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.

Rep. Benson Votes for FY 2019 Supplemental Budget with Additional Funding for Infrastructure, Health Care and Education

(BOSTON) – On Wednesday, Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) voted with the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass a supplemental budget allowing the Commonwealth to increase the balance of its “Rainy Day Fund” to $3.2 billion, invest in local infrastructure projects, further address the opioid crisis, and provide additional funding for public education.

The bill dedicates $400 million to the Commonwealth’s stabilization fund, bringing the Rainy Day Fund’s total balance to $3.2 billion, the first time the fund has reached that amount in its history.

As part of the House’s priority to protect the environment, the supplemental budget makes a $24 million investment for the testing of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination of water supplies and for grants to support treatment and remediation of affected public drinking water systems, and $35 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund.

“The inclusion of funding for PFAS testing and remediation will make it easier for towns affected by PFAS contamination, including several in my district, to filter their water supplies,” said Representative Benson. “I’m also glad that language from a bill filed by Representative Kate Hogan and me establishing a PFAS task force was included in the budget. This task force will bring public health agencies and policymakers together to study the issue of PFAS contamination and come up with solutions.”

In addition, the supplemental budget reaffirms the House’s strong partnership with cities and towns by providing $60 million to invest in local roads and bridges projects. Furthering the House’s commitment to clean energy, the budget also features a $32 million investment in the state’s electric vehicle rebate program.

In addition, the supplemental budget:

  • Recognizes the need for increased investment in the MBTA by providing $50 million for additional staffing and contract costs to support capital project delivery, inspection and maintenance activities, and service diversions necessary to accelerate capital projects;
  • Works to support the Commonwealth’s public higher education institutions by investing $20 million in a program that encourages private fundraising with matching state dollars;  
  • Continues the House’s leadership on the Commonwealth’s early education efforts by including $3 million for grants for early educator scholarships for school paraprofessionals;
  • Designates the presidential primary date for 2020 and invests funding to establish early voting for the 2020 presidential election;
  • Supports the House’s priority of supporting Massachusetts’ most vulnerable youth by investing $5 million in a program to expand access for students to community-based mental and behavioral health services in schools; and
  • Includes $10 million reserve for salary increases for home health aides and personnel providing homemaker and personal care homemaker services.

The supplemental budget will now go to the Senate.

Delegation Issues Statement Supporting Nurses at Nashoba Valley Medical Center

AYER, Mass—Legislators representing patients and families served by the Nashoba Valley Medical Center (NVMC), as well as the nurses who work there, are issuing this joint statement expressing our opposition Steward Healthcare’s recent threat to close our community hospital unless the nurses agree to accept their “final” offer in negotiations for a new union contract. 

We stand with the nurses and agree that this threat, which was made without providing the required information to justify such a closure, is a violation of federal labor law and an unseemly attempt to force the nurses into accepting an agreement that the nurses believe will negatively impact the quality and safety of care at this facility. 


The nurses have provided data that shows that inadequate pay and staffing conditions at the facility have affected NVMC’s ability to recruit and retain the staff needed to deliver the care our community expects and deserves. They have also shown that, due to staffing shortages, the hospital is routinely transferring patients out and turning patients away.

We call upon Steward to revoke their threat close to our community hospital, and return to the negotiating table to bargain in good faith for an agreement that respects our nurses and guarantees the high quality care our communities deserve.

Signed,

Jennifer E. Benson
State Representative
37th Middlesex District
James B. Eldridge
State Senator
Middlesex & Worcester District
Sheila C. Harrington
State Representative
1st Middlesex District
Edward J. Kennedy (D-Lowell)
State Senator
First Middlesex District

Rep. Benson’s July 2019 Office Update

FY20 Budget Update

In late July, the Legislature passed the final FY20 budget, which was signed by Governor Baker with no spending vetoes. Funded at $43.1 billion, the budget makes major investments in education and health care, while projecting a $476 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund. Throughout the process, I advocated for constituent priorities, including the largest ever single-year increase in Chapter 70 education funding, and resources for many district projects:

  • $100,000 for the renovation of a building in Acton to serve as a community center;
  • $100,000 for elderly and commuter shuttles linking to the Commuter Rail Station in Acton;
  • $250,000 for improvements to Depot Square and the commuter rail parking deck in Ayer;
  • $150,000 for the Advanced Manufacturing Training Program at the Devens campus at Mount Wachusett Community College;
  • $165,000 for the removal of fuel storage tanks in Lunenburg;
  • $100,000 for the Lunenburg Fire Department to purchase new equipment; and
  • $50,000 for renovations to the Shirley War Memorial Building.

Legislative Update

As the House Chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing, I was proud to be part of the team of legislators that worked to bring a children’s health bill to the floor. An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness is part of a session-long initiative to address the health needs of Massachusetts’ 1.4 million children. The legislation passed in July would make access to health care, and specifically mental health care, easier for children by requiring insurance companies to maintain accurate and accessible provider directories, creating childhood behavioral health centers of excellence across the state to provide resources to parents and schools, and directing state agencies to study issues around children’s health care.

