On Wednesday, January 30, BTU President Jessica Tang testified before the Boston School Committee:
Good evening. I am here this evening on behalf of educators, students and families where budget cuts this year are creating untenable, unsafe and destabilizing circumstances, often year after year.
We know that many of the funding challenges are exacerbated by the lack of state funding for many significant line items such as charter reimbursement, homeless student transportation and special ed funding. We also know that federal funding is inadequate as well. So while we advocate here today for funding, we also share a joint interest in putting our full force behind the much needed Promise and Cherish acts at the State House and full funding of IDEA and Title 1 at the federal level. We look forward to joint advocacy on those fronts.
In the meantime, however, we have nowhere to turn except to the district and city to do more, in the short term, to relieve the burden that has placed schools serving many of our highest needs students in a lose-lose situation. No school should have to choose between a social worker or a librarian, an art teacher or a special ed teacher, a critical family engagement coordinator or math teacher. Or all of the above.
Many of the schools facing the most severe cuts, such as the Blackstone, are the ones that serve the highest percentages of high needs students in the whole city. The teachers, parents and students here tonight are not at fault. Everyone is here because they care, they love their schools and want their schools to be successful. There are decisions beyond their control that that the district has made, that has created many of these situations and to place any blame on them for what they face now would not only be misplaced, but extremely disrespectful.
The weighted student funding formula—while attempting to bring more equity to the district, has fallen short of its goal. So have changes in the Opportunity Index. Again, while perhaps well-intentioned, there have been several unintended consequences. The problem is not just with distribution of funds, it’s about the how big the pie is in first place. Otherwise, we end up in a cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul every year.
Schools need to be funded with baseline coverage for positions that reflect what we believe every student deserves—not just for core subjects, but also for full time nurses, PE teachers, arts educators, librarians, school counselors and psychologists. They shouldn’t be considered “extras” or “add-ons” that a school gets only if they can fundraise for them. At the very least, our schools need to receive maintenance funding that covers these positions.
The weighted student funding formula is too sensitive to even small fluctuations due to projected enrollments changes. The unintended consequence is that funding that is supposed to go to special ed and EL students, for example, is used to maintain other critical positions at the school. It’s not right, but it’s what is happening when schools, again like the Blackstone, are expected to roll out inclusion or take on a new SLIFE program, but aren’t funded appropriately to staff them while at the same time other essential positions are not adequately funded either. Just as it’s time to update the state formula, it’s time to update the BPS WSF as well.
BPS must do better—to fund our future and create the schools our students deserve.