School Finance: Chapter 70 Program
Chapter 70 School Financing Formula
Hon. Therese Murray, Chair, Senate Committee on Ways & Means
Hon. Robert DeLeo, Chair, House Committee on Ways & Means
Hon. Robert Antonioni, Senate Chair, Joint Committee on Education
Hon. Patricia Haddad, House Chair, Joint Committee on Education
David P. Driscoll, Commissioner of Education
April 21, 2005
On March 8, when I testified at the joint Ways and Means education hearing in Lowell, several committee members expressed their concerns about various aspects of the Chapter 70 school financing formula. Since its enactment in 1993, the Chapter 70 formula has been a major factor in our efforts to improve the quality of our public schools. But I also agreed with the committee members that there continue to be a number of flaws in the formula, and I promised to respond with some specific ideas on how to correct those problems.
The attached paper focuses on the local contribution component and offers some ideas on how to ensure that the formula treats all taxpayers fairly. As you know, our formula requires a minimum local contribution from each city and town in the Commonwealth. When the formula was originally enacted, the Legislature expected that richer communities would be asked to contribute more, and conversely would receive less state aid, than poorer communities. In the formula's early years, an effort was made to measure community wealth and to adjust local contributions accordingly. But these factors did not work well in practice, and most of them have been dropped over the years. Today, there are too many examples of towns of comparable wealth with widely differing contribution requirements. This, in turn, has led to considerable frustration on the part of local officials, as you and your colleagues well know.
These issues have been studied at length over the past several years by various groups, and a number of thoughtful proposals have emerged from those deliberations. We have borrowed liberally from the best of those ideas, and express our appreciation to all who have been involved in those discussions. In developing this latest proposal, we have tried to come up with a formula that restores equity and fairness; is clear and understandable; and does not place an undue fiscal burden on any city or town.
These particular proposals do not address the larger questions regarding the adequacy of the foundation budget; whether school districts need additional fiscal resources to achieve the high standards we have set for them; and if so, how to ensure that those resources are used effectively. Governor Romney is expected to file a legislative proposal later this spring that will focus on these issues.
The recently released budget proposal from the House Ways and Means Committee noted that FY06 should be regarded as a transition year, allowing more time for a thoughtful debate on proposed changes to Chapter 70. I endorse their approach. It is extremely difficult to make major changes in the school financing formula during the short timeframe of the state budget cycle, when most municipal and school budgets for the next year are all but finalized. If improvements to Chapter 70 and other reforms can be enacted this summer or fall, it will give municipalities and districts adequate time to prepare for implementation in FY07.
I look forward to continuing this discussion with you and your colleagues. In the meantime, if you need any additional information about these proposals, please contact associate commissioner Jeff Wulfson; school finance programs manager Roger Hatch; or me. Thank you.
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