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The Joint Committee on Education held a hearing on March 22, regarding 16 education bills filed in the State Legislature this session.
Sen. Ed Kennedy delivered testimony in favor of the PROMISE Act (S.238), filed by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, which would implement recommendations made by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, reforming the current formula by which school districts receive state funding, making it more equitable across the board.
The Foundation Budget Review Commission, convened by the legislature in 2015, found the state was vastly under-funding districts in the areas of employee health insurance costs, in-district special education costs, as well as out-of-district special education placements.
Under the PROMISE Act, Massachusetts school districts would see an infusion of $1 billion in additional funding annually. It is expected to take five years to implement. Under the proposal, Groton-Dunstable would receive an additional $563,200; N. Middlesex (Pepperell) $723,700; Tyngsboro $393,750; Westford $1,199,000; Greater Lowell Regional Technical High School $4,470,729; and Lowell $42,402,840.
As Mayor of Lowell in 2016-2017, Sen. Kennedy chaired both the City Council and School Committee, two bodies often at odds regarding school funding, with the School Committee requesting more funding the from city and the City Council stating they could not afford to give more.
“The daunting reality in Lowell, and for communities around Massachusetts, is that both sides are correct,” Kennedy testified. “That will remain the case until we succeed in enacting reform that implements each of the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission.”
“In Lowell, the foundation budget formula underestimates the actual health insurance costs to the district by more 50 percent which, given the size of the district, translates to an $18 million annual shortfall that must be made up at the local level,” he added. “The district’s obligations in this area leave no other option but to make difficult cuts that directly impact education quality. Increasing class sizes cannot be mitigated, spending on technology and other instructional material does not approach adequate levels, and the district struggles to keep up with building maintenance.”
Kennedy said he supports the PROMISE Act because it addresses the funding needs of districts serving a high percentage of low-income students, such as Lowell and other Gateway cities.
“While the situation in my hometown starkly illustrates what is at stake as we consider reforming education funding, calls for reform have been pervasive across my district – from Lowell, one of the Commonwealth’s largest school districts in, to rural communities served by regional school districts,” Kennedy said.
He then presented the committee with resolutions passed in support of the PROMISE Act by the Lowell City Council, Groton Select Board, Dunstable Board of Selectmen, Pepperell Board of Selectmen, and the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee.
“The broad consensus around the need to enact reform to the foundation budget during this legislative session within the legislature and the executive branch provides us with a rare opportunity to finally correct major shortcomings that have jeopardized the futures Massachusetts students for too long,” Kennedy said. “This is a moment that we cannot afford to squander by passing legislation that misses the mark on reforms determined necessary by the FBRC. Once again, on behalf of the thousands of students in my district who could not be guaranteed a high quality education if a partial approach to reform is taken, I urge this committee to support the only legislation that fully implements critical changes required for educating low-income students, and to report favorably on Senate Bill 238 and House Bill 586.”