ATTLEBORO — The state’s latest budget for education aid is shortchanging city schools by $2 million, a local lawmaker says.
According to state Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, the state is using misleading enrollment figures — particularly in the case of kindergarten students.
“The governor has used enrollment figures that distort the funding in a way that hurts almost every Gateway City and has little if nothing to do with population changes,” Hawkins said in a letter to the Joint Ways and Means Committee.
The budget proposal laid out by Gov. Charlie Baker in January provides $246.3 million in new funding for the 2019 Student Opportunity Act, legislation Hawkins supported. It is aimed at helping Gateway Cities, like Attleboro and others with struggling economies.
The seven-year plan is designed to gradually increase state funding for schools that serve lower-income students.
“This year (Attleboro) got less than $180,000 in SOA money,” Hawkins wrote.
Overall, state education tops $41.4 million.
David Sawyer, superintendent of schools, says the governor’s decision to use enrollment figures from October of last year “amounts to a $2 million cut for Attleboro in fiscal year 2022.”
“This has left us with a $1.5 million shortfall for maintaining level services next year,” Sawyer said In an email to The Sun Chronicle.
He expects enrollment to rebound in September as most of the 200 mostly kindergarten students who were not in class last year — kindergarten is not mandatory — reenter the system as first-graders.
When that happens, Sawyer said, “the district will not only be missing the funds to educate these students, but the state will face an unusually high increase in funding requirements as a result of the correction for FY23.”
Hawkins wants the Joint Committee on Ways and Means in the state Legislature to fix the funding.
“The reality is there are no savings due to these students withdrawing…especially if it’s temporary. The added irony is that social distancing would dictate smaller classes which would then require more teachers,” Hawkins told the committee. “It is stinging that after SOA was supposed to address low-income schools that the very schools who can afford it the least are getting hit the hardest.”
Hawkins said several groups, including the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, Massachusetts Teachers Association and the state’s school superintendents’ association, agree that the Student Opportunity Act was underfunded in the current budget.
Hawkins is calling for adding a total of $154 million to state education aid.