Sen. Hinds wants $1M more for rural school aid


  • Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Jonathan Scagel STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Mohawk School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Mohawk Trail Regional High School  STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/31/2019 11:48:02 PM

Sen. Adam Hinds has asked that the amount of funding to the Rural School Aid grant program be increased by $1 million in next year’s budget for a total of $2.5 million.

“The fight for equal opportunity through education means we need to ensure all of our schools receive the state support they need,” Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said.

Hinds amendment to next year’s Senate budget passed with a vote of 39-0. It was co-signed by Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and others.

Hinds, who serves on the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, has worked to build awareness and support for the needs of rural schools and the grant program that provides financial assistance to the state’s most rural schools, many of which are in Franklin County.

The Rural School Aid grant program helps school districts with low populations and lower-than-average incomes address fiscal challenges and take steps to improve efficiency. The grant is administered by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It is a funding source separate from Chapter 70 aid and intended to supplement school aid.

School districts that qualify for Rural School Aid have fewer than 21 students per square mile in communities where the average per-capita income is not greater than the statewide income average. School districts with less than 11 students per square mile and incomes of no more than the state average per capita income qualify for the largest amount of aid.

School administrators decide how to use the funding to help them face fiscal challenges. Last year, several Franklin County districts benefited. For instance, Mohawk Trail received $132,932; Ralph C. Mahar, $183,774; Pioneer Valley Regional, $92,593; and several other schools across the county received smaller amounts.

Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Jonathan Scagel, who took the helm in 2018, said he is “very excited” about Hinds proposal.

“We used last year’s money to restore a part-time instrumental music teachers, buy French textbooks, buy 25 digital radios, buy guiding reading books and white boards for Northfield Elementary School, and we invested a lot in technology,” Scagel said.

“This really helps us enhance the educational experience students receive,” Scagel said. “We hope it keeps coming.”

Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti said the district used its money last year — the first year it received a Rural School Aid grant — to buy Chrome books for students in grades 7 through 12.

He said that type of aid is so important to rural districts with a big geography and declining enrollment.

“The introduction of Rural School Aid in the Massachusetts budget reflects a critical beginning to our collective rural voice being heard and supported by the educational and political leadership of our state,” Buoniconti said previously.

Buoniconti is chairman of the Massachusetts Rural Schools Coalition, which lobbied for the new form of school aid to rural towns.

“The Massachusetts Rural Schools Coalition look to continued partnering with these leaders as we strive to ensure quality education for our rural students,” he said.

Hinds championed the Fair Funding for Rural Schools campaign this session, sponsoring legislation to add a rural factor to the state’s Chapter 70 education funding formula, and until that is implemented, decided to secure the extra $1 million for the grant program. He said he believes would no longer be necessary if the rural factor eventually becomes part of Chapter 70.

In 2017, Hinds began to build the case for establishing Rural School Aid by securing a reporting mandate in the budget — Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was directed to study and make recommendations on the fiscal challenges faced by rural school districts statewide.

Since the Rural School Aid program is not funded in the House budget, after the Senate budget debate is over, a conference committee of six House and Senate members will be appointed to negotiate the terms of the final spending plan, which will be sent to the governor.

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