House Passes Historic Education Funding Bill

Prioritizes investments to close opportunity gaps, support English learners and low-income students

BOSTON, OCT. 23, 2019 – Today State Representative Bill Driscoll, Jr. (D-Milton) and his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed historic legislation to invest $1.5 billion in the Commonwealth’s public education system. Known as The Student Opportunity Act, the legislation invests funding to support the needs of English learners and school districts that serve high concentrations of low-income students in order to help address persistent disparities in student achievement.

In addition, school districts across the Commonwealth will benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, along with increased state investment in other vital education aid programs such as transportation, guidance and psychological services, school buildings and special education.

“This legislation makes a profound and lasting investment in Massachusetts schools, and I’m proud of the House’s leadership and collaborative efforts to move this bill forward,” said House Speaker Robert. A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “We’re building on our ongoing efforts to support our most vulnerable students, including our English learners and low-income students. Thank you to Chair Peisch for her steady and thoughtful work on behalf of students across the Commonwealth.”

“The Student Opportunity Act is historic and builds off of Massachusetts’s long history of taking leaps forward in public education,” said Representative Bill Driscoll, Jr. (D-Milton). “This legislation will help the entire 7th Norfolk district, especially Randolph Public Schools. Randolph in particular will benefit greatly over the next decade with the changes made to the Chapter 70 education funding formula, the increase in charter school reimbursements, and the expansion of special education circuit breaker funding. I am proud to have cast my vote for legislation that will make a substantial, positive difference to the future of Randolph and Milton.”

“By passing this legislation today, we are ensuring that the Commonwealth is making major investments into our future, by providing the tools our students need so that they can continue to learn and thrive in today’s world,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston), Chair House Ways & Means Committee.

“I am very proud of the bill passed in the House as it is the result of countless hours of research, analysis and input from all stakeholders in the education field,” said Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), Chair House Education Committee. “This bill ensures that students across the Commonwealth have access to the tools necessary for academic and post-secondary success. It is a massive step toward a more equitable funding structure, which will provide the additional resources necessary to level the playing field. I appreciate Speaker DeLeo’s leadership on this legislation as well as his record of strong support for public education in the Commonwealth, and thank my colleagues for their overwhelming support in today’s session.”

The legislation couples new investments with policy updates designed to monitor and measure progress and support effective approaches to closing opportunity gaps. The bill modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas.

1) Fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) to ensure that the school funding formula provides adequate and equitable funding to all districts across the state. Provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. The foundation budget is updated as follows:

  • Estimates school districts’ employee health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC), and includes for the first time an amount for retiree health insurance costs.

  • Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment and costs

  • Increases funding for English learners (EL) that is differentiated 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% of the base foundation;

  • Returning the definition of low-income to 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133% level that has been used in recent years.

  • Improves data collection and reporting, specifically around use of funding, by:

  • Establishing 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 to ensure greater financial transparency, including tracking funding for low-income students and English learners.

2) Provides additional state financial support to help public schools and communities deliver a high-quality education to students:

  • Increases foundation rates for guidance and psychological services that will support expanded social–emotional supports and mental health services.

  • Fully funds charter tuition reimbursements, which provide transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three-year timetable.

  • Expands the special education circuit breaker, which reimburses districts for extraordinary special education costs, to include transportation costs in addition to instructional costs, phased in over four years.

  • Lifts the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for school building construction/renovation by $150 million (from $600 million to $800 million), enabling the MSBA to accept more projects across the state into its funding pipeline.

  • Requires Department Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to calculate the transitional hold harmless aid amount using the base and incremental rates and minimum aid increment in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

3) Implements policy updates designed to maximize the impact of new funding in improving student outcomes and closing opportunity gaps.

  • Establishes the 21st Century Education Trust Fund to provide flexible funding to districts and schools pursuing creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.

  • Requires school districts to develop and make publicly available plans for closing gaps in student performance. These plans will include specific goals and metrics to track success.

  • Requires the Secretary of Education to collect and publish data on student preparedness in each district and high school for post-graduate success in college and the workforce.

4) Identifies education policy areas requiring further analysis.

  • Directs the Department of Revenue (DOR) and DESE to analyze the method of determining required local contributions in the Chapter 70 formula for the purpose of improving equity, predictability and accuracy.

  • Establishes a Rural Schools Commission to investigate the unique challenges facing rural and regional school districts with low and declining enrollment. The Commission will make recommendations for further updates to help impacted districts and communities.

The bill will now go to a conference committee between the House and Senate to reconcile any differences in each branch’s respective versions passed.

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© 2019 William Driscoll, Jr.