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School Committee Meets With Finegold, Garry, Airs Frustration With Funding Inequities Of Dracut Schools vs. Charter, Tech

May 14, 2019 10:51PM ● By Lisa Redmond

DRACUT –School Committee member and educator Betsy Murphy said she is “continually stymied’’ by the inequities of a state funding formula that financially benefits charter and technical schools, while the school district must shoulder “so many more’’ financial responsibilities. 

Barry Finegold

 “I don’t want students in Dracut Public Schools without the additional assistant principal, guidance counselor or French teacher… to suffer at the expense’’ of the funding formula for charter schools and technical schools, Murphy said.

The issue of disparate funding was raised during a discussion between the School Committee and State Rep. Colleen Garry and state Sen. Barry Finegold about the proposed FY20 state budget during Tuesday’s meeting.

Murphy said her frustration is that charter schools and technical schools “are not held to the 

 same standard’’ as municipal school district which must absorb substantial expenses, such as in special education costs that are not fully reimbursed by the state.

State Rep. Colleen Garry

 Finegold said it is not the first time he’s heard the complaint. It is a “universal issue,’’ he said.

When the state allowed for the creation of charter schools, the idea was that school districts would not be such a financial “hit’’ for school districts. But that’s not what happened, he said.

Finegold said he is pushing to increase reimbursement for charter school and technical school costs, but Murphy responded, “The pie might get bigger, but the pieces haven’t changed.’’

Garry said she has sponsored a bill that would all school budgets to increase equally. If the school district budget is increased by 1 percent, for example, then charter and technical school budgets can only increase by the same percentage, she said.

On the same topic, Committee member Sabrina Heisey asked School Superintendent Steven Stone to provide the committee with charter enrollment figures versus tuition payments as a percentage of the Chapter 70 school funding. Heisey noted that Dracut isn’t the only district fighting the inequities of the funding mechanism.

On April 9, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell appeared before the Joint Committee on Education in support of House 418, Transparency and Accountability in Charter School Finance. The bill doesn’t change how charter school tuitions are calculate or reduce tuition payments, but it caps the local share of the municipality’s payments at the statewide average or “required local contribution,’’ according to SouthCoastToday.

In his speech, Mitchell described his school district as being “hamstrung’’ by the state’s charter school funding mechanism. For six years, New Bedford struggled to fund services for English Learners, student counseling, curriculum upgrades and special education. Meanwhile, the net fiscal impact of charter schools over the same time period double, rising from $7 million net cost in 2012 to $14 million net cost today.

Mitchell, whose school district has been struggling, said “I believe the state’s funding approach to charter schools is fundamentally unfair to municipalities…Not only does the current state funding mechanism perpetuate gross inequities at a time when educational opportunities for our children are becoming more and more uneven in Massachusetts, the current charter school funding law unfairly diverts resources and makes it that much harder for communities that are trying to do the right thing for their schools.’

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