Unfunded Mandate Costs Waltham Over $200,000
Declares Education and Transportation for Homeless Children A State Obligation
Boston, MA - Today State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump released a second local mandates review opinion with statewide implications for funding the education of homeless children. Today’s opinion letter, which details a cost analysis for the City of Waltham, reinforces Auditor Bump’s October determination that the state’s participation in a federal program which requires communities to continually fund the transportation and education of some homeless children after they are placed in a different municipality for temporary housing is an unfunded mandate costing cities and towns millions of dollars. The request for review came from Waltham State Representative Thomas Stanley.
“I do not question the wisdom or validity of the Commonwealth’s decision to enable homeless parents to choose whether to enroll their children in schools of their temporary host community or keep them in their original school,” said Auditor Bump. “Its embrace of a federal program, however, does require the affected school systems to incur new costs.”
Similar to her review of Danvers released in October, Auditor Bump analyzed three cost impacts to the “host community” (Waltham) and to “communities of origin”; the cost of transporting students between communities, the cost of educating students in communities of origin, and the cost of educating students in host communities.
The state’s application of the federal Mckinney-Vento program requires both the host community and the community of origin to share the cost of the students’ transportation. Amounting to approximately $10.4 million annually statewide, Auditor Bump determined this shared burden on cities and towns to be an unfunded mandate.
In addition, Auditor Bump deemed the requirement on communities of origin to pay for educating homeless students who no longer reside in their communities also to be an unfunded mandate. In her written opinion she noted that the Mckinney-Vento program deviates from a historical precedent that cities and towns provide education to only its own school-aged residents. Statewide, the cost impact on communities of origin to educate returning students could amount to up to $15 million annually.
Auditor Bump determined it is not an unfunded mandate for host communities to educate the students DHCD placed in their town because of its alignment with historical precedent.
Today’s opinion notes that some communities have higher numbers of hotels and motels used by the state to house homeless families, and thus face a higher than average cost burden to transport school-aged residents to their communities of origin. Specifically, the city of Waltham, whose population is less than one percent of the population of the Commonwealth, hosts 12 percent of the homeless families the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) places in motels.
For the prior two school years Waltham paid $219,189 to adhere to the transportation requirements of the McKinney-Vento program. An earlier study by Auditor Bump revealed the Town of Danvers, in the same period of time, paid $207,117 to comply with McKinney-Vento requirements.
“For communities like Waltham and Danvers this plan cuts into their school districts’ overall ability to provide quality education,” said Auditor Bump. “The costs incurred have the potential of forcing schools to cut teachers, enlarge class sizes, and make other expenditures in tight budget conditions. I have concluded this is an unfunded mandate with continuing cost implications.”
The Local Mandate Law, M.G.L c.29, § 27C, provides that any post-1980 state law or regulation that imposes additional costs upon any municipality must either be fully funded by the Commonwealth or be subject to local acceptance. Auditor Bump’s Division of Local Mandates is responsible for determining the local financial impact of proposed or existing state mandates.
While the Local Mandate Law does not apply to federal laws and programs, the McKinney-Vento is a program that the state entered voluntarily, inviting the regulations and financial obligations on local school departments.
In her opinion Auditor Bump recommended that the legislature appropriate funds to local communities to fully cover the costs imposed on their school districts to comply with the requirements of the McKinney-Vento program.
At the beginning of December, DLM issued an electronic survey to all school districts in the Commonwealth requesting information in order to calculate the costs each municipality faces to comply with the requirements of McKinney-Vento program. The results of this survey will assist the Governor and legislators in creating an appropriation in the state budget to address the unfunded mandate.