BPS budget falls short of promise of quality education for all

Ruby Reyes | 2/23/2018, 6 a.m.

Every Boston school should offer its students a high-quality education, but the proposed school budget falls far short of that standard. While this budget is better than it has been in previous years, it still subscribes to a model of school funding that at its core doesn’t believe all schools deserve the same opportunities and resources. BPS has done better at providing support for soft landing funds for schools with declining enrollment and more investments in helping homeless students. However, the city needs to find revenue to make sure every school has what it needs to thrive rather than survive.

Unfortunately, the budget is not designed to do that. While the district celebrates more students attending so-called level 1 and 2 schools next year, we are most concerned with our schools that have been struggling after years of cuts and disinvestment. We’re concerned with all schools ‘winning’ in this budget. There are 15 schools seeing deep budget cuts, while another 18 will be forced to cut staff, as modest increases to their budgets did not keep up with costs — effectively level-funding them. That is more than a quarter of schools in this budget that have fallen into the cycle of disinvestment. The district must answer the fundamental question: What do all students deserve? Do our high school students deserve to learn the value of research with a trained librarian? Do our students deserve to have unleaded water fountains? Do our students deserve to have guidance counselors and school psychologists that can help support and guide them through some of the most difficult years of adolescence? We at the Boston Education Justice Alliance (BEJA) say yes, and we need to fund it.

The budget only guarantees each school enough money for a principal and clerical help. Beyond that, schools must compete for students to win the funds they need for art teachers and even textbooks. If a student goes to a school that is undersubscribed, that student loses out. If one school has an increase in its budget, it is at the cost of another school’s budget. There is no guarantee of a quality education at every school.

The competition for students has become heavily influenced by test scores, which mostly reflect the incomes and English language skills of their families, not the quality of instruction. The result is that schools in the richer, whiter parts of town expand, while those in neighborhoods of color shrink and close. The analysis provided by the budget office this year shows that a much higher proportion of black students must ride buses to get to school. That’s because their schools are farther away. How is that equitable?

BEJA calls on the School Committee to change the policy to one that is really about excellence for all. The budget process should not be about divvying up the shrinking pie that the mayor is offering. What’s more is that some school site councils do not receive itemized school budgets to create further lack of transparency for parents, such as with Madison Park. Boston is a wealthy city in a wealthy state. We can afford excellent schools.