"So, we have to take our hats off to Hinds and retiring Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who helped shepherd the proposal"
We have to admit that sometimes solutions proposed by local leaders to our western Massachusetts problems seem a little pie-in-the-sky.
But today we must congratulate our local legislators and certain school officials who have managed to create a special category of state aid to help rural schools.
It may seem small compared to the overall annual $41.7 billion budget approved by the Legislature and governor this week, but the $1.5 million in rural “sparsity” school aid is a meaningful bounty for many of the region’s smallest and poorest schools.
The rural school aid account was championed by local Sen. Adam Hinds as a way of addressing the financial challenges of rural school districts.
The new line item in the annual budget provides additional funding for an estimated 62 school districts with enrollment of fewer than 21 students per square mile and per capita income below the state average, with priority given to districts serving fewer than 11 students per square mile.
Hinds, D-Pittsfield, had originally sought $300 per student, but had to settle on $100 per student. Nonetheless, he hopes to grow that number in future years, now that the precedent has been set.
It’s not often that our local legislators can persuade their urban counterparts to spend money specifically on rural towns or schools. So, we have to take our hats off to Hinds and retiring Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who helped shepherd the proposal, which was advocated by Mohawk Trail Regional School Superintendent Michael Buoniconti and the rural school caucus he organized.
Including a rural school account in the budget grew out of the state education department’s January report that concluded Massachusetts’s rural schools spend 50 percent more on busing and more per pupil for teachers and paraprofessionals than their urban counterparts.
Buoniconti says establishing rural school aid within the state budget “marks the beginning of addressing the inequity of state funding of rural public education within the state.”
Hinds pushed the proposal in the Senate because, he said, “Rural schools face significant and unique fiscal challenges due to population decline, density and ability to pay ... If we do not do something to help these school districts financially, Massachusetts is at risk of providing unequal education opportunities for children who live in rural areas. That cannot be allowed to happen.”
That’s a compelling argument for those of us in the rural choir, but Hinds, Kulik and others apparently were able to convert the rest of the Legislature, which is no small feat since our state’s Legislature is dominated by those with more urban interests and sensibilities.
This is yet another reason we will be sorry to see Kulik retire this year, because his seniority and powerful role as a chief state budget maker no doubt played a significant role in this legislative win for rural towns.
Let’s hope that his replacement will be as persuasive and adept at championing our causes in coming years, and that, with Hinds in our corner, the rural school aid will grow in coming years.
Written by the Editorial Team, Greenfield Recorder