STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 11, 2014……State government’s underfunding of charter school reimbursements to cities and towns is having a negative impact in districts around Massachusetts, municipal leaders from Lowell, Orleans and Salem told Patrick administration officials Tuesday.
During a monthly meeting between administration officials and representatives from municipal government, local officials said reimbursement levels in the current fiscal 2014 budget year are underfunded by $28 million, and said Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget plan for fiscal 2015 also underfunds charter schools. The situation appears to be fueling the occasional tensions between traditional public schools and charter schools, which are also publicly funded.
Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch said school districts are seeing “serious repercussions,” with Lowell taking a $1.4 million hit that he said has impeded efforts to help out school libraries that have absorbed budget cuts.
Calling for increased state aid “sooner rather than later,” Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said her city has been underfunded by $400,000 setting back school improvement ideas such as an expanded school day.
Orleans Selectman David Dunford said Cape Cod is fortunate to have several good charter schools, but said underfunding of reimbursements “does cost our public schools funds,” including $250,000 that he said Barnstable could use to support English language learning courses.
Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith urged local officials to support a Rep. Byron Rushing amendment to a $154 million mid-year spending bill up for a House vote on Wednesday that would add $10 million for charter school reimbursements. The bill could also be entertained in the state Senate on Thursday.
Concerns about state reimbursements were aired after a Patrick administration official reported that tax revenues this fiscal year are exceeding benchmarks, calling it “good news” but cautioning that a mid-year review has been launched to address any unanticipated spending needs.
After listening to the concerns about charter school funding, Pam Kocher, director of local policy in the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, told the local officials, “Okay, noted. Thank you.”
After the meeting, Kocher told the News Service that supplemental funding was approved in fiscal 2013 to address underfunded charter school reimbursements, and noted that above-benchmark tax collections are being weighed against other state spending demands. The administration just launched its mid-year review of state spending.
“We are very much aware of the concerns,” Kocher said, calling the situations described by local officials “excellent examples” of education funding challenges.
Beckwith told the News Service after the meeting that charter schools, which are expanding in Massachusetts in the face of waitlists and under education reform efforts, are now consuming about 10 percent of Chapter 70 aid from the state to cities and towns. Pushing for an increase this fiscal year from $75 million to $103 million, Beckwith said the situation underscores a need to boost reimbursements to traditional public schools affected by charters.
Copyright 2014 State House News Service