Costing Out | Recent
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was called
upon to decide its first education finance case in 1819
in Commonwealth v. Dedham, 16 Mass. 141. The
court held that schools must "be maintained for
the benefit of the whole town, as it is the wise policy
of the law to give all the inhabitants equal privileges,
for the education of their children in the public schools.
Nor is it in the power of the majority to deprive the
minority of this privilege."
In the Massachusetts education finance case, McDuffy
v. Secretary (1993), Massachusetts students claimed
that their own less affluent school districts were unable
to provide them with an "adequate" education.
Based on an analysis of the Massachusetts Constitution's
"Encouragement of Literature" clause, the
Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the Commonwealth
has an obligation to educate all of its children and
held that children in less affluent communities "are
not receiving their constitutional entitlement of education
as intended and mandated by the framers of the Constitution."
Moreover, the court adopted the guidelines set forth
by the Supreme Court of Kentucky
v. Council for Better Education to define the
standard of education that the Commonwealth must provide.
At about the same time that the court issued its McDuffy
decision, the legislature passed and the governor signed
the Education Reform Act (ERA) of 1993, which established
a "foundation budget" for each school district
to be phased in over seven years.
Hancock v. Driscoll
The Massachusetts legislature fully implemented the
7 year foundation budget plan and virtually eliminated
previous funding inequities among school districts in
the state. Shortly, thereafter, plaintiffs returned
to court, seeking additional funding, especially for
certain high need districts whose students still had
substantial unmet needs. After a lengthy hearing, in
Hancock vs. Commissioner of Education, Superior
Court Judge Margot Botsford held that Massachusetts
was not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide
children in low-wealth school districts with an education
that equips them for citizenship and post-high school
In her decision, the judge acknowledged Massachusetts'
dramatic progress in school funding equity and student
achievement since enactment of the Education Reform
Act in 1993. Unfortunately, the judge noted, many schools
educating low-income students continued to experience
funding inadequacies, and recent cuts in state support
further reduced their ability to provide educational
The court also found that preschool
is the “only realistic chance” for at-risk
children and emphasized the importance of quality teaching,
professional development for all teachers of students
with disabilities, and adequate facilities. She recommended
that the state undertake a proper cost study to determine
the extent of these needs.
On February 15, 2005, the High Court rejected Judge
Botsford’s recommendations and ruled
in favor of the defendants. Although the 5-2 ruling
reaffirmed McDuffy, and found that “the
process of education reform can and must be improved,”
it stated that this was “not a case where the
Legislature reasonably could be said to have neglected
or avoided a constitutional command.”
In the plurality opinion, Chief Justice Margaret H.
Marshall refused to issue an order requiring the state
to finish its incomplete education reforms. The opinion
detailed the myriad reforms undertaken by the legislative
and executive branches of the state government, as well
as the improvements on all measures of student and school
achievement witnessed across the state in the decade
since the ERA was passed.
In spite of the state’s progress, the Chief Justice
praised Judge Botsford’s “amply supported
findings” of which “reflect much that remains
to be corrected before all children in our Commonwealth
are educated” and “stand as a compelling,
instructive account of the current state of public education
in Massachusetts.” The Chief Justice recommended
that the legislature “rely on these findings as
it continues to consider efforts to improve public education”
and concluded that “[n]o one reading the judge’s
decision can be left with any doubt that the question
is not ‘if’ more money is needed, but how
In 1991, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
("MBAE") published "Every
Child A Winner," in which it proposed increased
funding and accountability for K-12 education. As part
of the total proposal, the MBAE finance committee performed
a costing-out study that used a variant of the "professional
judgment" methodology and included limited
adjustments for regional wage differences. The committee
designed a state finance system intended to provide
each school district with adequate, equitable, stable
funding and extra resources for "at-risk"
students. The Education Reform Act incorporated much
of the MBAE proposal.
In 2003, experts testifying in the Hancock v. Driscoll
school funding case presented the results of three
cost studies prepared with more limited litigation scopes.
Although the court found those studies unhelpful in
deciding the case, it concluded that the state should
conduct a study to ascertain the cost of providing all
students the opportunity for an adequate education.
In 2002, plaintiffs filed
a class-action case, Student
v. Driscoll, in federal court, challenging the
use of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System
(MCAS) tests as high school exit exams. After the federal
court concluded that the issues should
be heard in state court, plaintiffs filed the case
there in June 2003. The state court upheld the high-stakes
Bill No. 291, a petition to fulfill the promise
of education reform and adequate funding for student
success was filed in 2007 and is currently under consideration
by the Senate and House of Representatives of Massachusetts.
Last updated: February, 2008