Investing in Education and Opportunity

Last week, the House of Representatives unianimously passed the Student Opportunity Act to update the education funding formula for our K-12 schools. This historic legislation invests $1.4 billion in the Commonwealth’s public education system, including a projected $3.4 million in new Chapter 70 funding for Cape Ann’s schools once fully implemented. This bill is the result of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which I worked to create with my colleagues in 2015 in order to address areas of critical concern in the funding formula.

The Student Opportunity Act fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission to ensure that the school funding formula provides adequate and equitable funding to all districts across the state. This includes new estimates for school districts’ employee health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data, increases in special education enrollment and cost assumptions, increases in funding for English language learners, and improvements in data collection and reporting, specifically around the use of funding. It provides additional state financial support to help public schools and communities deliver a high-quality education to students. It increases foundation rates for guidance and psychological services, fully funds charter tuition reimbursements, and expands the special education circuit breaker to include transportation costs.

The legislation implements policy updates designed to maximize the impact of new funding for improving student outcomes and closing opportunity gaps. It establishes the 21st Century Education Trust Fund to provide flexible funding to schools pursuing creative approaches to student learning, requires school districts to develop and make publicly available plans for closing gaps in student performance, and 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. The bill also identifies education policy areas requiring further analysis, directing the Department of Revenue and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to analyze the method of determining required local contributions and establishing a Rural Schools Commission to investigate the challenges facing rural and regional school districts with low and declining enrollment.

I am also pleased to report that the bill incorporates language from legislation I filed this session with Treasurer Deborah Goldberg to increase the amount that the Massachusetts School Building Authority may spend annually on school building construction and renovation from $600 million to $800 million. The MSBA is funded by a dedicated portion of the state sales tax and this language will enable the MSBA to accept more projects across the state into its funding pipeline.

I am grateful to Rep. Alice Peisch, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, for her hard work over these last several years in crafting a bill that serves the diverse needs of communities across the Commonwealth. A great number of thanks must also go to our local superintendents, Richard Safier of Gloucester, Rob Liebow of Rockport, Pamela Beaudoin of Manchester Essex School District, and Heidi Riccio of Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School for their invaluable input and support throughout the process. Finally, but certainly not least of all, thank you to our teachers and guidance counselors who work tirelessly to make sure our students continue to have the best education in the country.