Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: Time to bring school funding out of the Walkman ages

  • AP

Published: 8/15/2019 7:00:20 PM
Modified: 8/15/2019 7:00:10 PM

Even though we officially still have another month of summer ahead of us, there is something in the air that seems to say that fall is just around the corner, and there is no surer sign of its imminent arrival than the start of the new school year.

My house, for example, has been abuzz with conversations about what seventh grade will bring and if a minibackpack is a useful school supply, or merely a fashion statement that will need to be supplemented by a proper size backpack. Ah, the joys of tween parenting.

At the Statehouse, however, the back-to-school season is marked by far more serious conversations about education. Although we held out hope until the last minute, the education funding bill that has been on everyone’s mind did not come out of committee as hoped before the August recess.

That is disappointing because the last time the education funding formula was updated, Walkmans were all the rage. An entire generation of children will graduate from our schools without any changes having been made, even though the Foundation Budget Review Commission made its recommendations on how to update education funding nearly five years ago. That report told us that the state is underfunding our schools by between $1-2 billion.

It is true, though, that our schools received an increase in state funding this fiscal year. This has been touted as one of the largest education increases we have seen in a long time. This is good news in general, but, like all things, the fuller picture is more complex.

Let’s take Northampton as an example. Although the state calculated a 5 percent increase to education funding, because of the wealth metric (a calculation that looks at a community’s property values and income to arrive at its local contribution), it was determined that Northampton could locally fund 4 percent of that increase and the state would fund the remaining 1 percent. So Northampton did get more money in state aid, albeit a very small amount.

However, two things happened that led to Northampton seeing less money for education this year than last.

One was a decline in school choice tuition, coupled with a slight increase in students leaving the district, which means fewer tuition dollars coming in and slightly more going out.

The other was an increase in the tuition payments made to charter schools. Why, you ask? It’s not because more families are choosing to go to charter schools. It’s because the state recalculated Northampton’s charter school tuition payments due to the increase the city received in state aid. That recalculation is not just based on the 1 percent increase the city saw — it’s based on the state’s 5 percent increase to education funding, even though Northampton is responsible for 4 percent of that.

Simply put, without a fix to the charter school funding formula, the more money that goes into education, the more money that goes to charter school tuitions.

That might make sense if all children cost the same to educate, but we know that isn’t true. Low-income students, students with special needs, and English language learners need — and deserve — more education dollars, money that the current charter school funding formula is taking away.

Charters have fewer students with these special needs, making their costs lower, yet these schools still receive tuition that is calculated by taking all those increased costs public schools bear into account.

This is why the Promise Act is so important. This legislation calls for fully funding public schools by implementing all of the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations.

Not only would the Promise Act give 100 percent weighting to 10th decile schools, which are the schools that have the highest percentage of low-income students — like Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in my district — but the proposal would require an increase to education spending, along with the full reimbursement of all charter school assessments. It would do this by basing education aid on the number of students in a district after subtracting charter school students from the district foundation budget.

Right now, though, we don’t know if the education bill that comes out of committee will be identical to the Promise Act. We don’t know what it will include at all because all those decisions are still being made. This is why we have to be very specific in our advocacy.

Any good organizer will tell you two things: Build your coalition and be specific in your ask. This is an issue that should not divide our community. In fact, statewide, broad coalitions are being formed between charter school opponents and proponents who all support the same ask — pass the Promise Act and make sure it addresses the charter school funding formula.

That’s because this is about equity in education, something we should all be able to get behind and something that our kids deserve.

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the state representative for the 1st Hampshire District. She can be reached at

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