New funds to be directed toward student support services, instruction
In his State of the City speech last week, Mayor Martin Walsh pledged $100 million in additional funding to Boston Public Schools, funds that he said would be above regular yearly cost increases and would be channeled directly to classrooms.
“We believe in a Boston where every single student has access to high-quality schools to reach their full potential, and this $100 million investment will make that vision a reality,” Walsh said. “This new investment will be carefully targeted to evidence-based strategies so that every dollar makes a difference.”
Walsh said the funding would be guided by Superintendent Brenda Cassellius’ strategic vision for the schools, a document that is expected to be completed in February. The mayor cited student wellness and mental health supports, curriculum enrichment, programming and activities as areas where the funding would be invested. He also cited what the district refers to as underperforming schools as early recipients of the additional funding.
“We’ll begin with intense support for underperforming schools, because kids who start with less need more and deserve more,” he said.
The mayor’s commitment of $100 million over the next three years represents roughly a 3 percent increase per year on top of the regular increases in the budget that cover rising costs, which average 3 percent a year.
The additional investment comes on the heels of the Massachusetts Legislature’s passage of the Student Opportunity Act, which is expected to increase state funding for local school districts by more than $1 billion over the next seven years. With that, Boston is expected to benefit from increased Chapter 70 state school funds as well as guaranteed reimbursements for funds the BPS district loses to charter schools.
The city may also be required to increase its spending on schools under the Student Opportunity Act over the next seven years, although it’s not expected that the required spending will exceed Walsh’s $100 million commitment over the next three years.
City Council President Kim Janey said she would like to see the additional funds applied toward closing the opportunity gap between BPS schools, citing a need for libraries, arts programs and sports in all BPS schools.
“They’re always the first programs on the chopping block,” Janey said. “Unfortunately, these are the things that keep many of our students who are teetering on the edge engaged in school.”
Janey also said decisions around the increased funding should be guided by the school communities.
“The voice of the school leaders and students can’t be ignored,” she said. “They have to be part of the decision-making process.”
Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang said the new funding ought to be applied to schools that are struggling with a lack of resources.
“We welcome the much-needed investment in our schools, as the recent state funding bill will not meaningfully impact Boston for several years,” she said. “The funding should be used to stabilize schools and fill gaps in staffing, particularly for our special education classrooms, English language learners and students with high needs.”
Tang also spoke in support of expanding schools’ baseline budgets, which currently fund just two positions — a principal and a secretary. Under the current system, teachers, specialists and support services staff are often laid off when schools lose funding.
“All of our schools should have baseline funding not just for academics but for positions such as social workers, librarians and guidance counselors as well,” she said.
Budget season begins
The announcement of the funding increase came just before BPS officials released their budget projections to the district’s schools, outlining funding increases and cuts. Under the district’s weighted student funding formula, school funding is tied to enrollment projections. Schools in which enrollment dips are often forced to make cuts to many of the student support service positions Walsh highlighted in his speech, such as counselors and social workers.
“Guidance counselors, social-emotional support staff — those are the first things to go,” said Ruby Reyes, executive director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance. “But they serve as the glue in a school. They’re the ones who connect students and families to the services they need. They help them navigate life.”
This year, the Mather Elementary School in Dorchester is slated to lose five positions, including the school’s librarian. Cuts are also projected for high schools including Charlestown High School and Boston Latin Academy. Although the school budget has not yet been made public, such cuts usually stem from the effects of drops in enrollment on the weighted student funding formula.
The weighted student funding formula has generated controversy in recent years and some schools whose student numbers declined have sustained crippling cuts that have gutted student support services.
“It’s a system-wide problem,” Reyes said. “If you’re cutting key services, parents don’t want to enroll their children, and the enrollment continues to drop. It’s a vicious cycle.”