"Rural School Day on the Hill" Thursday, February 28

 

 

Dear Hatfield School Community,

On February 28th Social Studies Teacher, Mr. Wall and four eighth grade students from Smith Academy will travel to the Massachusetts State House in Boston for the Rural Schools Day on the Hill to advocate for rural schools on behalf of the Hatfield Public School District and the Massachusetts Rural Schools Coalition. According to Mr. Wall, the students who are attending were chosen for their “civic mindedness.” The goal of the 'Rural Schools Day" if for students to talk to legislators about the unique needs rural schools have that may be overlooked in funding and policy making. Specifically, they hope to encourage lawmakers to change the school funding formula that determines funding in rural districts. 

The day will also provide a good opportunity for the students  to learn about the legislative process and get to see democracy in action.  The students from SA, along with students and teachers representing other rural public school districts in Western Massachusetts, will be talking to lawmakers about funding in rural districts, the unique needs rural and small schools have as compared to larger schools in more urban areas. One specific policy they will  address is Chapter 70, the formula used to determine funding for public schools. The current formula is based on enrollment, and coupled with declining enrollment and rising operating costs, the flat aid from Chapter 70 has proven to be insufficient for rural schools.

Currently, there are about 1,800 public schools in Massachusetts, not including charter schools, and 247 of these are located in rural districts, meaning that 30% of public schools in Massachusetts are rural schools. Around 100,000 students Massachusetts attend rural public schools, comprising about 10% of the state’s total public school population. Of these, about half attend rural public schools in severe fiscal crisis due to high operating costs and lack of sufficient funding. Many rural schools rely on school choice money to make up for what state funding does not cover, and as enrollment declines, schools must compete to draw more and more school choice students. Schools must also contend with charter schools that draw funding from their districts. Dependence on school choice as a funding mechanism is not sustainable.

To  address the issue of funding, the Rural Schools Coalition is proposing adding a rural factor to Chapter 70 using Wisconsin’s Sparsity Aid program as a model. This program gives schools in sparsely populated, rural areas an extra $400 per student to supplement what they lose in enrollment funds. In Hatfield, this would add an additional $138,800 in FY 20  to the district’s chapter 70 allocation. The Coalition is also looking to secure grant funding or a shared school services center, based on the Arkansas and Oklahoma Public School Resource Centers, which would allow rural schools to share costs across districts. While the students attending the Day on the Hill trip won’t necessarily be proposing these specific policies, it is important for lawmakers to make a connection with the students their decisions will be affecting.

I encourage parents/guardians and community members to contact Representative Sabadosa and Senator Comerford and ask them to support rural education in Massachusetts.  For more information on the Rural Schools Day on the Hill please contact the superintendent's office.

 

Sincerely,

 

John F. Robert