Sen. Lesser votes to pass historic education funding bill in unanimous Senate vote

“This historic legislation will ensure every kid in our Commonwealth is given the opportunity to receive a top-tier education.” – Sen. Lesser

 BOSTON – Senator Eric P. Lesser voted Thursday to pass the Student Opportunity Act along with all of his present Senate colleagues. The landmark legislation will infuse an unprecedented $1.5 billion into Massachusetts’ public education system over the next seven years. It passed 39-0. 

The Student Opportunity Act fully implements recommendations from the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which found the Commonwealth was underfunding its schools by more than $1 billion annually. Accounting for inflation, the bill could provide an additional $2.2 billion over time.

“One of the most important obligations of state government is educating our young people,” said Sen. Lesser. “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.”

The vast majority of the bill’s historic new investment -- $1.4 billion – will be in the form of Chapter 70 aid for local school districts. It modernizes the K-12 education funding in four central areas:

·         Estimates school districts’ employee and retiree health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC).

·         Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment.

·         Increases funding for English learners (EL) that is differentiated by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate our older EL students.

·         Addresses the needs of districts educating high concentrations of students from low-income households by:

o   Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district; districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students will receive an additional increment equal to 100% of the base foundation;

o   Returning the definition of low-income to 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133% level that has been used in recent years.

An additional $90 million will cover transportation costs in the state’s special education reimbursement program, and $10 million will support a new trust fund designed to promote innovation in education. The Student Opportunity Act also provides increased support in several categories to help public schools and communities deliver a high-quality education to every student:

·         Increasing foundation rates for guidance and psychological services in recognition of the growing need for expanded social-emotional support and mental health services.

·         A commitment to fully funding charter school tuition reimbursement, which provide transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three-year timetable.

·         Expanding over four years the special education circuit breaker, which reimburses districts for extraordinary special education costs, to include transportation costs in addition to instructional cost.

·         Raising, as the result of a further amendment, the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)spending, for construction and renovation by $200 million (from $600 million to 800 million) , enabling more projects across the state to be accepted into the MSBA funding pipeline, which reimburses towns and cities for a portion of school building costs.

“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 Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education (D-Winchester).

“Even though Massachusetts boasts one of the best school systems in the country, there remain gross disparities between districts and even within districts,” said Sen. Lesser. “The Student Opportunity Act closes these gaps in a variety of ways, taking into account all of the needs students have. The expectations for our kids continue to evolve, and the Student Opportunity Act helps us provide for them the way we should.”

The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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Eric Lesser