, Salem, MA

Local News

July 17, 2014

New measure might give more education aid to towns

Formula to allocate funds hasn't been adjusted in many years

IPSWICH — There might be good news on the horizon for this town’s school advocates, thanks to a plan to review the way the state allocates aid to education. Ipswich Rep. Brad Hill is hoping that could increase state aid to smaller communities.

A budget amendment, spearheaded by Marblehead Rep. Lori Erlich, recently signed by Gov. Deval Patrick will set up a board to review the way the state allocates aid to local schools, known as Chapter 70 money, and recommend any appropriate changes every four years. The new Foundation Budget Review Commission replaces a system that hasn’t adjusted the formula in more than a decade.

With a hole in their school budget estimated at $1.5 million, Ipswich residents have been looking to Beacon Hill for help. Hill, who worked on the bill with Erlich, acknowledges that state aid is set for this year, but he’s hoping the new commission will produce a new formula for distributing it in time for next year’s budget debate. If so, he expects to see the town gaining.

The current funding formula is a complex one that leans heavily on factors like property values and median income — to the disadvantage of towns like Ipswich and Swampscott, he said. Other vital elements, like special education expenses, can be undervalued, he said.

As a result, “suburban districts are not getting their fair share,” he said. “... It was so one-sided in the view of many that we needed to address it.”

The measure won bipartisan support in the Legislature, with no “push-back” from big city legislators or anyone else. “This affects just about every North Shore legislator,” he said.

For her part, Ehrlich offers caution, noting that the decisions of the new commission can’t be predicted.

“I wouldn’t presume the outcome of the study. It could go either way,” she said. In other words, it could earmark still more money to cities. Or, she said, the results could indicate that “more money in general is needed.”

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