Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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Boston students walk out to protest cuts

Hundreds of students from about 10 high schools walked out of class to protest the potential for effective cuts to education budgets in Boston Public Schools, along with the subsequent loss of key programs, teachers, and, they believe, the quality of their education, the Boston Herald reports.

The students left their classrooms on Monday, March 7 and marched to Jamaica Plain, where Boston’s School Committee was conducting a budget meeting. Even though the budget for Boston Public Schools is bigger than it has ever been—$1.03 billion, an increase of $13.5 million, or about 1.3 percent over last year’s amount—the increase in state funding doesn’t keep pace with inflation and will cause some cuts at several schools.

UPDATE March 12: Mayor Martin J Walsh said he plans to announce that Boston high schools will be spared the controversial reductions that endangered programs and teacher jobs. Instead of making significant cuts to high school budgets, the School Department will delay about $6 million in new programs and pull dollars from district-wide budget items, city officials said. In the end, high schools are expected to receive slightly more money next year, according to the officials, and students’ concerns have apparently been addressed.

One problem is the increase in labor and facilities costs. Layoffs of teachers and librarians will be required, explained Superintendent Tommy Chang in a letter dated January 12:

Boston Public Schools is facing a nearly $30 million structural deficit due in large part to rising fixed costs, including $21 million in salary and benefit increases. When coupled with unforeseen costs and important investments in core operations, past commitments, and strategic priorities, the district’s projected budget gap rises to $40-50 million. As a result, the entire district is forced to make difficult choices. Adjustments were made to the Weighted Student Funding formula that resulted in schools across the system making a total of $10-$12 million in cuts. Please note that shifts in school enrollment and programming are also impacting individual school budgets.

boston_funding_problems
Source: Boston Public Schools

Teachers complain and students, as is their right, join in. State aid has grown by less than 1 percent per year. Enrollment isn’t expanding—Boston is already a very crowded city—but it’s shifting, and money follows the student. The deficit that results from stagnant state support, despite an increasing commitment from the city, and the increasing fixed costs has caused a structural deficit and led to potential cuts in teacher employment and school programming for students.

Charter schools, as an experimental site for testing new methodologies on a few kids, are great, but the corrupt networks they have become are not: they erode the education quality at traditional schools until they can no longer provide the programs students want or need. There’s little doubt charters have taken money away from Boston’s public schools.

“People stress they want the younger generation to be leaders in the 21st century, but if our schools aren’t properly funded, we can’t become the people we aspire to be,” the Herald quoted Nathaniel Coronado, a freshman at Boston Latin Academy, as saying. He called next year’s budget proposal “unacceptable.”

According to Boston Councilor Tito Jackson, who spoke on a radio talk show, charter schools received about $104 million for 8,100 students this year, to be used for education operations, compared to $107 million sent to traditional neighborhood schools, with an enrollment of about 49,000. Next year’s proposed budget would be worse, sending about $119 million to charters and only $93 million to traditional schools, he said.

\frac{\$104m}{8,100} = \$12,800\textrm{ per charter pupil} > \frac{\$107m}{49,000} = \$2,200\textrm{ per traditional pupil}

Total enrollment in Boston Public Schools is close to 57,000, according to the district. If, as Mr Jackson claims, 8,100 students are enrolled in charter schools, that leaves an enrollment at traditional schools in the neighborhood of 49,000.

But Mr Jackson is loose with numbers, and I can’t be sure he’s comparing apples to apples when it comes to funding. The total budget for Boston Public Schools, which includes both operational costs and capital expenditures, is far greater than the numbers he cited, a little more than $1 billion. But if his figures are even close to the amounts devoted to education-related expenses, a substantial inequality exists between funding for students at charter schools and those at traditional neighborhood schools.

It would, in fact, be something to be upset about. I want to point out, though, that if the students being served in charters are substantially different from those at the traditional public schools—in terms of special education needs, low-income status, or any number of other variables that reroute funds in our current funding plans—the inequity may arise simply as a side-effect of Boston’s Weighted Student Funding formula.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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