Achievement gap in Mass. prompts call for funding equity

Achievement gap in Mass. prompts call for funding equity

(Mass.) Leaders of the nation’s highest performing school system have renewed a lobby campaign aimed at getting Massachusetts lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker to update the state’s 25-year-old formula for funding public education.

The effort comes after legislative leaders and the governor failed to find compromise last summer on revising the funding system that was found by a 2015 blue ribbon panel to underestimate the cost of education by as much as $2 billion annually.

Last week, the state board of education sent their budget priorities to the governor’s fiscal team in advance of the January kickoff of budget deliberations.

Among the interested stakeholders is Massachusetts Parents United, an advocacy group representing low-income and minority families, which held a symposium also last week focusing on new research showing that the achievement gap—even in Massachusetts—continues to persist.

 “We think of ourselves as a leader in education nationally, and it's true that there is a lot to celebrate in the state, but at the  same time we have to acknowledge what we haven't accomplished,” Natasha Ushomirsky, director of education equity policy at The Education Trust told MassLive. “Underneath those really high rankings are big disparities in opportunity and achievement that affect so many low-income students and students of color across the state.”

A report sponsored by the parent organization released in September shows significant performance disparity between white and Asian students with that of Black and Hispanic children.

Massachusetts, which ranks first in the U.S. on the National Assessment of Education Progress or NAEP, also boasts the highest average score on the SAT. But, among all students that took the college entrance exam in 2017, just 27 percent of Black students and 31 percent of Latino students participated.

Meanwhile, 65 percent of white students and 71 percent of Asians met the readiness exam.

The state’s Black and Latino students also fall well short of their white and Asian counterparts when it comes to graduation rates and 3rd grade reading standards.

Kim Rivera, a member of the parent advocacy organization, said the new research confirms what many minority parents have thought for years.

“Parents have voiced that they wanted something to happen when it came to the education of their children because they could see that their black and brown children were not being educated as well as they should be,” she told MALive.

Part of the problem, critics say, is the state’s antiquated school funding formula adopted in 1993. According to the September report from Parents United, the system was initially successful in directing more state resources to low-income districts.

But in more recent years, Massachusetts’ funding allocations have become less progressive: In 2008, high-poverty districts received about 15 percent more in state and local support; by 2014 that share had diminished to just 9 percent.

Although both the House and state Senate passed proposals last summer to restructure the school funding system, when it came time to resolve differences in the legislation, lawmakers couldn’t agree.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association said the Senate version of the bill would increase state education spending by more than $1 billion annually, and the House version by about a third of that amount.

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