Many have heard about unfunded mandates and the problems they cause for cities and towns when they build their municipal and school budgets. But many are unaware of what these mandates are and how much they actually cost. Thanks to the Suburban Coalition, we now have a much better idea of what is faced every year by selectmen and school committees. Not only are there state mandates, but there are federal mandates the state is required to enforce. The worst part about these mandates -- usually they aren't accompanied by sufficient funding, requiring municipalities to come up with the extra money. This adds to the struggle we face each year -- to find enough money to pay for the services on which we have come to depend.
To be clear, many of the programs mandated by the state and federal government are valuable and necessary. The problem is the lack of money that comes from federal and state government to implement these programs. Below are are just a few of the mandates:
The Quinn Bill -- This is a program that compensates police officers for becoming better educated and achieving college degrees. The state used to fund 50 percent of this. It now funds none of it.
Special education mandate for students between the ages of 3-22 -- The state has never reimbursed school districts at the level it is supposed to for special education costs. In fact, this year there is a proposed cut in the "circuit breaker" program that reimburses towns and states for a portion of out-of-district special education costs.
Storm water management and monitoring -- A good thing that should be occurring in every community. But, where are the funds to pay for it?
Chapter 766 tuition rates -- The state sets the rates for these schools, which educate students with special needs, without any input from local school districts. At times, tuitions have been increased in the middle of the school year, creating a hardship for districts.
Department of Public Health BMI Measurement and Compliance -- This new mandate requires schools to measure the body mass index of students and report it to the state.
MCAS testing costs -- This includes tutoring, curriculum upgrades, tracking changes in Frameworks, costs of administration, and reporting on multi-year assessments.
The Suburban Coalition lists some 35 mandates on their website, but don't expect that number to be the end of it. With the new, proposed teacher evaluation requirements from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, you can expect more money to be expended by cities and towns to implement this new mandate. Again, improving how we evaluate our teachers and administrators is a good thing -- paying for it is the problem.
My one request to state and federal lawmakers -- please think about the costs of all of these requirements you place on cities and towns before forcing them down our throats. While many of the mandates are necessary, many others are not. I think that cities and towns can fend for themselves just fine in many areas without the "help" of our federal and state governments. It might be too much to ask, but thinking before acting would really be a good policy to follow.