Cape, Island lawmakers push for education funding parity
Worried that Cape Cod’s high property values and low-income levels skew the amount of state funding school districts receive, Cape legislators have re-filed a bill that would modify the formula the state uses to fund local schools.
Rep. Brian Mannal, D-Barnstable, said the current formula, which uses property values as a measure, discriminates against towns such as Yarmouth and Barnstable by assuming residents are able to pay more toward public education because their homes are worth more.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said Thursday at a Joint Committee on Education hearing.
Mannal, with the support Rep. Timothy Madden, D-Nantucket, re-filed the bill, H. 447, which received a favorable committee report last session. The bill, however, did not make it to a House vote.
“I realize, of course, that I am beating a drum that has been beaten before,” Mannal said.
The bill would compare a municipality’s median per capita income to that of the rest of the state and factor this into how much aid a school district receives.
Although property value and income are used as measures of a school district’s wealth, they’re not given equal weight, resulting in an unfair and inaccurate gauge of a community’s ability to pay, Mannal said.
In fiscal year 2012, the amount a community was able to pay was determined by adding .36 percent of local property values and 1.5 percent of the income earned by residents. According to state education department numbers, more than 70 percent of Barnstable’s local contribution ($49.3 million) to education funding in 2012 was because of its high property values.
“Barnstable is a resort community, but it is also a gateway city,” Mannal said. “Chapter 70 funding treats the town and its schools as though it were one of the richest communities in the state.”
The Legislature decided in 2007 that state funding should aim to provide 17.5 percent of a district’s costs.
In fiscal year 2013, the state recommended the Barnstable School District spend $53.7 million on education. The state refers to this cost as the foundation budget.
However, the town that year received $7.4 million in Chapter 70 state aid — around 14 percent of the projected costs, short of the state-recommended amount — to its foundation budget.
And when all was said and done for fiscal year 2013, state aid dropped to about 12 percent after factoring in Barnstable’s actual net school spending, which was $61.7 million.
“Our community values education, and every year we endeavor to go beyond the minimum or foundation level of funding, but this is not because we are rich — it is because we understand the value of education, and as a community we make sacrifices to ensure that we provide our children with a quality education,” Mannal said.
On Tuesday, Mannal joined about 50 other state representatives in support of another bill, H. 457, that would set up a commission to review the state formula that sets each municipality’s foundation budget.
The foundation budget includes the number of students in a district, demographics and teacher compensation, but has not been updated since 1993 to reflect changes in technology and health care costs, legislators told the education committee.
“For many years, the Chapter 70 formula and the foundation budget served our commonwealth very well, but as we know, things change,” said Rep. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester. “In 1993, we hardly knew autism existed. In 1993, we weren’t using the Internet. Back in 1993, we had no understanding of how health care costs would explode the way they have.”
Mannal said a commission to review of the state’s foundation budget would address his concerns “to a certain degree.”
Both bills along with 23 others from Tuesday’s hearing will be reviewed by the committee.