Bill provides for expanded school funding assistance and accountability
Reading, MA — Members of Reading’s State House delegation are backing a comprehensive education reform bill that will boost the state’s Chapter 70 aid to cities and towns by $1.5 billion over the next seven years while also establishing strong accountability standards to help local school districts close student achievement gaps.
House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading), Representative Richard M. Haggerty (D-Woburn), and Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester), the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, said Senate Bill 2412, An Act relative to educational opportunity for students, represents the first major overhaul of the state’s education funding formula since the passage of the landmark 1993 Education Reform Act. The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously on November 20 and is now on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk awaiting his signature.
An early version of the Student Opportunity Act was released by the Joint Committee on Education on September 19. The Senate approved its version of the bill on October 3, while the House followed suit on October 23. Senate Bill 2412 represents a compromise version of the two bills negotiated by a six-member Conference Committee that was appointed on October 28.
“The Student Opportunity Act represents the culmination of many years of work that began with the release of the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s 2015 report, which identified serious deficiencies in the school funding formula,” said Representative Jones. “This bill provides a blueprint that, over time, will help close the achievement gaps between school districts so that every student in the Commonwealth will have access to quality education, regardless of where they live.”
“This is a historic investment in education that will provide Reading and the rest of the Commonwealth with the critical resources it requires, ensuring each child receives a first-rate education,” said Representative Haggerty. “Being a member of the Joint Committee on Education and a former municipal official, I can assure you this bill will deliver the necessary support communities along with school districts both need, and deserve.”
“Access to a high-quality public education is a fundamental right for every child, and that’s why the Student Opportunity Act will make an unprecedented $1.5 billion investment in our public schools, ensuring that school districts across the Commonwealth have adequate and equitable resources to provide all students, especially those facing adversity, with a high-quality public education,” said Senator Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and one of the lead architects of the legislation. “I am confident that the Student Opportunity Act will effectively address opportunity and achievement gaps and make a meaningful difference to generations of Massachusetts students.”
The Student Opportunity Act requires school districts to develop 3-year plans to address persistent disparities in student achievement and to submit annual reports to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by April 1 to demonstrate their progress in closing these achievement gaps. It also allows the Commissioner of Education to review each school district’s plan and requires school districts to amend any plan that does not conform with the new statewide requirements set forth in the bill.
In keeping with the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, the $1.5 billion in new Chapter 70 aid will be distributed using a revised formula that will factor in the needs of English learners, low-income students, special education programming, and the municipal costs associated with employee and retiree health care benefits. Senate Bill 2412 also includes language requiring the Foundation Budget Review Commission to convene at least once every 10 years to review the way foundation budgets are calculated and to recommend any needed changes to the formula.
The Student Opportunity Act also:
- Raises the annual cap for school building assistance projects to $800 million, and requires future caps to be adjusted to factor in inflation;
- Expands funding for out-of-district special education transportation costs;
- Establishes a timeline for fully funding charter school reimbursements by Fiscal Year 2023;
- Creates a Data Advisory Commission to ensure that resources are allocated effectively at the district and school levels;
- Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment and costs;
- Requires the Secretary of Education to make recommendations to establish statewide and regional targets for student preparedness for workforce and postsecondary education;
- Sets financial literacy standards as a statewide educational goal so that all public elementary and secondary school students have an understanding of personal finances; and
- Establishes a Twenty-First Century Education program, along with an Advisory Council and Trust Fund, to provide competitive grants to public schools and districts to help address achievement disparities and increase efficiencies.