Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this note finds you and your loved ones well. I share your many issues and concern regarding Massachusetts’ school reopening, as well as the challenges and barriers to our children’s education and health that must be addressed.
As we enter August, many families across the Commonwealth typically begin gathering school supplies and preparing for the school year ahead. However, this year has presented unprecedented challenges and the three Towns of my District, Needham, Dover and Medfield, are wrestling with different models of what “school” may look like in the future. Remote, full schedule or some kind of hybrid – this insidious and dangerous virus is unpredictable. I do not know what we will do but we need funding for educators, staff including School Nurses, personal protective equipment (PPE) cleaning supplies, appropriate spaces and safe transportation.
Let me describe where we are as a commitment from the State to students, educators and staff today. As Vice Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, I have worked with my colleagues to understand the economic impact of the novel coronavirus on the state budget, and it is grim. Experts predict as much as a $6 billion shortfall in revenues this year, while Massachusetts experiences the highest unemployment of any state in the country. While the federal House of Representative approved $1 trillion in state aid more than two months ago through the HEROES Act, action in the Senate is uncertain. We have not received the money nor do we know how it can be used yet because the current Federal Administration seems to be “tying strings” to any resources.
Notwithstanding these challenges, the State Legislature recently reached an agreement to fully fund Chapter 70 school funding and local aid for Fiscal Year 2021. The goal is to add some certainty to town and school budgets. However, it is “level funded” at last year’s amount which is the FY2020 rate and it is not enough to address all the goals of the Student Opportunity Act at this time. It is enough to stabilize and steady the system for now, and with some miraculous recovery we may be able to increase resources. The Chapter 70 (School) funding is calculated using updated enrollment and inflation data, and we do meet that formula by applying an additional $107M in aid.
Additionally, the state has appropriated $455 million in COVID funding to provide direct new support for K-12 schools, including:
- $193.8 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) ESSER Grants (formula linked to Title 1)
- $21 million in ESSER (Discretionary)
- $25 million for Remote Learning Technology Grants
- $182 million ($225/student) in School Reopening Funds
- $20 million Discretionary School Reopening Funds
Other Municipal Support
$502 Coronavirus Relief Fund – partly supporting the schools.
Meanwhile, we await action out of Congress for “Phase 4” of the recovery plan and hope it includes state aid and funding for Massachusetts school districts.
This sounds like a lot of money and it is – and it isn’t. Many school districts contemplating plans are still assessing costs.
This is what I do know and believe. School reopening should be safe. Plans need to be based on public health principles and we must remember that while children are our priority, they are not the only human beings in the buildings and health and safety for all must be our priority .
I share your issues, concerns, and uncertainty. I will work to ensure that the children, educators and staff have the resources that are needed. I am mindful about the overwhelming responsibility that parents, school committees, educators, support personnel, administrative staff and Superintendents face with every decision. And, I know that the virus is dangerous and wildly unpredictable and our conversation today can change with new knowledge in 24 hours.
As we identify plans and problems, I will work to be part of the support and solutions.
I wish you and yours health and resilience in these most trying times.
Yours in service,
Denise C. Garlick
13th Norfolk District: Needham, Dover and Medfield* (precinct 1 and 2)
Vice Chair: Committee on Ways and Means
State House Room 238
Boston, Massachusetts 02133