BPS students protest on Beacon Street Monday.

Credit: Craig LeMoult

As Boston Public Schools Students Walk Out, Walsh Says State Aid 'One Of Our Issues'

March 7, 2016

As Boston Public Schools students held a protest march to the State House Monday to advocate for more school funding, Mayor Marty Walsh said that the amount of state money the district receives annually is "one of our issues."

Worried about the potential for cuts in the city's schools, some Boston parents, students and other advocates have been pressing for additional money in the budget. The city of Boston anticipates appropriating $1.27 billion for its public schools in the 2017 fiscal year, a $13.5 million increase over the current year, according to Walsh's office.

Under Gov. Charlie Baker's $39.55 billion budget proposal, Boston is set to receive $213.9 million in state Chapter 70 education funds next year, up only 0.6 percent from $212.6 million over this year.

Baker has also proposed an increase in charter school reimbursement funds, which could lead to more revenue for city services, according to a Walsh aide.

In the middle of a school day, students flooded the streets outside the State House and filled Boston Common, with some attending an Education Committee hearing inside the State House and others then traveling to Faneuil Hall where Walsh and Baker planned an event to promote a five-day Under 30 Summit in the fall for young people. Students carried signs urging public officials to "take a stand" and "save our schools."

At Faneuil Hall, Walsh said he would have preferred the students stay in school instead of walking out, but since they did he said, "I commend them for their advocacy. We still have a ways to go. We've made a large increase in the school budget this year, and we're going to continue to work to close that divide."

In total, Gov. Charlie Baker's 2017 budget increases Chapter 70 money by 1.6 percent or $72.1 million, bringing the payments up to $4.58 billion.

The 1.6 percent increase has been met with backlash from school district and municipal officials who have called the appropriation inadequate in a year when state revenues are projected to grow at 4.3 percent.

"There's challenges up here on Beacon Hill, and they're trying to come up with financial improvements here," Walsh said after testifying before the Joint Committee on Education Monday. "I mean certainly Boston has received less and less state money over the last decade, and that's one of our issues."

From 2008 to the 2017 projections, Boston's Chapter 70 aid has fallen by $2 million, according to Walsh's office.

"We have a growing budget every year and in my time as mayor, in three years, we've put roughly $90 million into the bottom line of education," Walsh said. "We have some of our own housekeeping to do as well to see where we can make some adjustments, so that's what we're asking the school department to do."

Walsh said that budget adjustments wouldn't necessarily translate to cuts in classrooms or teaching staff.

"There are other ways of finding ways of making cuts, if they have to make a cut," he said.

More than 70 lawmakers last month signed a letter calling for legislative budget writers to add $20 million more to Baker's education aid proposal. House leaders plan to offer their redraft of Baker's budget in April.

Education Secretary James Peyser has said it is "typical that the administration will put forward a number and the Legislature will increase it."

In testimony last week before the House and Senate Ways and Means committees, Peyser said the Baker administration altered the formula used to establish Chapter 70 funding, which otherwise "would have required very little additional spending" because of a negative inflation rate and a drop in student population.

Walsh, a former representative, told the News Service that he will "wait and see what the Legislature does" with Chapter 70 funding.

"I did 17 budgets in this building," he said. "And oftentimes, by the end of the day, at the end of the day, it's a very different product than going into it."

Baker has touted his budget's lack of new or higher taxes and efforts to limit spending growth to sustainable levels while instituting reforms to the MassHealth program and shoring up state reserve funds that credit rating analysts have raised as an issue to watch.

More than a dozen school committees around Massachusetts have adopted resolutions calling on the Legislature to boost Chapter 70 education aid beyond the amount recommended by Baker.

According to the Suburban Coalition, the resolution is up for votes this week before school committees in Amesbury, Salem, Peabody, Stoughton, West Springfield, Groton-Dunstable and Sandwich.

Sam Doran, Michael Norton and Matt Murphy contributed reporting


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