Rep. Benson Votes for Historic Education Funding Bill

Prioritizes investments to close opportunity gaps, support special education and low-income students

(BOSTON) – On Wednesday, Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed significant legislation to invest an additional $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 school districts that serve high concentrations of low-income and special education 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 aid in other vital education aid programs such as transportation, guidance and psychological services, and school building renovation and construction.

“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.”

“This historic legislation will ensure that every student in Massachusetts has access to a high-quality public education,” said Representative Benson. “I began my career in public service over 15 years ago as a member of the Lunenburg School Committee, and I was proud to cast my vote for this once-in-a-generation education equity bill.”

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. Provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years:
    • Estimates school districts’ employee health care costs using up-to-date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission and includes estimates 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) differentiated by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate our older EL students.
    • Addresses the needs of districts educating higher concentrations of low-income students by:
      • Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district.
      • Returning the definition of low-income to 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133% level used in recent years.
    • Improves data collection and reporting 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.
  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 to 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.
    • 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.
    • Raises the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for school building construction/renovation by to $800 million, enabling the MSBA to accept more projects into its funding pipeline. 
    • Requires the Department Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to calculate the transitional hold harmless aid amount using 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 pursuing creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.
    • Requires school districts to develop, and make public, 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 to improve 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.

The bill will now go to the Senate.