Division of Local Services and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
(submitted electronically)

The Massachusetts Municipal Association is pleased to offer comment on the local contribution calculation in Chapter 70 school finance law as requested by the Division of Local Services (DLS) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) pursuant to section 21 of Chapter 132 of the Acts of 2019, the Student Opportunity Act. We look forward to the DLS-DESE report in December on this important part of the law.

The Student Opportunity Act (SOA) updated the vital foundation spending standard in Chapter 70 to better reflect the minimum cost of providing a Constitutionally sufficient education for every student. One key feature of the SOA is the revision to spending standard factors related to low-income and other disadvantaged students to ensure that all students can access the benefits of an adequately funded public education.

The SOA did not change how the local contribution is calculated for the purpose of determining what share of the foundation spending standard is paid from the local property tax and other local revenues and what share is paid from state revenues.

The SOA did include important statutory provisions to ensure that municipal and regional districts are shielded from annual school aid reductions and are provided with a minimum increase in aid each year. These provisions are necessary to ensure that all districts can maintain adequate education programs over time without unsustainable overreliance on the property tax, which, as you know, is capped by Proposition 2½. These provisions also improve the predictability of school funding and educational programming for districts.

Generally, the local contribution rules in the 1993 Education Reform Act and the important changes adopted in 2006 have functioned to balance local and state contributions toward total foundation spending based on a statewide total local share of 59% and a total state share of 41%. This equity system was effective during the first years of the Reform Act as the foundation budget was phased in, and when student enrollment was growing across most of the state, but this system has been problematic over the past decade in districts where enrollment growth has flattened or declined. These districts have faced challenges in maintaining adequate school programs as their reliance on the property tax has increased. These problems would be significantly more severe without the hold harmless and minimum aid practices in past years and the similar statutory provisions in the SOA.

We urge the DLS and DESE to take into consideration the following comments when preparing the report and recommendations:

1. The hold harmless and minimum aid provisions in the SOA are critical to the adequacy and sustainability of local school funding and education programming across the Commonwealth and should be maintained.

2. The high reliance on the property tax to fund schools in many districts should be mitigated and special attention must be given to cities and towns approaching their levy ceiling and with limited local tax capacity. This is a special concern in western and central Massachusetts and other rural parts of the state. The total local contribution to the statewide foundation budget should be reduced to provide a more equitable split between state and local contributions.

3. The minimum state school aid contribution toward the local foundation budget should be maintained to preserve predictability.

The quality of public education is a vital priority for every city and town in the Commonwealth. We strongly urge your analysis to recognize that reversal of the state’s current commitment to a minimum annual increase in education aid to every school district, a minimum percentage of state funding to each district’s foundation budget, and hold harmless protections, would by definition weaken the education funding capacity for a large number of communities, and would have a concurrently negative impact on resources available for municipal services. The success of the Student Opportunity Act will be determined by many factors, including whether state policies continue to promote stability and capacity, or are changed in destabilizing ways.

Please do not hesitate to contact the MMA if you have questions regarding these comments, or if you wish to receive further information from us. John Robertson, the MMA’s Legislative Director, is available at any time at jrobertson@mma.org.

Thank you very much.

Geoff Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO