Local governments generate capital from a variety of sources: service charges, federal revenue, state revenue, licensing and permit fees, local taxes, and interfund operating transfers. Pioneer Institute’s Website, MassAnalysis, “allows the comparison of municipalities based on a wide variety of metrics.” The website shows that in 2017, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts supported its municipalities with a total of $5,375,589,950 in state aid and $11,886,739 in K-12 education funds.
Highest Municipal Receiver of State Aid Per Capita
In 2017, Lawrence was the highest municipal recipient of state revenue per capita. Lawrence received a whopping $2,583 per capita, or $205,475,789 state aid. From 2012-2017, state aid increased by 19.83 percent. Compared to its five closest urban peers, Lawrence received at least 30 percent more aid per capita
A municipal government is judged by its educational successes, and state government allocates money to municipalities that need to improve educational outcomes. In 2017, Lawrence spent $2,236 per capita of its own funds on education and over the past five years increased education spending by 24.43 percent.
Lawrence Public Schools are evaluated on a 1-5 scale. Being labeled a 1 means the district is hitting all desired goals, while 5 generally means the school is under-performing. For the past five years Lawrence has been rated a 5, hence, the almost 25 percent increase in funding per capita towards education. Change takes time; a school system does not drastically change overnight. But from 2013-2016 there has been minimal improvement in the Lawrence School System. The Composite Performance Index (CPI) is a number ranging from 1-100 that represents the extent to which all students are progressing toward proficiency in a given subject. This number is generated from MCAS and/or PARCC test scores. Lawrence treads dramatically below the usual Massachusetts state average.
Hope for a Better Future
In 2011 Massachusetts intervened and took control of Lawrence Public Schools. With the help of a new state provision, the state can intervene when a district is chronically under-performing. In 2012, Jeff Riley, now the state’s K-12 education commissioner, took over as receiver and was given significant power over the district. When a school district is chronically labeled a 5 or “under-performing” the commissioner appoints a receiver who is given all the powers of the superintendent and school committees as well as full managerial and operational control over the district. With this new appointment Riley replaced nearly half of the district’s principals, extended the school day for all K-8 schools, and brought in charter school leaders to operate two of the district’s most troubled schools.
Under Riley’s Lawrence receivership, there has been a turnaround in the district. It may not show in test scores, but those numbers take time. Before Riley, nearly half of Lawrence students did not graduate from high school, but now graduation rates have risen 19 percent. The dropout rate fell by more than half in just five years. With the continued help of state control and funding, we hope to see Lawrence’s educational system flourish in the upcoming years.
Madeleine Cammarano is a Roger Perry Transparency Intern for Pioneer and recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire at Durham with a degree in political science.