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State meets obligation on SPED mandate

senator steve panagiotakos quote

 

By: State Senator Steve Panagiotakos – April, 2008
Chairman Senate Ways & Means Committee

 The following information is intended to address the issue of local mandates and explains how the state complies with the applicable laws. I would also like to explain how the state assists municipalities in the funding of certain education categories.

 One of the provisions of “Proposition 2 ½,” which was enacted in 1982, requires that, if the state enacts laws or regulations that impose new costs on cities, towns, regional school districts or educational collaborative, the state must also provide the necessary funding. Under this law, any statute or regulation enacted after 1980 that imposes a cost must be fully funded by the Commonwealth or be subject to voluntary local acceptance.

 If a law requires the expenditure of local funds but the state does not provide those funds, an “unfunded mandate” would exist. Laws enacted before 1980 are not subject to this requirement.

 Another provision of Proposition 2 ½ established the Division of Local Mandates at the State Auditor’s Office. To ensure that the local cost of legislation is considered by the legislature, the Division of Local Mandates reviews significant bills, prepares preliminary cost studies and occasionally contacts members of the legislature to make them aware of the law’s requirements.1

If there are any questions regarding breaches of the “local mandates” provisions, the State Auditor’s Office should be notified.

Under the landmark Education Reform Act of 1993, municipalities are required to spend a certain amount of money on education based on each municipality’s individual foundation budget.

“Chapter 70” aid – described in Chapter 70 of the General Laws – was developed as a part of the Education Reform Act as a way to assist districts to meet the new education spending mandates. Every municipality in the Commonwealth, using a combination of state and local dollars, currently spends at least the amount required under Chapter 70.

The Legislature has demonstrated a strong commitment to education. Funding for education in the Commonwealth currently comprises over 20% of the bud-get and increases substantially every year. Chapter 70 funding in fiscal year 2008 is $3.725 billion, and it is likely that there will be an increase of over $220 million in the coming fiscal year.

 Since fiscal year 2005:

 * Chapter 70 has increased by $542.4 million

* Regional School Transportation has increased by $20.3 million

* Special Education Reimbursements have increased by $18.4 million

* Kindergarten Expansion Grants have increased by $10.8 million

 The education clause of the Massachusetts Constitution states in part that “[i]t shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish … the public schools and grammar schools in the towns.”

 Mass. Const., pt. II, ch. V, § II. The plaintiffs in McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education claimed that the Commonwealth had failed its constitutional duty to provide them with the opportunity to receive an adequate education of sufficiently high quality.

 The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Commonwealth had failed to meet its constitutional obligation and left it to the Governor and the legislature to define the details and appropriate means to provide the constitutionally required education.

 Only days after the McDuffy decision, the landmark Education Reform Act of 1993 was signed into law. The legislation had been in the works since 1991, when the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education published its report, Every Child A Winner!

 Hancock v. Commissioner of Education was initiated in 1999 as the successor to the McDuffy case. The Hancock plaintiffs, representing students in nineteen school districts, alleged that the Commonwealth was failing to provide public school students the constitutionally required education outlined in the McDuffy decision. In February 2005, the SJC dismissed the case, finding that the Commonwealth is in fact meeting its duty under the education clause of the Massachusetts Constitution. Chief Justice Marshall, in explaining the court’s decision, stated:

 [t]he legislative and executive branches have shown that they have embarked on a long-term, measurable, orderly, and comprehensive process of reform to provide a high quality public education to every child … They have committed resources to carry out their plan, have done so in fiscally troubled times, and show every indication that they will continue to increase such resources as the Commonwealth’s finances improve … I cannot conclude that the Commonwealth currently is not meeting its constitutional charge to “cherish the interests of . . . public schools.”

 In 2006, the Commonwealth adopted a new Chapter 70 formula with the intent of implementing it over the course of a Five Year Plan. The Governor’s FY09 Chapter 70 proposal represents Year Three of the plan and appropriates $3.949 billion dollars to cities and towns, a $223 million increase over FY08.

 The Five Year Plan addresses issues of adequacy in the foundation budget by:

* Using the uncapped inflation rate, which means that all categories of the foundation budget – from which the state aid allocations are derived – are increased by this year’s inflation rate of 5.18%.

 * Maintaining the modest increases made over the past two years to the following categories: English language learners and low-income students.

 The Five Year Plan addresses issues of equity by:

 * Weighing each district’s total income and total property wealth equally in determining what the municipality must contribute – at a minimum – towards its school funding.

* Setting the maximum local contribution for every district at 82.5% of the foundation budget, thereby setting the state aid floor at 17.5% of the foundation budget.

A school district will receive its state aid in the form of “foundation aid” (i.e., the difference between the foundation budget and its required local contribution) plus increments of the other types of aid (e.g., growth aid, down payment aid), pursuant to the formula.

 The foundation budget is made up of the following eleven categories:

* Administration

* Instructional Leadership

* Classroom and Specialist Teachers

* Other Teaching Services

* Professional Development

* Instructional Equipment and Technology

* Guidance and Psychological

* Pupil Services

* Operations and Maintenance

* Employee Benefits/Fixed Charges

* Special Education Tuition

 Of note: until fiscal year 2003 there was a professional development spending requirement. This requirement, which was $125 per pupil in its final year, was funded by the state through the Chapter 70 appropriation. Each year the Chapter 70 aid category called “minimum aid” was increased to reflect that requirement. The minimum professional development spending requirement no longer exists.

 Below is a list of the education transportation mandates:

 * K-6 transportation is required for students living more than two miles from school, and school districts pay for this without state aid. This mandate applied to all students in K-12 before Proposition 2 ½ became law, and it was relaxed in the early 1980s.

 * K-12 regional transportation is also for students living more than two miles from school.

 This mandate existed before Proposition 2 ½ and is therefore is not subject to the local mandate law. Funding for this program is appropriated in the budget through line item 7035-0006. In fiscal year 2008 it was funded at $58.3 million, representing 88.5% of the total cost.

 * Out-of-district vocational school transportation is also mandated for students living more than two miles from school.

 Funding for this program is appropriated in the budget through line item 7035-0007. In fiscal year 2008 it was funded at $1.95 million, representing 75% funding of total cost.

 Budget Growth compared to Chapter 70 growth – 1993-2008:

FY 93 Budget – $13,840,980,000

FY 08 Budget – $26,812,000,000

 

Growth – 94% increase – $12.971 billion increase

FY 93 Chapter 70 – $898,131,787

FY 08 Chapter 70 – $3,725,671,328

Growth – 315% increase – $2.828 billion increase

 

As you can see, the increase in the overall budget during that time period was 150%, while the increase in Chapter 70 Educational spending was 315%.

 (Footnotes) 1 Division of Local Mandates – http://www.mass.gov/sao/localmandate.htm/

 

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ValleyPatriot

The Valley Patriot is a free monthly journal of news, commentary, and events, serving Northern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.

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