Speaking on the House floor in favor of An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness

By identifying and addressing the deficiencies and difficulties in accessing care, we are working to ensure that every child in the Commonwealth will be able to access high-quality services quickly and efficiently.

The House also passed a bill funding infrastructure projects across the state to reduce emissions and help prepare communities for the coming consequences of climate change. Known as GreenWorks, the legislation establishes a 10-year, $1 billion grant program, modeled after the MassWorks program, for clean energy, energy efficiency, and climate change resiliency measures that cut greenhouse gas emissions, fortify infrastructure, and reduce municipal costs. Additionally, the GreenWorks bill provides $100 million for municipal microgrid systems, $125 million for the purchase of electric vehicles for regional transit authority fleets, and $30 million for the state’s electric vehicle rebate program.

Health Care Financing Committee Update

The Committee on Health Care Financing held two hearings in July. We collected testimony on about 50 bills, which members of the Committee and staff are now reviewing.

As I have been doing since the start of the summer, I continued touring medical centers around the state, and visited Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro with Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, and Heywood Hospital in Gardner. Learning how these facilities operate and discussing financing, staffing, and other challenges with their leadership teams is generating valuable insights as the Committee reviews bills and drafts legislation.

Looking Ahead

The Legislature does not hold formal sessions in August, so my next office update will be in early October.

If there is legislation that you wish to discuss, or you have a constituent matter you need help with, please reach out to my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2430.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Sincerely,

Rep. Benson Helps Bring Child Wellness Initiative to the House Floor

The legislation passed by the House expands access to and supports health services for children

(BOSTON) – Yesterday, Representative Jennifer Benson (D – Lunenburg), with her colleagues in the House of Representatives, unanimously voted to pass legislation supporting the health and wellness of children across the Commonwealth. This bill is part of a multi-tiered initiative to address the specific needs of children and adolescents in an integrated fashion.

An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness is part of the comprehensive, session-long Children’s Wellness Initiative, which aims to address the complex health needs specific to the Commonwealth’s 1.4 million children. The effort seeks to make access to health care easier for vulnerable populations, eliminate barriers to care, and formulate data-driven recommendations to improve service delivery. The initiative supports a holistic approach that provides services early and often – ensuring that children grow to be healthier, happier, and more productive adults.

The first bill in this initiative creates a foundation for better access to services and more data to inform future policy. Among the provisions of the legislation is the requirement that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families report to the Legislature on its efforts to improve the Commonwealth’s foster care system.

“Today we’re taking a major step to make child and adolescent wellbeing a House session-long priority, beginning with this legislation,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D – Winthrop).  “The Commonwealth’s children deserve a comprehensive support system so they may grow to be healthier, happier and more productive adults. I thank Chairs Benson, Michlewitz, Gregoire and Cronin as well as Vice-Chair Barber for their hard work on these efforts, and I look forward to building on these themes as the session unfolds.”

“As the House Chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing, I was proud to work with my colleagues to bring this important legislation to the House floor. Nothing is more heartbreaking than talking to a constituent whose child is in crisis, but they’re having difficulty finding healthcare services in the complex system of providers, insurers, and resources,” said Representative Benson. “By identifying and addressing these difficulties in this legislation, we are working to ensure that every child in the Commonwealth will be able to access high-quality services quickly and efficiently.”

The legislation addresses child wellness in the following eight areas:

  1. Requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to report on efforts to improve the foster care system in the Commonwealth, including steps it is taking to provide increased coverage in underserved regions, share relevant medical history with foster parents, and provide access to mental health supports and timely information on children in DCF custody who have died from abuse or neglect.  The report is due by October 15, 2019.
  • Secures healthcare benefits for foster children until the age of 26, making it easier for this vulnerable population to access to MassHealth benefits they are entitled at minimal cost to the Commonwealth. It codifies the practice for Massachusetts in the event of change on the federal level to the Affordable Care Act.
  • Requires insurance companies to maintain accurate and accessible provider directories for health plans. The provision directs companies to make the directories available without requiring users to create a new online account or profile. The directory must be updated frequently to ensure the information is correct. Insurance companies must take steps to make the directors use-friendly for individuals with disabilities and limited English proficiency. Establishes a task force to develop recommendations to ensure the accurate electronic posting of directories headed by the Commissioner of Insurance.
  • Creates childhood behavioral health centers of excellence via a pilot program that designates three regional centers to act as clearinghouses to connect families, providers, and educators to services and training opportunities. Requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to report on progress and impact after one year of implementation.
  • Requires the Heath Policy Commission to conduct analysis within the next year of children with medical complexity to analyze costs and population characteristics of this group in order to develop recommendations about how to serve this unique population.
  • Establishes a task force to study pediatric behavioral health screening tools.
  • Creates a special commission to examine the pediatric workforce to address pediatric provider availability and adequacy. The Commission would recommend strategies for increasing the pipeline of pediatric providers and expanding access to practicing providers.  
  • Charges a 17-member special commission to review the Department of Public Health’s School-Based Health Center Program for the purpose of strengthening, improving, and considering ways to replicate best practices across the state.

The bill now goes to the Senate.