The MMA and dozens of municipal and school officials from across the state responded to a request for comments as two key state agencies – the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Division of Local Services – work on a report that will evaluate how the state calculates the required local contribution to schools under Chapter 70.

The report is required under the Student Opportunity Act that became law last year. The deadline for comments was Oct. 16, and the DESE-DLS report is due to be filed with the Legislature by Dec. 1.

The Student Opportunity Act 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 DLS-DESE study was designed to take a look at that part of the formula that has been increasingly problematic for many municipalities and school districts.

In its comments to the DLS and DESE, the MMA noted that the Student Opportunity Act includes 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 is capped by Proposition 2½. These provisions also improve the predictability of school funding and educational programming for districts.

The MMA urged the DLS and DESE to take into consideration the following when preparing the report and recommendations:
1. The hold harmless and minimum aid provisions in the Student Opportunity Act 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 DESE is posting comments submitted on this issue on its website.

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