Monday, January 30, 2017

Massachusetts Urban School District Enrollment 2016-17

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently released the district enrollment figures for the 2016-17 school year as of October 1, 2016. Below are the enrollments for the ten Commissioner's districts with a comparison to the previous school year.

While most of these districts did report increases in their student populations, some did report decreases. Four districts (Boston, Brockton, Holyoke, and New Bedford) reported slight decreases in their student populations from the previous school year; the reported changes ranged from -267 in Boston to -22 in Holyoke. 

Change from 2015-16
Boston -267
Brockton  -132
Fall River +40
Holyoke -22
Lawrence +190
Lowell +264
Lynn +201
New Bedford -41
Springfield +154
Worcester +403

The total enrollment of these ten districts represents 20% of the state's public school enrollment. 

All data taken from:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Chapter 70 Funding: Lynn's Local Public School Funding Contribution

A common misconception is that public school districts in Massachusetts are entirely funded by local property taxes. In fact, since the Education Reform Act of 1993, public education in the state is financed through a combination of local revenue and state aid (as well as federal funding to a much lesser degree). Each year, the Massachusetts state legislature determines the amount of funding necessary for each district to adequately educate its public school population. This spending level, called the "foundation budget," is calculated via a funding formula (Chapter 70) which takes a number of factors into consideration including the number special education and economically disadvantaged students as well as vocational education costs among other categories. Additionally, there are some assumptions built into the foundation budget rates such as assumed class sizes (in FY17, it was 22 for elementary, 25 for junior/middle and 17 for high school). The goal of the Chapter 70 funding formula is to ensure that every district has sufficient resources to meet its foundation spending budget through an "equitable combination of local property taxes and state aid." The foundation budget covers all of the students that a district is financially responsible for including out of district placements and charter school students.

For FY17, Lynn's foundation budget was determined to be $192,172,423 based on a student population 16,463; this amounts to a per pupil expenditure of $11,673. As previously mentioned, all of that funding, however, is not expected to come solely from municipal revenue (i.e. property taxes). The state provides Chapter 70 funding in order to make up the difference between a city or town's spending ability based on incomes and property values and the foundation budget [in other words: Foundation Budget - Local Spending Ability = Ch. 70 State Aid]. In Lynn's case, the local contribution for this fiscal year was calculated at $46,018,423 or 23.95% of the foundation budget; the remaining 76.05% was provided by Ch. 70 state aid. So while the amount amount that Lynn as a municipality has been required to contribute to public education has steadily increased since FY07:

The percentage of the total foundation budget figure determined by the state has remained consistently between 23 and 25%:

Again, the amount that cities or towns in Massachusetts are expected to contribute to public education varies depending on local property tax and other sources of municipal revenue. The town of Wellesley for example, has a student population listed as 5,095 in FY17 and contributed 83.27% of its foundation budget compared to Lynn's 23.95%. Lawrence, on the other hand, contributed 4.74% to its foundation in FY17. It should also be noted that the Ch. 70 funding formula does not prevent a district from spending more than its local contribution of foundation budget if additional local funds exist. In FY15, for example, Cambridge spent 2.25 its foundation budget total including amounts derived from state funding. While this does leave room for inequality between wealthier districts and poorer districts, the Chapter 70 funding formula is an attempt to create a more equitable public school funding system. As the formula was initially created in 1993 before the implementation of the MCAS test as well as the widespread use of technology in the classroom, there have been calls to revise the formula so that it accurately reflects the costs of educating students in the 21st century most notably through the Foundation Budget Review Commission's 2015 report. That and issues with the accounting of certain student populations means that while Massachusetts intends to have a fair funding system, there is still a considerable gap between some cities and towns that deems it necessary to update and revise the way that the state funds its public schools.
For more information on Chapter 70 funding

Monday, October 31, 2016

Lynn Public School District Still Underfunded by a Considerable Amount

Over the past two years, I have reported on net school spending requirements as they relate to the Lynn Public School District. This was particularly in light of reports from early 2014 that put Lynn at a staggering $15.7 million dollars under its NSS requirement for fiscal year (FY) 2014. Since that time, Lynn's actual school spending compared to the amount required by the state has been in flux due to additional monies being allocated toward public education as well as direct dealings with the state in order to resolve some of the shortfall related to retired teacher benefits being inadvertently counted toward NSS. Lynn;s shortfall for FY14 is now listed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as just over $9 million compared to the $15.7 million listed nearly three years ago; as of FY16, public education in Lynn is underfunded by $6.8 million. From 2009-10 to 2015-16, the Lynn Public School District's student population did increase by 12.9% after a period of steady decline from 2000-01 to 2008-09.

Though this is a considerable amount, because Lynn is within the 5% "underfunding threshold" allowed by the state, the city is currently not facing financial or other penalties for not fully meeting its NSS requirement. Not including any carryovers from previous fiscal years, Lynn's net school spending requirement for FY17 is $197,467,144 which could potentially put its total requirement well over $200 million when one factors in the amount under from FY16. 

All data taken from:

Monday, August 8, 2016

Lynn Sees Lowest Voter Turnout in City Elections

Understandably, there has much discussion lately in the news and on social media regarding the upcoming presidential election. This is not surprising given both the stakes in this year's election but also given the candidates, Democratic nominee Secretary Hillary Clinton and Republic nominee Donald Trump. Further, presidential elections in general seem to garner more interest that municipal or state elections. In Lynn, this is certainly the case. Below is voter turnout in the city over the last eight years.

