School Aid Increases; Finance Ruling Looms
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Gov. Mitt Romney approved a $22 billion budget for fiscal 2005 that includes an increase in direct education aid from last year’s spending. The Republican signed what he billed as the “no new tax” budget after vetoing $108 million in legislative proposals.
Massachusetts’ budget provides $3.1 billion in K-12 education aid, a $75 million, or 2.4 percent, increase from fiscal 2004. Specifics of the education budget include an $80 million boost for special education, from $122 million in fiscal 2004; a $24 million increase in reimbursements for school districts affected by students’ attendance at charter schools—up from $13 million last fiscal year; and a $4 million increase, to $14 million, for tutoring for students struggling to pass the state’s accountability exams.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said that given the ruling last April from a superior-court judge in the case Hancock v. Driscoll that found Massachusetts is not spending enough to help students in poor districts, the budget increases didn’t go far enough. ("Mass. School Funding Comes Up Short, Judge Rules," May 5, 2004.)
Moreover, said Jo Blum, the union’s director of government relations, “despite the increases, we’re still where we were” in fiscal 2003.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in the case last fall and is expected to rule early this year.
The MTA and others also criticized Gov. Romney for his veto of the legislature’s adoption of a one-year moratorium on charter schools. Many district leaders say they lose scarce money when students leave regular schools for those independent public schools.
Both chambers of the legislature came up short of the two-thirds majorities needed to override the governor’s veto.
Vol. 24, Issue 18, Page 20