City leaders from Worcester, New Bedford and Brockton on Wednesday pressed for more state aid for their schools, while threatening to sue over what they say is inequitable funding.
"We're just at a point where after years of cutting in many places, we're left with a school district that doesn't have the kinds of supports it needs for the population of children we have," New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said during a press briefing in Boston. "The state has to do more."
The group is demanding lawmakers pass an update to the state funding formula, known as the foundation budget. The formula has not been fundamentally changed since it was created in 1993 as part of the landmark Massachusetts Education Reform Act.
"In the '90s, we expected there would be regular updates to the formula," said Tripp Jones, a spokesman for the group of city leaders. "It hasn't happened."
The city officials did not specify how much additional funding would be necessary to prevent them from filing a lawsuit, nor did they set a specific deadline for the Legislature to act. Mitchell said they're leaving that open to allow for the possibility of a compromise. But he insisted a concrete plan needs to be in place before next school year.
The Legislature failed to reach a compromise on updates to the foundation budget at the end of the legislative session last summer. Lawmakers are considering several proposals this session as well as a constitutional amendment to impose a 4% surtax on household income over $1 million, with revenues pegged for education and transportation.
Gov. Charlie Baker's office did not respond directly to the potential of a lawsuit on Wednesday. But a spokeswoman from the Executive Office of Education said in a statement, “The governor’s budget proposal and education funding legislation directs significant increases to the highest-need communities that educate the most economically disadvantaged students, including communities such as Brockton, New Bedford and Worcester, and represents a historic investment in communities that struggle with persistent achievement gaps.”
The group of Gateway City leaders stressed that taking legal action to secure more education funding is a last resort. They said they have been pleased with the progress they've seen this year on Beacon Hill and the governor's office.