State spending on k-12 cut in Romney budget

Despite claims that public schools are protected in the new budget plan, state spending on K-12 education is actually reduced when all factors are considered, according to the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

If enacted, Gov. Mitt Romney's proposed reductions -- coming on top of recent education and local aid cuts -- would force many districts to lay off staff, increase class sizes, and reduce educational offerings at the local level in the coming fiscal year.

A further concern is that fiscal experts, such as the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, have determined that the governor's budget does not really contain $2 billion in "savings" garnered by eliminating "waste and fraud." Thus, a genuinely balanced budget plan will have to contain either more budget cuts or increased revenues.

The MTA is asking the Legislature to "stand up for education" by increasing revenues, rather than making cuts in public schools or higher education.

"Our children and college students are entitled to a quality education that will enable them to succeed in life and in the workforce," said MTA President Catherine A. Boudreau.

The state contributes to K-12 education in three ways:
(1) Chapter 70 school aid to cities and towns;
(2) Education grant programs and reimbursements;
(3) Lottery aid and additional assistance provided to communities -- funds that are spent on a variety of municipal services, including education.

Romney's budget plan affects all three areas.

(1) Chapter 70: House 1 increases Chapter 70 by $73 million (from $3.259 to $3.332 billion). According to MTA, that is $18 million less than needed to maintain Chapter 70 spending at current levels, when taking inflation and enrollment growth into consideration.

(2) Grants and Reimbursements. House 1 decreases some grants and reimbursements and increases others. (Two of these line items are moved to other agencies, and, thus, are not considered in these calculations.) The net effect of these changes is to decrease state spending on these accounts by $63 million.

Of the many grant reductions, the three biggest are:

  • Full-day kindergarten: ($28 million)
  • Class size reduction: ($18 million)
  • Early literacy: ($18 million)

These grants fund services with a proven track record of improving student achievement. Under the governor's plan, if school districts want to continue to fund these programs, they will have to take the money from other education accounts.

The largest reimbursement reduction is: Transportation: ($72 million)

The largest increase is:Special Education Circuitbreaker: $45 million

(3) Other Local Aid. House 1 cuts non-Chapter 70 local aid by $232 million. (House 1 actually calls for the elimination of "additional assistance" and a reduction in "lottery aid." Those reductions are partially offset by a one-year allocation to a mitigation fund.) To make up for the loss of $232 million, many municipalities will be forced to make cuts in all municipal services, including public schools.

Taking the larger picture into consideration, then, public schools are not "held harmless" by the governor's proposed budget.