
When a Foundation Budget Review Commission finally reviewed the algorithm in 2015, they found that schools were being under budgeted by between $1 and 2 billion a year.
“That commission said there are certain factors in the foundation budget calculations, like the cost of health care, the cost of special education, that are way out of whack. They are far below what actually districts had to spend to meet their obligations, and so those need to be adjusted,” said Former State Secretary of Education and one of the creators of the 1993 education reform bill Paul Reville on Boston Public Radio Thursday.
“It is a lot of money. It is a long overdue set of corrections to the 1993 education reform law,” he said.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said during a press conference Wednesday that their solution to the budget problem, the PROMISE Act, would be a top priority for them going into 2019. The act would change elements of the algorithm to compensate for the massive funding issues. Gov. Charlie Baker has also announced that he will be introducing a different education bill to alleviate the budget problems, but has yet to state any details of the bill.
“I think all three branches on Beacon Hill recognize that there is a problem and the problem needs to be solved, but it is expensive," Reville said. "The devil will be in the details."