Bill would invest $1.5B more in education over 7 years

  • Sen. Jo Comerford STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/11/2019 11:30:27 PM
Modified: 10/11/2019 11:30:13 PM

The Senate has unanimously passed the Student Opportunity Act, which, if passed by the House and signed by the governor would invest an additional $1.5 billion in public schools over seven years, update state education policies and, in the process, close opportunity gaps for students throughout the state.

The bill is meant to invest — especially in districts with high percentages of low-income students — more resources.

According to Bill S 2350, the funding formula the state currently uses would be adjusted, and the state would increase special education funding and psychological services, as well as update things like health care costs for employees and retirees.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority would also get a budget increase of $150 million to allow for more school building projects, and besides the $1.5 billion, new state policies for closing opportunity gaps would be created and a special commission would be created to study the unique needs of rural districts that are facing declining enrollment.

“I worked really hard to try to get this bill passed,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

In addition to new funding and other support, the Student Opportunity Act would establish the 21st Century Education Trust Fund to provide districts and schools access to flexible funding so they could formulate creative approaches to student learning and district improvement. That fund would be administered by the Commission of Elementary and Secondary Education in consultation with the Twenty-First Century Education Advisory Council. The fund would receive money from the state through appropriations and bond proceeds, gifts, grands and donations, funds from public and private sources and any interest earned on the fund.

The Student Opportunity Act fully implements the recommendations of the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) ensuring that the school funding formula provides adequate and equitable funding to all districts across the state. The bill would provide an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years.

Comerford said the bill modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas: health care, English language learners, special education students and low-income students.

“The state has not kept pace with the rising cost of health care,” she said.

Comerford said the bill increases the money provided for the education of all students, while providing additional increases for English language learners in middle school and high school.

“It’s a smart tweak,” she said.

The senator said that the number of students assumed to be receiving special education services under the formula goes up under the bill, though an amendment she put in that would have increased this assumption even more failed.

The bill would also change the formula to count more students as low-income, raising the threshold to 185 percent of the federal poverty line, which Comerford said would result in about 40,000 additional students being counted. The bill would also change the formula to give the poorest districts even more funding for their low-income students.

Comerford said one of her successful amendments to the bill asks state agencies to study the effects of Proposition 2½ on education. She said she believes the bill has a good chance of passing the House, because identical bills were introduced in both chambers. She said she also believes the governor will sign it.

Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, who will be taking the bill up with his colleagues within the next few weeks, said the bill has been a long time coming.

“This is the result of many years of work by legislators, school leaders and the public,” Mark said. “We’ve been hearing for years about how important an update to Chapter 70 is.”

He said Chapter 70 was created in the early 1990s. He said additional funding would be “gigantic” for Franklin County.

“Smaller counties don’t have the tax base to draw from,” Mark said. “There are fixed costs that all school districts have, but smaller ones don’t have the student enrollment or population to support them. This $1.5 billion would make a huge difference. More from the state would mean less burden on taxpayers.”

Mark said he will be surprised if a bill isn’t on the governor’s desk by the end of the legislative session in mid-November.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269, or afritz@recorder.com.




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