Proposed education funding bill could be ‘grand slam’ for New Bedford

NEW BEDFORD — The future looks promising for students in New Bedford Public Schools and the state after Thursday’s unveiling of an education funding reform bill which will go onto the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“It’s reasonable to predict that New Bedford could see at least a 10% increase in aid, conservatively speaking, as soon as FY2021,” Andrew O’Leary, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, said in a statement.

“That would be supplemented by significant charter school reimbursement changes (up to 75% of actual costs, with 100% of charter costs covered three years from now),” he said, noting it’s premature to pull out dollar figures from the bill.

The bill named the Student Opportunity Act would make a $1.5 billion new investment in state public education over the next seven years.

In a news release from his office, Sen. Mark Montigny said “The new formula should be a grand slam for New Bedford with significant increases in funding for chapter 70, low income students, English learners, special education, and charter schools, while resulting in major relief for New Bedford taxpayers who have been shouldering these burdens themselves for too long.”

Montigny noted that cities such as New Bedford have been “shortchanged” due to current formulas used to fund education.

“That is why I worked so hard to ensure that New Bedford received a substantial increase in this year’s fiscal budget above and beyond the formula allotment,” he said.

The foundation budget would be updated with estimates of school districts’ employee and retiree health care costs using data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission; increases in special education enrollment and cost assumptions; increases in funding for English learners differentiated by grade level; and would address the needs of districts educating high concentrations of students from low-income households, according to a fact sheet on the bill.

“What we are seeing is a reworking of the way schools are funded,” O’Leary said. “Therefore this is more than an aid increase discussion based around numbers. The big takeaway is that this is the most significant attempt to address the underfunded categories like healthcare, special education, and the additional cost of educating low income and English language learner students.”

Mayor Jon Mitchell called the bill “a promising step to help cities across the state, including New Bedford, to provide low-income students the education they deserve.”

Mitchell, in a statement, added he’s grateful that lawmakers have listened to those who, like himself, have advocated for increased state funding to level the playing field.

The bill would also increase foundation rates for guidance and psychological services, expand the special education circuit breaker to include transportation costs which would be phased in over four years and lift the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for school construction and renovation.

It also includes a “21st Century Education Trust Fund” for districts and schools pursuing creative approaches to student learning and a Rural Schools Commission to investigate challenges facing rural and regional school districts with low and declining enrollment.

Districts like New Bedford which serve the largest percentage of low-income students in the state, according to a news release from Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral’s office, will receive an additional increment equal to 100% of their base foundation allotment.

That means nearly doubling the amount of funding attached to economically-disadvantaged students in New Bedford, the news release states.

“There are a lot of positive aspects of this bill, such as the push to fully fund the charter school reimbursement formula,” Cabral said. “But as this critical bill works its way through the Legislature and further analysis is conducted on its contents, I will continue to fight for important changes to how we fund charter schools as a state.”

He added he’s confident that the city will be a “clear winner” once the legislation is passed.

“Our City has a specific set of needs that must be met by the state and this bill provides a more-level playing field to properly educate our students,” Cabral said.

Original story here.