State Senator Brendan P. Crighton, Representative Dan Cahill, and Representative Peter Capano have together filed legislation that will update the state’s outdated and inequitable school construction formula. Since 2004, this formula – which determines state aid for school construction projects – has remained stagnant, disproportionately affecting the education of students in low-income communities across the state for almost two decades. HD.3667/SD. 2172, An Act Modernizing School Construction reforms the state’s school construction formula so that all students and teachers have access to safe and healthy environments in high-quality school buildings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed glaring inequities in the condition of school buildings across the state. Overcrowded buildings, obsolete HVAC systems, and other unsafe conditions hinder students and teachers from engaging safely and productively in their classrooms. Now more than ever, state funding is vital in order to renovate these decrepit buildings and construct new ones to help ensure all children have access to the same quality of education, regardless of income level.
“The Legislature took historic steps towards equitable access to a high-quality education for all students with the Student Opportunity Act. It is now time to revise our school construction formula with a similar equity lens, and it has been great to work together with legislators and local officials to that end,” said Senator Crighton. “Lynn has firsthand experience with the financial difficulties the current formula presents Gateway Cities with. I would like to thank Mayor McGee for his help working to make this formula more equitable for communities like Lynn. His insight and knowledge were pivotal in understanding where the MSBA is falling short in assisting low-income and diverse municipalities with building first-rate schools and educational settings that the children deserve.”
“I want to thank Senator Crighton and Representatives Pete Capano & Dan Cahill for filing new legislation to update the MSBA school construction formula,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee. “The MSBA has been, and continues to be, a great partner with us in making essential school building repairs. This bill addresses the outdated reimbursement rate for new school construction and provides flexibility for aging school repairs without overly burdening the City of Lynn and other Gateway Cities across the Commonwealth. Passage of this Bill would allow us to realize outcomes contained the City’s five- year Capital Improvement Plan to provide improved learning environments for our students and faculty.”
Under this legislation, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)’s dedicated revenue stream would increase from one to two pennies of the sales tax, doubling the revenue for construction projects. The legislation would remove the arbitrary cap of 80% reimbursement for MSBA-approved school construction projects, which has historically had an overwhelmingly disproportionate impact on low-income school districts. If not for this cap, these districts could have received an additional $44 million between 2016 and 2020 to support school construction.
“Gateway cities continue to struggle to utilize MSBA’s financing program, which Lynn residents pay into but will not reap the benefits of without a higher reimbursement rate for the full costs of school construction projects,” said Representative Cahill. “This legislation provides a new formula for helping gateway cities move forward with these important school construction projects.”
“We must get serious about the construction and modernization of our public schools,” said Representative Capano. “Relying on outdated data formulas and reimbursement requirements prevents communities with a higher proportion of low-income students from access to safe and modern buildings. This bill aims to even the playing field for gateway communities like Lynn and will give all students in the Commonwealth the opportunity to receive a 21st century education.”
This bill also updates the school construction formula by requiring the MSBA to regularly revise its standards for reimbursement to accurately reflect modern construction costs. While the current average bid price for MSBA-approved projects is $480 per square foot, the MSBA only reimburses projects at a rate of $333 per square foot. The increasing gap between the true cost of building and state reimbursement has created significant barriers to cities and towns across the state.
This legislation would not only improve the school construction formula for all cities and towns but also use an equity lens so that low-income students have equitable access to high-quality school buildings. While the reimbursement formula does account for socioeconomic factors, the student poverty formula caps the number of reimbursement points all school districts serving 33% or more than the state average of low-income students actually receive. This legislation would update this formula to help ensure that schools districts serving a greater proportion of low-income students will receive an appropriate increase in state funding for capital projects.
Further, it provides localities with additional flexibility in financing urgently needed school construction projects. This legislation allows school districts with a disproportionate share of school buildings in need of repair to use up to 1% Chapter 70 funds for school construction or renovation.
Finally, the state had historically provided additional reimbursement to projects clearly related to efforts to integrate schools, and this legislation would reinstate this policy in order to promote racially diverse schools across the state.
The Lynn legislative delegation will continue to work with advocates and stakeholders as this bill makes its way through the legislative process. For more information, please reach out to Senator Crighton’s office at 617-722-1350 or [email protected]