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The Foundation budget

While the allocations within the district budget are under the purview of the school committee, there is a statewide system of school funding that underlies the entire system. This is called the “foundation budget,” as it establishes a “foundation” level of funding for each school district. Created in response to the Supreme Judicial Court’s finding in the McDuffy case —

[w]hile it is clearly within the power of the Commonwealth to delegate some of the implementation of the duty to local governments, such power does not include a right to abdicate the obligation imposed on magistrates [the executive branch] and Legislatures placed on them by the Constitution

–the foundation budget is tied to student enrollment and is predicated on the principle that greater student need requires greater financial support.

The calculations within the foundation budget were updated within the Student Opportunity Act, passed and signed into law in November of 2019. This update was to begin being phased in over seven years beginning with the FY21 budget; this phase-in is now on hold. What follows here, then, is the foundation budget without those changes, as those have yet to be implemented.

The foundation budget divides the funding of schools into eleven categories:

  • Administration (Central administration)
  • Instructional leadership (Building Principals)
  • Classroom and Specialist Teachers
  • Other teaching services
  • Professional Development
  • Instructional Equipment & Tech (Supplies)
  • Guidance & Psychological services
  • Other pupil services
  • Operations/Maintenance
  • Benefits
  • Special education tuition (out of district)

Each student in the district is assumed to cost a certain amount in each of these categories, adjusted by a regional salary percentage.

Each October first, every district reports how many students are enrolled in each of the following levels:

  • Preschool
  • Half day kindergarten
  • Full day kindergarten
  • Elementary
  • Middle school
  • High school
  • Vocational students

This October first count determines the enrollment on which the following year’s foundation budget will be calculated. The count for fiscal year 2021, for example, was done in October of 2020.

The state counts students who are also English learners. In recent years, this has been divided by preschool and elementary students, middle school students, and high school students, with each of those being a different increment level over the amount already allocated by grade for each. The state has also recently adjusted at what level of scores students are no longer considered English learners.

To this is further included the number of students who are counted as economically disadvantaged. This count comes from the number of students who have been matched with those in the state’s databases as enrolled in any of the following programs:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Transitional Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC)
  • Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) foster care program
  • MassHealth (Medicaid)

This count, like English learners, is in addition to the regular enrollment count; all of these students thus are counted in both their enrollment level as well as these categories. The state allocates additional funding by concentration of need: the percentage of students in each district that are counted as economically disadvantaged are divided into ten parts; each piece receives progressively more funding, with a significant increase at the highest concentrations of poverty.

The calculation of this increment was to be studied and updated in the coming years due to the passage of the Student Opportunity Act, which also changes to a twelve group setup.

The enrollment of students in each of these groups in a district is multiplied by the dollar amount allocated by category.

Finally, the state adds an assumed special education enrollment of 1% out-of-district and 3.75% in-district. This is in no way reflective of actual district need (and never has been), but it is intended to in some way recoup full time equivalency of those students requiring special education services.

Those together create the district’s foundation budget, the minimum amount the district is required to spend that fiscal year. Districts may choose to spend more than this amount most do but they may not, without state sanction, spend less.