The last time I visited a Congressional office, I sat at the knee of the Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill. He gave me a Celtics pennant, which (rumor had it) was given to him by Red Auerbach following the Celtics championship run earlier that year. It was 1986, and I was eight years old.
This past March, I returned to Capitol Hill with my Boston School Committee colleague, Jamaica Plain native Michael O’Neill, and representatives from the Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the city of Boston to ask our representatives and senators to preserve federal funding for our schools.
Boston, like many other large urban districts around the country, has faced declining federal revenue streams during the last several years. Reduced federal funding has disproportionately affected school budgets in our cities, which predominantly educate children in high concentrations of poverty. In Boston, with 45 percent of our students from a household where English is not the first spoken language (72 languages are spoken across the BPS family) and more than 70 percent of BPS students meeting the federal definition of poverty, declining and stagnant federal funding hits our district particularly hard.
This year, President Trump’s proposed budget reduces educational funding by $8 billion, which if implemented would result in an estimated $8-10 million reduction in funds for the Boston Public Schools. Some may say that a district with a $1.139 billion dollar proposed operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year can absorb such a reduction, but this reduction in Title I, Title II, 21st Century Learning and IDEA grants cuts at the core of the most important work that our district takes on each day: supporting the children who need it most.
These funds help support after school programs, social emotional supports and teacher hiring and diversity efforts. Federal Title II funds support three priorities in the Boston Public Schools educator ranks: a school-based Teacher Leadership fund to support professional development; a Diversity Program to expand the number of teachers of color in the district; and, the New Teacher Development program to support all educators just starting out in classrooms across our city. Federal Title IV funds provides social emotional supports with high impact targeted partnerships such as Becoming a Man (BAM), which operates an evidence-based Mentoring and Counseling program for middle school and high school males. The federal 21st Century Learning grant funds after school and out-of-school time across seven BPS schools and also funds many school-community partners that support programming for our students. All these programs would be eliminated with the president’s proposed cut to our existing federal funds.
With corresponding shortfalls at the state level, where the stagnant Chapter 70 local aid for education formula fails to account for the core needs of a high-needs urban district like Boston (or Chelsea, or Lawrence, or Fall River, or Salem or the dozens of other cities and towns in Massachusetts currently shortchanged by an outdated system), the city of Boston and Boston Public Schools are acting to partner with our legislators on Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill to restore state and federal funding for our high needs students.
Working with our sister cities and towns across the Commonwealth, Boston residents should call on state legislators to support the PROMISE Act, a proposal supported by Mayor Martin Walsh and sponsored by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-2nd Suffolk), as a fiscally responsible plan to continue the Commonwealth’s leadership in education while providing substantial support to address inequities in underfunded and high-need schools. It has been 26 years since Massachusetts last reformed local education funding. During this time the population of cities and towns like Boston have radically changed, with broad increases in special needs identification, a growing divide in the socioeconomic status of families, and more households where English is not the first language. At the same time, the share of the BPS budget covered by state funding has declined from 20 percent about a decade ago to just more than 4 percent in the next school year’s budget that was recently approved by the Boston School Committee. The needs of our children have dramatically increased, yet the Commonwealth’s education funding formula has failed to keep up with the costs for districts in effectively providing services and supports for our highest-need students.
What can you do? Please join us in continuing to advocate with our federal legislative partners, U.S. Representatives Aynna Pressley and Stephen Lynch and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, to fund programs that will enable the Boston Public Schools to continue to be one of the nation’s highest-performing urban school districts, while capably serving all students regardless of race, socioeconomic status, language abilities, special needs or neighborhood. At the same time, you can contact your senators and representatives on Beacon Hill to advocate for common-sense reform to local aid for education through adoption of the PROMISE Act. The future of our children depend on our collective efforts to improve the support we are able to provide through public education.
Michael Loconto is Chairperson of the Boston School Committee, a former resident of Moraine Street in Jamaica Plain and a 16-year resident of West Roxbury, and a current parent of three Boston Public Schools students.