Investing $1.5 billion in public schools, updating statewide education policy, and supporting effective approaches to close student opportunity gaps
Wednesday, (Nov 20), both chambers of the Massachusetts Legislature unanimously voted to enact the Student Opportunity Act. This legislation, providing an unprecedented $1.5 billion new investment in Massachusetts K-12 public education system, ensures public schools have the resources to provide high- quality education to students across the state, regardless of zip code or income level. Assuming inflation, over the seven-year implementation timeline the bill will provide an estimated $2.2 billion in support of public schools.
The Student Opportunity Act provides significant support to school districts that serve English learners and high concentrations of low-income students. At the same time, all school districts across the Commonwealth will benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, along with increased state investments in vital education aid programs such as special education transportation, school construction and renovation, and the 21st Century Education Program.
“The Student Opportunity Act makes a lasting and profound investment in the Massachusetts public education system and places a special emphasis on English learners and districts serving our low-income students,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “We’re building on our ongoing efforts to support our neediest students and to close opportunity gaps. I want to thank Chair Peisch for her leadership on this legislation, and Chair Lewis for his hard work, and the conference committee especially Representatives Tucker and Ferguson. This was a collaboration among the House and the Senate, and I appreciate Senate President Spilka’s partnership as we make this historic investment.”
“Today is an extraordinary day for our students,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “With the enactment of the Student Opportunity Act, the Legislature is reaffirming our commitment to the idea that providing a quality public education is not a luxury—it is both our greatest responsibility and our greatest opportunity. I am proud of the diligent and thoughtful work of Senator Jason Lewis, the education committee and the conferees, as well as the tireless advocacy by students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others to bring this bill to fruition. I look forward to this historic bill being signed into law.”
“Our enactment of the Student Opportunity Act will lead to greater resources for public school students across the Commonwealth, said Representative Alice Peisch (D – Wellesley), Chair House Education Committee. “The House vote is a clear indication of our commitment to ensuring that all students, and especially low-income students and English learners, have full access to the high quality education that Massachusetts provides its children. While this bill is a major step forward, it is not the end of our efforts aimed at narrowing the achievement gap and expanding access. I look forward to continuing to work with Speaker DeLeo and my colleagues in the House on education legislation that will keep Massachusetts a national and international leader in public education.”
“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 Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “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 fully implements the recommendations of the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) in order to support the “educational programs and services necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s educational goals” as stated in the Commission’s mission. The bill provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. The bill modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas:
• Estimates school districts’ employee and retiree health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC).
• Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment.
• Increases funding for English learners (EL) and differentiates funding by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate our older EL students.
• Addresses the needs of districts educating high concentrations of low-income students by:
- Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district; districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students will receive an additional increment equal to 100 percent of the base foundation; and
- Returning the definition of low-income to 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133 percent level used in recent years.
• Increasing foundation rates for guidance and psychological services in recognition of the growing need for expanded social-emotional support and mental health services;
• Committing to fully funding charter school tuition reimbursement, which provides transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three-year timetable;
• Expanding the special education circuit breaker program, which reimburses districts for extraordinary special education costs, to include transportation as well as instructional cost, to be implemented over the next four years; and
• Raising the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for construction and renovation by $200 million (from $600 million to $800 million), enabling more school building projects across the state to be accepted into the MSBA funding pipeline, which reimburses towns and cities for a portion of school building costs.
In addition to new funding and other supports, the Student Opportunity Act establishes the 21st Century Education Trust Fund to provide districts and schools access to flexible funding to pursue creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.
In order to track and reproduce successful school and district-level programs and policies, the legislation calls on school districts to develop and make publicly available plans for closing opportunity gaps. These plans will include specific goals and metrics to track success. The bill includes language, to ensure that plans consider input from school committees and other stakeholders. In addition, the Secretary of Education will collect and publish data on student preparedness in each district for post-graduate success in college and the workforce.
Furthermore, the Student Opportunity Act establishes a Data Advisory Commission to help improve the use of data at the state, district, and school levels to inform strategies that strengthen teaching, learning and resource allocation. The bill increases the scope of data collected and moves towards establishing targets for college and career success.
To support ongoing efforts to address education-funding challenges, the legislation also includes the following provisions:
• Establishes a Rural Schools Commission to investigate the unique challenges facing rural and regional school districts with low and declining enrollment and make recommendations for further updates to help impacted districts and communities;
• Directs the Department of Revenue (DOR) and DESE to analyze the method of determining required local contributions in the Chapter 70 school funding formula for the purpose of improving equity, predictability and accuracy; and
• Requires the Massachusetts School Building Authority to undertake a review of the current program, now in its fifteenth year, to ensure that capital reimbursements meet district needs.
The bill requires the Foundation Budget Review Commission to convene at least every ten years to review the way foundation budgets are calculated and ensure the school funding formula continues to reflect the needs of school districts across the Commonwealth.
The bill now goes to the governor.
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