BOSTON – On October 23, Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) and Representative Richard Haggerty (D-Woburn), a member of the Joint Committee on Education, joined their House colleagues in unanimously passing the Student Opportunity Act, which would invest an unprecedented $1.5 billion in Massachusetts K-12 public education. The bill significantly helps school districts that serve high percentages of low-income students by increasing the low-income increment to 100% for them.
Passed unanimously by the Senate on October 3rd, the Student Opportunity Act fully implements the four recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), which revolved around low-income students, English language learners (ELL), special education/circuit breaker, and employee health costs. It is also estimated to provide $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid when fully implemented over the next seven years.
“The bill represents the culmination of years of work and many months of legislative consideration,” said Representative Jones. “The resources it directs towards school districts throughout the Commonwealth will, over time, reduce the gaps in achievement between districts, enhancing the long term opportunities for success for all our youth.”
“This historic investment in education will provide Reading and rest of the Commonwealth with the additional resources it needs to make sure every child receives a terrific education,” said Representative Haggerty. “As a member of the Joint Committee on Education and former local official, I can tell you this bill will deliver the kind of support municipalities need and our school districts deserve.”
The needs of districts educating high numbers of students from low-income households are addressed in this legislation by providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students. 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, will allow districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students to receive an additional funding while bringing their increment equal to 100% of the base foundation.
In addition to money for low-income students, the bill increases foundation rates for guidance and psychological services that will support expanded social–emotional supports and mental health services. It also 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.
The Student Opportunity Act benefits the students of the Commonwealth in several other ways by:
- Fully funding charter tuition reimbursements, which provide transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three-year timetable.
- Lifting the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for school building construction and renovation by $150 million (from $600 million to $750 million), enabling more projects across the state to be accepted into the MSBA funding pipeline.
- Establishes the “21st Century Education Trust Fund” to provide flexible funding to districts and schools pursuing creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.
Given the differences between the versions of the Student Opportunity Act that passed the House Wednesday and the Senate two weeks ago, the legislation will now go to a Conference Committee for deliberation. fffffffffffff