Mass. Legislators Seek To Restore Desegregation Funding
It's not yet a done deal, but Massachusetts lawmakers are trying to restore the $13.2 million in desegregation funds that were cut from the state budget just weeks before the school year began.
Boston and 21 other mostly urban school districts had anticipated receiving the aid, which has come to them in the past through a 26-year-old program to help pay for desegregation efforts and to bolster educational opportunities for low-income and minority students.
But Gov. Paul Cellucci vetoed the aid this summer, forcing districts to make last-minute budget adjustments that included cutting positions and freezing new hiring.
State officials defended the veto, saying that the districts have received huge spending increases elsewhere in their budgets.
That explanation didn't satisfy the 21 school systems, which educate some of the state's neediest children. They joined forces and lobbied to get the money back.
Their efforts bore fruit earlier this month when Gov. Cellucci, a Republican, asked lawmakers to restore the $13.2 million for the current school year. The program through which the funds have flowed, known as Chapter 636, would not be restored under his plan, however.
"We want to make sure that communities can prepare and don't have to shut down viable programs," explained Cort Boulanger, the governor's spokesman on fiscal issues. "This should also give time to plan for next year, when the direct funds will not be available."
With the governor's blessing, it is now up to Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham to get his colleagues in both chambers to sign off on the plan.
Though the legislature is not formally in session, it is possible to adjust the budget before the legislative year ends Dec. 31, as long as no legislator opposes the change.
"There is some work to be done to make sure we're all on the same page in getting this done," Mr. Boulanger added.
Officials in the school districts that were affected by the budget veto expressed mixed views of the governor's plan.
"We are very pleased with the restoration of funds for a year," said Bobbie H. D'Alessandro, the superintendent of the 7,600-student Cambridge school district.
Ms. D'Alessandro, whose district would lose nearly $700,000 if the money isn't restored, believes that the funding should continue through a unique program that targets urban school districts and their diverse populations.
Her desegregation aid pays for parent-information centers, staff training, and other programs that are tailored to her school community. Other districts—such as the Boston city schools, which were out $5.2 million following the veto—use the money to bring special art programs to their students.
"I feel there needs to be a commitment in our commonwealth for the students who are the most needy," Ms. D'Alessandro added.
Mr. Boulanger pointed out that the governor was not the first person to back the elimination of the desegregation funds.
Earlier in the year, the state board of education left the program out of its proposed budget, saying that increases in state aid in recent years would more than compensate for the elimination of the Chapter 636 funding.
Besides, Mr. Boulanger added, the state wants to target the money it sends to urban school systems to support efforts such as reducing class sizes in kindergarten through grade 3.
"There are better ways to target equitable funding to low-income school districts," he said.
Vol. 20, Issue 4, Page 18