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  • Katelyn Tobey

Massachusetts Schools Facing Budget Shortfalls Despite Aid

Image by Burcu Elmas

On May 24, the Massachusetts State Senate approved the budget for the Fiscal Year 2025, including a commitment to $6.9 billion in aid to public schools for the next two years. This aid comes as many schools face severe economic difficulties, causing teacher layoffs, program cuts, and impending school closures. Despite state house budget efforts, steep inflation rates leave local school districts with massive budget shortfalls, demanding action from local town governments through tax overrides. 

In 2019, the Student Opportunity Act was passed in order to address stark disparities in lower-income schools, which led struggling districts such as Brockton and Worcester to consider suing the state. The act was intended to specifically bolster struggling or low-income schools with added programs and aid to better meet their needs. Education inequality is nothing new to Massachusetts, as schools funded by local property tax are inherently unequal due to significantly differing revenues. Such discrepancies impact the quality of education through fewer or worse materials, underqualified educators, and program availability. 

A funding gap of over $215 million due to inflation is further harming local schools' finances. The aid designated by Chapter 70 is intended to close necessary funding gaps; however, the formula used to calculate inflation felt by schools does not make up for the current high inflation rates. Instead, it caps the inflation calculation at 4.5% with no method of accounting for lost funding during periods of higher inflation. The Massachusetts Teacher Association and the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts are pushing to change the law to compensate for money lost to high inflation in the coming years.

Many Massachusetts towns are now debating tax overrides in order to meet the increasing costs for their schools and prevent teacher layoffs in their schools. On April 30, the town of Acton voted to increase taxes by an average of $870 per year to generate $6.6 million to help local schools and other town functions. A local group called Together for Acton attributed the cost difference to inflation and the high costs of health insurance for town employees and teachers.

Some Massachusetts schools face closure if these tax overrides fail, such as Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School in Belmont. Mother of two, Samantha Thu said the possible closure is “heartbreaking” for her two children who are supposed to attend Burbank Elementary in the fall. Her and other parents do not yet know where their children would be sent to school if Burbank is forced to close, causing distress for many in the community. 

In Groton, voters did not pass their override for $5.5 million dollars on the ballot. This leaves teacher layoffs and cuts in other staff on the horizon for their schools. English teacher Samantha Sarantakis said to the Braintree School Committee that “Roughly 100 staff members, including myself, were notified that they will not have a job, but they must wait until May 15 to receive [formal] notice…It is no longer a matter of if you lose talented and dedicated staff, but when.” Massachusetts public schools also risk a teacher strike if they initiate layoffs, as Newton teachers in February went on strike after their budget override failed. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were put under enormous amounts of strain to accommodate preventative procedures while also adapting to virtual or hybrid learning platforms. The country saw a decrease in test scores and overall child development while these changes took place. With the funding for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) coming to a close, some districts, such as Boston, are facing a financial cliff. Boston schools used ESSER funding to pay teacher salaries and now may face cuts if aid is not found elsewhere.

Decreases in school enrollment are yet another problem school districts are facing, as federal funding is allocated on a per-pupil basis. In many cases, decreases in enrollment are due to a shift to private and charter schools. As problems arise due to low funding in public schools, many Massachusetts parents are making the decision to enroll their children in private schools to ensure they receive a quality education. After COVID-19 increased at-home learning, some students remained at home and became homeschooled, also adding to the overall lower enrollment rates. 

Governor Maura Healey (D-MA), the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the Senate have all proposed massive funding increases for Massachusetts public schools. The budget is off to the Conference Committee for negotiations between the House and Senate budgets, however, these efforts may not be enough to cover the combined financial difficulties schools face in the upcoming year. 


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