BOSTON (SHNS) — The state board of education released its fiscal 2024 budget recommendations Tuesday morning, focusing on areas such as early literacy, tutoring grants and curriculum review.
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the recommendations by a vote of 9-0-1, with Education Secretary James Peyser abstaining as the budget proposals will be presented to him next.
Given the documented learning loss in this area, improving literacy in the early grades is a priority, said Budgets Committee chair Farzana Mohamed.
In last year’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), only 41 percent of third through eighth graders scored in the “Meet or Exceed Expectations” section in the English-language arts, down 5 percentage points from 2021. The Department for Primary and Secondary Education said grades three to five showed larger declines than grades six to eight, “pointing to challenges in early literacy”.
“We have several students who have fallen behind due to lost learning time during the pandemic and it is really important to continue the ongoing initiatives to address some of that learning loss,” Mohamed said in Tuesday’s session.
According to DESE spokeswoman Jacqueline Reis, “early literacy” is usually defined as preschool through third grade.
Targeted funding in this area is consistent with DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s goals and objectives for the remainder of the 2022-2023 school year, in which he identified “early literacy” as a priority.
The board’s budget committee used the priorities identified by the commissioner to create the recommendations for fiscal year 2024, a department memo said.
The commissioner also asked the Budgets Committee to support a structural budget shift for its early college work in the fiscal year 2024 state budget, the memo said. The commissioner hoped to rectify a cumbersome administrative process whereby most of the funding for early college programming is given to the Executive Board of Education — which then has to be internally shifted within the state budget to DESE before the funds can be made available. The Commissioner requested that these funds go directly to DESE in next year’s budget.
Other priorities are the expansion of career and vocational training programs; Support for underperforming schools and districts, including $10 million for Boston Public Schools; grants for tutoring and interventions to address learning losses due to the pandemic; professional development opportunities for educators; and further efforts to strengthen curriculum review.
The committee also discussed providing aid to rural schools and social and emotional learning, and noted the need to focus on chronic absenteeism, “perhaps through a program to fund it,” the committee’s memo said.
In 2022, 98,000 children — or over 28 percent of all high school students — missed more than 18 days of the 180-day school year, which is considered “chronically absent.”
Tuesday’s board vote only considers the committee’s recommendations for next year’s budget, Reis said. A line item proposal will come at a later date. In recent years, the total federal budget for DESE was US$6.4 billion in FY2022 and US$7.2 billion in FY2023.
The board’s deliberations on education spending come at a time when the landscape is changing, with schools receiving massive funding injections from the federal government and under the multi-year Student Opportunity Act.
A constitutional amendment approved by voters last week that imposes a surcharge on wealthier households will eventually mean another big pool of funding for education and transport.
In the near future, school districts will have to decide how to use the federal funds pouring into their coffers for pandemic relief through the end of the 2023 school year.
The news service reported earlier this month that only about a third of the $2.9 billion in emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools has been spent.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Mohamed said there were about $1.5 billion in federal funds left for districts to draw on. These funds are distributed according to a weighted formula based on the population of the district.
The budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2024 also comes with funding from the Student Opportunity Act, which has allocated $1.5 billion to the public education system over seven years through 2027.