In letter to Senators, MMA urges support for amendment to provide for direct payments from the state to charter schools

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Dear Senator,

The Senate charter school working group has properly expanded the discussion of improvements to public education from the narrow question of whether to increase the number of charter schools to the broader issue of taking steps to increase quality opportunities for all school children. S. 2203 takes a balanced and forward-looking approach to updating some important features of how Massachusetts finances and provides public education.

We very much appreciate the working group’s focus on the important recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), which would update the increasingly obsolete and inadequate foundation budget framework. The original 1993 funding framework no longer reflects what is expected of public schools in 2016, and is out of touch with the financial resources that are necessary to educate students to be great citizens and successful participants in a changing economy. In particular, the FBRC has highlighted significant inadequacies in the current foundation budget calculations that grossly underweight the cost of special education and the cost of health insurance benefits for school employees, among other issues. The MMA was pleased to participate as a member of the FBRC, and we strongly support implementation of the recommendations embraced by the Commission in last year’s report. In addition to its support for the FBRC’s proposals, we also appreciate the working group’s recommendations to consider governance and administration updates to enhance transparency and accountability in charter schools.

We are writing today to strongly support Amendment #26 filed by Senator Michael Moore. This critical amendment would provide for direct payments from the state to charter schools to cover the portion of student tuition that is intended to be funded by the Commonwealth. Currently, cities, towns and school districts serve as a pass-through for all funding for charter schools, and this is the reason why it is necessary to have a separate line-item in the state budget to reimburse cities, towns and local school districts for a portion of their payments to charter schools. This amendment would end the disruptive practice of municipal and regional school districts serving as pass-though finance agents between state government and charter schools. While this system of charter school finance might have made sense 20 years ago when charter schools were new to Massachusetts, it is no longer necessary and actually destabilizes local school budgets.

Amendment #26 would not change the amount due to charter schools or local public school districts under the law. The amendment would provide charter schools with direct state funding to pay for the full capital portion of tuition payments. In addition, under state law, cities, towns and school districts are supposed to be reimbursed by the state for a portion of new increases in charter school funding (this would be changed from a 6-year formula in current law to a 3-year 100%-50%-25% formula in S. 2203). But this pass-through-and-reimburse system is working poorly, and has created financial hardship for dozens of communities. Amendment #26 would instead have the reimbursement account become a direct line item to charter schools, making sure that local school districts that educate over 95% of all students statewide do not face financial disruption. This approach would have the further benefit of streamlining school finance rules, and would provide improved transparency in both state and local obligations to fund charter schools. Again, under Amendment #26, the total amounts due to cities, towns, school districts and charter schools under the law would not change, but the ineffective pass-through system for state obligations would end and would be replaced with a more stable and transparent way of funding all parties.

Please support Amendment #26. If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact MMA Legislative Director John Robertson at 617-426-7272 or jrobertson@mma.org at any time.

Thank you very much. 

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith 
MMA Executive Director & CEO