By Mayor Martin J. Walsh
Education provides a solid foundation for a growing and thriving city. An investment in our children’s education is an investment in Boston’s future. We want the best future possible for our kids, and their school days filled with opportunity, growth, and promise.
That’s why we’re going to invest a record $1.081 billion in Boston Public Schools for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. This budget is the largest in BPS history, representing a projected $40 million increase since last year, and a $143 million increase since I took office in 2014. Our spending on education is now more than all other city departments combined! As I said, this is a necessary investment in our city’s future and a top priority. There is no room to cut corners here. Boston Public Schools is well funded, has a long-term financial plan, and now has BuildBPS, a plan to upgrade the school buildings and classrooms our children step into each day. This budget advances the goals and plans that we’ve laid out and builds upon the momentum we already see in schools across the city.
The budgeting process is a long and complex one — especially when working with $1.081 billion and more than 120 schools and buildings. In 2012, Boston Public Schools started using a weighted student funding formula to determine how to distribute dollars amongst schools. This approach encourages transparency, creates accountability, promotes flexibility, and simplifies the budget process by adhering to the principle that dollars follow the student. The formula takes into account many different variables, including student demographics, class size ratios, and number of students with special needs and support services. This ensures an equitable process and gives families the opportunity to choose a school that best fits their individual child. Lastly, it gives each school and principal the power to decide how best to use that funding. BPS is a large school district and different schools have different needs, so after determining each school’s overall budget, details and funding decisions are left to the principals. Some schools will choose to spend funding on instituting a new math program, some an additional elective teacher, some both, some neither. Those interacting with our students and educators every day make that call. As far as public school funding options go, this levels the playing field the best way we know how.
Make no mistake, equity is a top priority of mine and Superintendent Tommy Chang. That’s why this 2018 budget was proposed after a careful equity analysis to make sure funding is directed toward our highest-need students in order to close opportunity and achievement gaps. We also set aside an additional $1.25 million to boost those schools that are facing declining enrollment and need extra resources to flourish. And as I mentioned before, our weighted student funding formula gives all of our students in every neighborhood more opportunities to excel.
So as your child heads out on their first day of the next school year, what will they and you see? Historic investments to extend the school day and renovate and build schools, additional support services for homeless students, and greater access to a challenging curriculum for a more diverse group of students. We are adding additional classroom time for kindergarten through eighth grade, growing prekindergarten seats, expanding vocational programming and significantly increasing funding to our classrooms. Our work is never done at Boston Public Schools, but I’m proud of the accomplishments of our district and our kids. In 2016, the four-year high school graduation rate climbed to a record high of 72.4 percent, marking a 13-point gain since 2006. Additionally, BPS has more state-designated Level 1 and 2 schools than ever before, with a combined 46 schools ranked among the highest-performing in the state. More than 600 additional students will be enrolled in our Level 1 and 2 schools next year, which means more families are taking advantage of the choice process and choosing a school that makes the most sense for them and their children.
I’ll also continue to fight for more resources for our students and our schools. I recently filed comprehensive education finance reform legislation at the State House that aims to invest equitably in public education and expand access to high-quality education for students of all ages. This includes a proposal to close the “quality gap” in pre-kindergarten seats in Boston by creating hundreds more quality pre-kindergarten seats, using $16.5 million of surplus revenue already raised in Boston from the Convention Center Fund. I’m committed to working with our partners on Beacon Hill to get every student on a pathway to success from pre-kindergarten through college and career.
This budget was passed by the school committee and will be submitted to the Boston City Council for approval later this spring. I look forward to building upon our successes, listening to feedback, and striving to make Boston Public Schools better each and every year. As I’ve said before, we still have a lot of work to do, but together, we can provide a brighter future for our kids and our city.
Martin Walsh is Mayor of Boston.