Beacon Hill Roll Call: Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, 2019

Published: 10/11/2019 5:14:27 PM
Modified: 10/11/2019 5:14:13 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.

College closure (H 4099)

House 153 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would require colleges and universities to post financial information online in a publicly accessible fashion, undergo regular budgetary screening and alert state officials if they face imminent closure.

All higher education institutions would be required to alert the Board of Higher Education if they have any liabilities that create a risk of “imminent closure.” That information would remain private to allow struggling institutions to recoup without alarming the public. The measure also requires board members at every college and university to undergo regular fiduciary and accreditation trainings.

If the board determines that a school does in fact face closure, the school would be required to create a contingency plan with details outlining how students can complete their programs, how their records would be maintained and how deposits would be refunded.

The board would impose a fine of up to a $1,000 per day if it determines that an institution has failed to comply with this new law. The board would also have the power to suspend state funding to the institution or revoke degree-granting authority.

“Last year, the students at Mount Ida College were surprised to learn that their college was closing without any previous notification,” said Rep. James Arciero, D-Westford. “Fifteen-hundred students, including the daughter of one of my constituents, had their well-planned academic lives turned on their heads. This legislation addresses that matter so that no other student will ever have to face a similar situation in the future.”

“This legislation supports and strengthens our higher education system and these vital engines of opportunity, and in so doing, protects the interests of students and families,” said Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, House chair of the Higher Education Committee. “The financial screening and enhanced reporting provisions will help us keep Massachusetts at the top of the heap and avoid the significant negative consequences of college closures for students, staff and host communities. The training provisions will strengthen the governance of these institutions and assist boards in exercising their fiduciary responsibilities.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

$1.4 billion for education (S 2350)

Senate 39 to 0, approved and sent to the House the Student Opportunity Act that invests $1.5 billion, mostly in the form of Chapter 70 aid for local school districts, in the state’s public kindergarten through 12th grade education system over the next seven years. The measure implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which found the state was underfunding schools by more than $1 billion annually.

“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 Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Education.

“One of the most important obligations of state government is educating our young people,” said Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow. “This historic legislation will ensure every kid in our commonwealth — regardless of zip code — is given the opportunity to receive a top-tier education. It is long past time to give our kids the support they deserve.”

“This has been a long time coming, as we all know,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett. “This is really a historic day in this chamber and that is not an overstatement by any means. We have been talking about making our kids a priority for many, many years. … Today, we are there.”

“We urge the House to pass the bill with the same speed so that after years of advocacy by our members and communities we can all reap the fruit of a more just funding system,” said Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy. “All communities will gain from this bill, but the biggest winners are low-income students in our Gateway Cities — many of whom are students of color — and students in our high-poverty rural districts.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

School transportation for homeless children (S 2350)

Senate 13 to 25, rejected an amendment that would require the state to reimburse cities and towns the cost, minus any federal funding the community receives, of providing transportation to students experiencing homelessness.

“This amendment would have only cost 0.01 percent ($16.2 million) of the cost of the bill and it was very unfortunate that this bipartisan amendment was not adopted,” said the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Dean Tran, R-Fitchburg. “Homeless students should also have the right to benefit from this unprecedented school funding.”

Amendment opponents said the bill is focused on implementing the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. They argued that the Legislature does provide some reimbursement to cities and towns through the regular annual budget and that there is a commission working to address student transportation needs, including homeless transportation.

A “No” vote is against the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Students must meet with guidance counselors (S 2350)

Senate 6 to 32, rejected an amendment that would require school districts to design plans to ensure that every enrolled high school student meets with a guidance counselor or school psychologist at least once a year. The amendment requires that each meeting allow enough time to discuss mental, emotional and physical well-being; college and career readiness; and academic success.

“Our intern, Tori Milun of Norwell, originally brainstormed this idea and brought it to my attention,” said the amendment’s author Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth. “I think that this is a common-sense, proactive piece of legislation that benefits the mental, emotional and academic well-being of all students. There are so many resources that school counselors are prepared to offer students, and it is the students who avoid guidance counselors who may need them the most.”

Amendment opponents said the amendment is well-intentioned but it will put additional stress on an already stressed resource and may create an unfunded mandate. They noted the Legislature is already working on this issue outside of this legislation.

A “No” vote is against the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Proposition 2½ (S 2350)

Senate 34 to 4, approved an amendment requiring the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to analyze the impact of Proposition 2½ on the ability of municipalities to make their required local contributions in the short-term and long-term, and recommendations to mitigate the constraints of Proposition 2½.

Proposition 2½ allows communities to raise property taxes only 2.5 percent a year over the previous year’s levy. The limit can be overridden by a majority of voters.

Amendment supporters said many cities and towns are willing to step up and to tax themselves more to pay for vital services, but Proposition 2½ puts a cap on that. They said that once the levy limit is reached, towns have no ability to raise revenue to pay for services and have to start laying people off and cutting services.

“Since the moment I began campaigning, I heard about the pressure that multiple municipalities in my district are under as a result of Prop. 2½ constraints,” said the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. “A major driver of municipal expenses has been education. These towns want to go the distance for our schools, and so it is only fitting that we use this education legislation to understand the impact Prop. 2½ is having on their ability to help fund our schools, and then work with these communities to find an equitable way forward.”

“Proposition 2½ caps property tax hikes unilaterally imposed by municipal officials at 2.5 percent, but there is no limit to how much willing municipal taxpayers can tax themselves through a Proposition 2½ operational override — if a majority of the city’s or town’s electorate is so inclined,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT), the group that created and put Prop 2½ on the 1980 ballot. “If those officials want to spend more, let them ask their constituents for more to spend. This is precisely why CLT proposed its property tax cap and why voters overwhelmingly adopted it. They can ‘study the impact,’ but a solution is in their hands.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Increase from $30 to $50 per pupil (S 2350)

Senate 11 to 27, rejected an amendment to a section of the bill that raises the per pupil minimum aid from $25 to $30. The amendment would raise the aid to $50 over seven years. The sponsor said the hike would only cost approximately $8 million over the seven-year period.

“This increase in minimum per-pupil aid targets schools facing significant increases in their required local contribution without a corresponding increase in state aid,” said the amendment’s co-sponsor Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury. “This amendment further adjusts the local aid funding formula to more accurately provide for school districts’ costs, and to enhance resources available to our public schools so that all districts benefit from this legislation.”

Amendment opponents said the amendment is popular of course, but also regressive. They noted there are several things in the underlying bill that will assist these same communities at whom the hike is aimed. They noted the bill already hikes the minimum for $25 to $30 per pupil. And the bill also ensures that $30 is guaranteed and does not have to be fought for in each state budget.

A “No” vote is against the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

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