2008 and 2012 were both presidential election years and saw Lynn's highest voter participation rates. The lowest turnout were in municipal election years with no mayoral race (2011 and 2015. In last year's municipal election, voter turnout was highest in Ward One at 32.7% and lowest in Ward Six at 14.4%. Surrounding cities/towns saw similar patterns with Chelsea seeing a 60.19% voter turnout rate in 2012 and then 15.63% and 20.54% in the 2013 and 2015 municipal elections respectively. Last year's municipal election in Revere saw a 40.73% voter turnout compared to 88.43% in the last gubernatorial race. From this it seems that overall voters are much more attuned to or willing to vote in state and national elections compared to their very local city elections.


Monday, July 25, 2016

New Metric Fails to Capture Large Number of Lynn's Low Income Student Population

Starting in 2011-12, the US Department of Agriculture piloted a program called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) which allowed districts or schools with at least 40% of students qualifying to offer free lunch and breakfast to all students without collecting eligibility paperwork. The benefits of CEP were reported as reducing the burden of reporting on families as well as on schools for collecting and accounting for lunch fees. Additionally, it would reportedly reduce the stigma of participating in school lunch programs because all students would be eligible. In Massachusetts, because many districts' low income population were based on participation in free and reduced lunch, however, there was a need to redefine low income in a way that was accurate and consistent between districts/schools that did and did not participate in CEP.  The state recently instituted a new 'economically disadvantaged' metric which categorized students as ED based on the following criteria:
  • Students whose families participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Students whose families receive Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC)
  • Students in Foster Care
  • Students with MassHealth
The previous low income measure was based on eligibility for free or reduced price lunch, receiving Transitional Aid to Families benefits, or being eligible for food stamps (SNAP). The change is metric from low income to economically disadvantaged has resulted in a considerable drop in the number of students categorized as 'poor.' Compared to school year 2013-14, Lynn saw a 42.4% drop in lower income students when the new metric was used in 2014-15; Revere's low income population was halved using the new metric. 

2012-13 LI
2013-14 LI
2014-15 ED
2015-16 ED

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center has noted some keys reasons that fewer students are being identified as low income. Most notably, not all low income families enroll in public assistance programs. This is particularly true of undocumented families or parents but many other low income families as well who may simply refuse apply for assistance. More significantly, the state is not matching all of the students with the relevant public programs listed as criteria for being ED. For example, MassHealth Limited, which covers 16,000 children, was not a part of the initial matching process in the fall of  2015. Further, there are other unresolved technical problems in matching assistance programs with school enrollment data such that students enrolled in the relevant programs are not being matched and therefore left out of the 'economically disadvantaged' count.

School districts, particularly those with significant low income populations, are in disagreement with the change. In February, the Lynn School Committee passed a resolution against the accounting  change stating that the "under-counting of low-income students is harmful and unfair to districts like Lynn that are committed to serving all students and have come to rely on the extra funding for low income students provided through Chapter 70." Three quarters of Lynn's foundation budget is derived from state Chapter 70 funding. The Revere Public Schools' Superintendent Dr. Dianne Kelly is of a similar sentiment writing "this change is devastating the budgets of small and mid-sized urban districts... The fact is the state has chosen to not count thousands of poor kids when determining school funding." Chelsea's Superintendent, Mary Borque, went one step further saying "The integrity of the Chapter 70 now compromised." 

The new low income metric does indeed have major implications for districts' Chapter 70 funding allocations. To mitigate the effect of fewer classified low income students, however, the foundation budgets in fiscal year 2017 were adjusted in that the rates applied  to a district's ED population were based on the concentration of low income students. The base increment for ED students was $3,775 (Decile 1) with increases up to $4,135 (Decile 10) for districts with the highest concentration of ED students.  Lynn is in Economically Disadvantaged Decile 10 and received an additional $4,135 per ED student. Despite the increased aid for ED students compared to the FY16 rate of $3,142,  Lynn's overall foundation budget per pupil actually decreased in FY17 compared to FY16 even though the student population increased by 427. In fact, Lynn's foundation budget per pupil is just $11 more than it was in FY14 when the school population had 1,538 fewer students. It should also be noted that the English Language Learner, Vocational, Special Education In-District and Special Education Out of District student population and their subsequent increments all increased from FY16 to FY17.

The change in Lynn's foundation budget is largely due to the fact that Lynn is receiving increased low income student aid for a smaller population. In FY17, Lynn will see an increment of $37.5 million for its ED population of 9,078 (55.2%) of the student population. This is compared to low income student aid of $41.7 million in FY16. Using the low income numbers from FY16, Lynn would have seen nearly an additional $16 million if the FY17 rate of $4,135 per pupil was applied. This and the fact that the gap between the FY16 and FY17 foundation budgets is only $222,566 indicates that there is an issue in capturing all of districts' needy students and subsequently providing the aid that is necessary to adequately educate them. Consideration of the specific recommendations made in regard to low income students in the Foundation Budget Review Commission report should be made particularly as they relate to providing any and all relevant programming and supports for this population of students. It is evident that the new economically disadvantaged metric is missing a substantial proportion of Lynn's student population and as a result the district is missing out on much needed aid.

Data Taken from: