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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Foundation Budget Review Commission and on Redefining the Low Income Metric for K-12 Education Data

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
September 11, 2015

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At our meeting on September 22, 2015, I will provide an update on current discussions relating to the foundation budget.

Under the Commonwealth's school finance laws, the foundation budget represents the minimum funding level needed to provide an adequate education to the students in each school district. Created under the 1993 Education Reform Act, it is used to set minimum municipal spending levels and state aid allotments for every district.

While the foundation budget formula includes annual increases for inflation, the underlying structure and assumptions have remained virtually unchanged since 1993. Last year the Legislature created a Foundation Budget Review Commission and charged it with reviewing the formula's assumptions and factors. The commission is chaired by the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Education, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Alice Peisch, and includes representatives from a wide variety of constituent groups. Secretary Peyser and I are ex officio members.

The commission held six public hearings around the state and held seven meetings to discuss findings and make recommendations. It released a preliminary report on June 30, 2015, a copy of which is attached. The report includes recommendations to increase the foundation budget factors related to special education and health insurance benefits, based on findings that these costs have significantly outpaced the formula's original assumptions.

The commission has been granted an extension through the end of November 2015 to review additional topics and prepare its final report.

One topic still requiring further discussion is how to identify "low income" status for students. As I reported to the Board at your meeting on June 23, 2015, the data we have used in the past as a proxy for low income status - eligibility for free or reduced price school lunches - is no longer available in some districts. These districts are participating in the community eligibility program, a new federal program that allows them to offer free meals to all of their students, regardless of family income. By participating in the community eligibility program, districts take advantage of the paperwork reduction opportunity provided by no longer collecting family income data.

Student low income data is used in the foundation budget calculation, in the allocation formulas for other state and federal grant programs, and in our school and district accountability system. At our September 22 meeting, we will update you on our discussions with district administrators and other key stakeholders as we transition to other income data sources.

Deputy commissioner Jeff Wulfson, school finance administrator Roger Hatch, manager of education data services Robert Curtin, and state aid coordinator Melissa King will join us at the September 22 meeting to answer your questions.

Attachment: Foundation Budget Review Commission Preliminary Report



Last Updated: September 17, 2015
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