Wakefield’s Chapter 70 Woes Continue

The real culprit to Wakefield’s financial woes is the state’s antiquated education funding formula. Wakefield receives some of the lowest amounts of state aid on the north shore.

Another divisive Town Meeting and another series of cuts that reduce the quality of life for our residents. This year the budget debate was focused on the failure of the unions to pass the Town’s healthcare plan by the state mandated 70% requirement (it should be noted a majority of union membership did in fact vote for the change i.e. 55%).

Ultimately the cost of healthcare needs to be controlled and reigned in, but the 70% union vote mandate is just one example of outdated state-level inefficiency and inaction.

The real culprit to Wakefield’s financial woes is the state’s antiquated education funding formula.   Anyone who follows this issue knows that Wakefield receives some of the lowest amounts of state aid on the north shore.

The bulk of state aid received is known as Chapter 70 education funding.

Wakefield, a town with a population of approximately 25,000, receives $4.8 million a year from the state in Chapter 70 education funds.

Reading, a town with a population also of 25,000, receives $9.5 million.  This would not be so unsettling if Reading was an anomaly among our neighboring communities or if it received more local aid for some justifiable reason.

Melrose, another of Wakefield’s closest neighbors, receives $7.3 million a year.  Andover receives $7.0 million. North Andover receives $6.1 million.

Even North Reading, a town half the size of Wakefield, receives $6.5 million or $1.7 million dollars more than Wakefield from the state. 

Among our neighbors, only Lynnfield with a population of 12,000, receives less than Wakefield i.e. $3.8 million and Stoneham, a pathetic $3.3 million.

  The following table depicts this more clearly:

Population State Aid               










North Andover



North Reading







The inequality is much worse when we start to look at what our neighboring urban communities receive. 

Lynn with a population of about 90,000 is approximately four times the size of Reading. So logic dictates that since Reading receives $9.5 million and Lynn is four times the size of Reading then fore Lynn should receive somewhere around $40 million in chapter 70 state aid, perhaps a little more due to socio-economic factors.

Lynn receives $118 million.

That’s over 1000% more than Reading and over 2000% more state aid than Wakefield. 

When local leaders pressured our own state legislators as to why there is such a big inequality in state aid, we were told among other things:

1.      That if we increase the number of students on free and reduced lunch, our funding will increase.   So the School Committee created policy mechanisms that did just that, but the amount of state aid Wakefield received did not change. 

2.      That local aid is distributed relative to the amount of debt held by each city and town.  This implies that since Wakefield is fiscally well run, that we are being punished. This doesn’t make sense. 

3.      That no one really understands the formulas and that the political will to change things is just not there. This reminds me of an old adage my grandmother told me: “If you don’t understand what a salesman is selling, you don’t buy it.”

 Well our legislators should take Nonna’s advice: If you don’t understand Chapter 70 funding, stop voting for it. 

For years Wakefield has lived within its means and thrived. Even with all the budget cuts our extra-curricular programs have flourished, our test scores remain high, course offerings have expanded and throughout town you see innovation and volunteerism reaching new heights. Wakefield has a lot to be proud of. In the throes of deep economic recession, we’ve done better with much less than most of our neighbors. Now can you just imagine what we could do if the state gave us the fair share of state funding given to neighboring towns?

Population numbers according to the 2010 census.

Chapter 70 funding numbers according to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website: http://finance1.doe.mass.edu/chapter70/chapter_12p.html

