Layoffs are on the horizon for 189 teachers in Brockton.
The district says the move is a last resort seen as the only way it can attempt to close a $16 million budget gap that the city says is partially caused by changes to the way the state counts low-income students.
New Method Misses Some Students
Two years ago, 81 percent of students in the Brockton School District were considered “low income,” and like all districts, Brockton received extra money to educate them.
Today, the number of counted low-income students hovers around 55 percent. What accounts for a 26-point drop in just two years?
Brockton Public Schools Chief Budget Officer Aldo Petronio says part of the district’s financial woes is a change in the way the state counts low-income students.
“They now look at our student population — they receive it electronically — they match that against four state lists that they have,” Petronio said.
For Massachusetts to count a student as low income, the student must be registered for Medicaid, foster care or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is a shift from how low-income students used to be counted, when all that was needed was proof of income to be eligible for free or reduced lunch. Districts would use this information to determine how many low-income students they had.
Now students must be receiving some sort of state benefits to qualify. And for places like Brockton, which has a significant immigrant population, students that may be living in poverty are not necessarily receiving any state benefits. Petronio says many Brockton students are newcomers to the country.
“They’re not on any state assistance program,” he explained. “They don’t qualify. It takes upwards of five years in this country before you can qualify, along with the fact that some of them are just afraid to get on any state assistance because there’s a good chance they’re not here legally.”
This leaves a huge hole in Brockton’s budget, because according to Petronio, not all of its low-income students are being counted.