NEWBURYPORT DAILY NEWS: House votes to increase school funding

The Newburyport Daily News covers Rep. Hill's efforts to increase special education funding.

House votes to increase school funding

By Jim Sullivan, April 7, 2018

NEWBURYPORT — Hoping to mend a broken state promise, state Rep. Brad Hill lead an effort that added $12.5 million to a state budget to help school districts with special education funding.

Hill, R-Ipswich, represents nine school systems (including the Triton Regional School District) in his legislative district. He said he and fellow legislators had been hearing from school superintendents that revenues from the state special education circuit breaker program were due to fall behind this year.

A reimbursement program for state school districts, the special education circuit breaker is designed to pay the additional per-student costs associated with special education programs.

“They call it a circuit breaker because it goes four times the (Chapter 70) foundation budget,” Hill said. “Let’s say the average foundation budget per student is $10,000 in Newburyport. You multiply that by four and you get $40,000. Anything above the $40,000, the state reimburses the school district 75 percent of those costs. That is what the law dictates.”

But the circuit breaker program has had a spotty record, often hovering “between 72 or 75 percent” reimbursement, according to Hill, who was disheartened to learn the reimbursement rate for the current school year budget was 65 percent.

“This was the number one priority when I spoke to superintendents this year,” he said Friday. “Let’s use Ipswich for example. They would have lost somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000.”

With a pair of supplemental budgets headed for the House and Senate, Hill said he met with his fellow Triton delegation members state representatives Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, and Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, as well as state senators Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, and Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, to draft an amendment to raise the circuit breaker reimbursement to the mandated 75 percent.

But with the final numbers from school audits currently unavailable from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Educational, working alongside Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Jamaica Plain, of the House Ways and Means Committee and Chairwoman Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, of the House Education Committee, Hill decided to pull the amendment and add $12.5 million. That amount would fund the program at 72 percent in the state supplemental budget, which passed the House Thursday.

“Now we will need another $10-12 million to fully fund it at 75 percent,” Hill said. “So we have a deficiency budget and another supplemental budget which we will do at the end of the year. My hope would be, if the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education comes back and say ‘this is what we need,’ then we can add those dollars into the program and fully fund it for this year.”

The supplemental budget will now head for the Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker. O’Connor Ives, for one, said she will back it.

“I support bringing special education circuit breaker funding up to its promised and needed level that our municipalities rely on,” she said Friday afternoon.