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Daniel Lieber May 16, 2011 at 04:27 PM
Well stated, Anthony! Chapter 70 funding is woefully inequitable and unfair. When it was first created, it had reasonable goals to provide more funding where it was perceived to be needed. Over time, the rules made this inequitable as communities changed and the funding formula does not reflect current needs or priorities. Correcting this will require a large amount courage on behalf of our government officials, and cooperation from those in the rest of the state, as a redistribution of aid will result in some communities receiving less than they otherwise would. Please keep this issue in the forefront so it will eventually get the attention it needs. Our children need a loud voice for THEIR needs to be appropriately met.
Jeff Crump May 16, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Maybe Paul Brodeur can answer... when he's finished kissing the ring of the public-sector unions. Or maybe Phyllis Hull and her army of volunteers can fix the roof and mold problems at the Galvin after they're done rescuing the library. There are two problems, really: one, we elect the same kind of losers in every election and two, people who don't have kids don't care. And then the town pursues policies which discourage families from relocating here... and we're surprised?
Laurie Hunt May 16, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Great article Anthony. I really hope that we can see changes made to Chapter 70 soon...
Tasha Schlake Festel May 16, 2011 at 09:41 PM
I'm a bit naive here... Is there a way to fix this? What do we need to do to get our fair share? Is there such a thing? And why does Reading get so much more than us, if other factors between the towns are equal? As much as I love Wakefield, seeing things like this, the recent budget cuts and the resistance to any investment in our schools make it difficult to make the case for staying here to raise my two young children. Thank you for bringing this up in such a straightforward way. And thanks in advance to anyone who can answer my questions.
Laurie Hunt May 16, 2011 at 11:31 PM
Anthony, I'm sure, will provide you with a much better answer - what I can tell you is people continue to advocate for change to the formula, speak to their State Reps and Senators but nothing has been done. Why? For every town you help by changing the formula to add money to their ch. 70 funds how many will there be that you will take away from? Why would Reading or Melrose want to see a change to ch. 70? This is why, in my humble opinion, I would prefer to haunt and hound my Reps and Senator (Hey Paul and Katherine !!!) to help us to help ourselves by giving Town Administrators/Mayors/Town Managers power to change health insurance. I feel this is something well within our reach that can be done quickly and make a difference. I feel we'll still be talking about ch. 70 funding when I am trying to figure out how to pay for college...
Anthony Guardia May 17, 2011 at 03:30 AM
We should all do three things: (1) Tell our legislators that local aid is our top issue and we expect successful implementation of legislation that changes this formula now. (2) Work with other communities such as Stoneham, Saugus, etc. that are being shortchanged by this formula. (3) Educate ourselves about other options. The Beacon Hill Institute, the New England Policy Public Policy Center, and many others have all come up with different formulas. Re: holding other communities harmless - since 2001 the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has increased its budget 50%, state government in general has grown by 37%. However local aid has decreased 28%. This is unjustifiable. Local aid should be funded first and as it is funded the money should go to communities - like Wakefield and Stoneham - that have historically been shortchanged by the state. That way we hold communities like Reading and Melrose harmless, but bring up towns like Stoneham and Wakefield. Finally Tasha to ease your concern re: Wakefield. Educationally: we are still rated very high, our test scores remain high, we have new and exciting curriculum, a very low drop-out rate, and outstanding extra-curricular programs. I even received a call today telling me that two TV production students won national awards. Municipally: we are seeing an influx of new businesses and restaurants, seasonal events, and a revival which is against the norm in this economic climate.
David Whelan May 17, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Well done AG Wellesley - $1467 per child under ch 70, Wakefield - $1414 Wellesley - $724k avg prop value, Wakefield - $351k Wellesley - $114k per household income, Wakefield - $66k Wellesley - $0 lost due to broken 5 year phase in promise made in fy 06, Wakefield - +$250k per year +/- (almost $500k for fy 12) Joint Chair on the Committee on Education - Alice Hanlon Peisch (D-Wellesley) More data - 65% of all Race to the Top funding went to 10 communities. Wakefield was not one of them. Deval's take on ch 70 can be found at 1 min 20 secs of this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8hVcuz5wWU&feature=search Ch 70 Sect 4 requires the Commonwealth to review the ch 70 formula every 2 years. They haven't met since 2001. http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXII/Chapter70/Section4 You sure are getting screwed.
David Whelan May 17, 2011 at 11:45 AM
Laurie: One assumes that the legislature can walk and chew gum at the same time. The health care issue is critical, but so is real ch 70 reform. Ch 70 was determined to be not working in fy 2006. It's time to fix it. Dave
Anthony Guardia May 17, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Hi Jeff, Thanks for reading. Rep. Brodeur actually gave me a call this morning after reading the column to let me know he has put legislation forward that tackles both the general unfairness in Chapter 70 funding and also the substantial unfairness in how municipalities pay vocational schools. I was impressed that in his first four months he's already taking these issues head on. I encourage you to reach out to his (and all our legislators' offices) to tell them how important these issues are to you. Hope this makes you feel a bit better about our elected officials, Anthony
Jeff Crump May 17, 2011 at 08:15 PM
The real problem for Wakefield -- and the reason why I am not at all optimistic that this will get fixed -- is that our Representatives have divided loyalty. If C70 is a zero-sum game (like everyone seems to think) then why would Brodeur advocate taking from Melrose and giving to Wakefield? Same for Wong and Saugus. I'll feel much better about our elected officials when they stop getting hauled in to Federal court. And for Brodeur specifically, he can't hide from his record on Beacon Hill so far -- a big O-fer when it comes to protecting the interest of the citizens against his union backers. Take a look at his legislative record, it's not pretty.
David Whelan May 17, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Jeff: Like Anthony, I have been at the ch 70 things for a few years. Your "zero sum game" comment is appropriate, particularly given the economic climate. Where "zero sum" really becomes a problem is in the never ending battle between urban and suburban districts. Tens of millions of education dollars are pouring into urbans communities and the suburbs have typically been awarded .54% increases. Nothing like class warefare and income redistribution. My State Senator,Tom McGee, represents 5 suburban communities and the City of Lynn. Tom is also from Lynn. Three of Tom's suburban communities are amongst what I call the "forgotten fifty eight," communities not at the promised 17.5% level. McGee to his credit has shown signs (he called me!) that he is interested in solving the ch 70 problem, but he's one Senator. I've said it before and it's worth repeating, a lawsuit is the solution. Even that is problematic given the cost and the time involved, plus I get the feeling that folks like Clark, McGee, etc. would love to see a suit simply because that takes away the need to make a "profile in courage" type choice. I think it's otherwise known as leadership. David P. Whelan, Jr. davidwhelanjr@gmail.com
Jeff Crump May 17, 2011 at 08:35 PM
Right on, David. The clowns we keep electing can't make decisions on their own -- just look at the voting records, virtually mirroring the "leadership" on Beacon Hill in every single vote. New Reps find out awfully quickly that they have to choose between integrity and a nice cushy office or committee assignment. It's easy to show interest. It's hard to show leadership. Sigh.
Laurie Hunt May 18, 2011 at 01:29 AM
Dave, I wish I shared your optimism about walking and chewing gum at the same time ((wink)).
David Whelan May 18, 2011 at 06:06 PM
The Senate just released its fy 12 budget. No fix to ch 70 "funding gap" and lots of rhetoric about watered down health care reform. More of the same. Ugghh!


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