In January, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) filed a report with the Joint Committee on Ways & Means, the Joint Committee on Education and the Commonwealth’s Rural Policy Advisory Commission on Fiscal Conditions in Rural School Districts. The report was part of a feasibility study requested by the legislature, relative to establishing a formula for aid to be distributed to rural school districts. It examines enrollment, staffing, spending trends, local aid, school choice, and charter school tuitions to understand the challenges facing rural districts.
The report documents the significant enrollment declines that have occurred over the last decade that have made it more expensive for rural districts to provide services. Rural districts employ more teachers and paraprofessionals per 100 students than other districts. While total spending grew at a faster rate in non-rural districts, average per pupil costs grew more quickly in rural districts, due to declining enrollment and rising costs. For instance, rural districts spend 50 percent more per pupil on transportation costs than districts across the rest of the state.
Changes to the Chapter 70 formula, reformulating how transportation reimbursements are determined, and providing resources and incentives to encourage districts to expand existing regional districts or share services more broadly, including through Massachusetts Collaboratives, are among the potential options discussed for working to address the resulting financial challenges.
Making sure the rural school districts in our region have the funding they need to thrive will be the topic of a forum on March 12th from 6:00-7:30pm in Shelburne Falls. State Senator Adam G. Hinds (D-Pittsfield) who serves as Senate co-chair of the Legislative Rural Caucus, is convening this policy conversation at his alma mater, Mohawk Trail Regional School, to highlight the fiscal conditions and challenges faced by rural school districts in western Massachusetts and statewide.
State education leaders from the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (ESE) will be in attendance to provide an overview of the recent legislative report filed with the General Court on the topic and answer questions. State Representative Stephen Kulik (D- Worthington), House co-chair of the Rural Caucus and vice-chairman of the House Committee on Ways & Means is also confirmed to attend.
ESE Acting Commissioner Jeffrey Wulfson and Director of School Finance Rob O’Donnell are in western Mass. at Hinds’ invitation on March 12th to discuss recommendations and potential strategies to support rural school districts in the coming fiscal year. Hinds believes this conversation is timely as legislators are now preparing to deliberate FY19 state budget spending recommendations.
Municipal officials, school superintendents, school committee members and members of the public from across the region are encouraged to attend. Falls Cable, the public access television channel for Buckland and Shelburne, will tape and televise the event. During the forum ESE officials will report on important data, findings and recommendations from the report and Senator Hinds and Representative Kulik will facilitate an open discussion between officials and audience members.