House passes landmark Student Opportunity Act to fully fund public education

Representative Mike Connolly recently joined his Cambridge and Somerville colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass legislation to invest an additional $1.5 billion in the Commonwealth’s public education system. Known as The Student Opportunity Act, the legislation commits funding to support the needs of English learners and school districts that serve high concentrations of low-income 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 investment in other vital education aid programs such as transportation, guidance and psychological services, school buildings and special education.  

"I was proud to cast my vote in support of the Student Opportunity Act to bring millions of dollars in additional funding back to the Cambridge and Somerville public school districts and to fully fund public education across the Commonwealth in the coming years, thereby helping to address years of inequity and underinvestment in our state's most vulnerable students," Rep. Connolly said after the vote on October 23.

The Student Opportunity Act 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 across the state. Provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. The foundation budget is updated as follows:

  • Estimates school districts’ employee health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC), and includes for the first time an amount 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) 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 low-income students by 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.
  • 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.
  • Improves data collection and reporting, specifically around the use of funding, 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, including tracking funding for low-income students and English learners.

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 that will 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, within a three-year timetable.
  • 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.
  • Lifts the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for school building construction/renovation by $150 million (from $600 million to $750 million), enabling the MSBA to accept more projects across the state into its funding pipeline.
  • Requires Department Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to calculate the transitional hold harmless aid amount using the 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 and schools pursuing creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.
  • Requires school districts to develop and make publicly available 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 for the purpose of improving 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 and communities.

Representative Connolly would like to thank Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance for being on the front lines of this fight with the Promise Act and the Fund Our Future campaign, and he also wishes to thank Speaker DeLeo, Chairs Peisch and Michlewitz, Reps. Keefe and Vega, Senators Jehlen and Chang-Diaz, and all of the other colleagues, advocates, activists, teachers, students, and constituents who worked to accomplish this goal that has been many years in the making.

A conference committee has now been appointed consisting of three Representatives and three Senators, to reconcile differences between both chambers' versions.