As many of you are aware, the legislature is considering a bill to address the disparities in our Education budget as well as to implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. I have met with Chairwoman Peisch and submitted my concerns regarding education in this letter.
On September 19th, the Joint Committee on Education released the Student Opportunity Act, which makes an unprecedented $1.5 billion new investment in Massachusetts public education. I am continuing to sift through the provisions of the bill and would love to hear your input. In the meantime, here is a general outline of what the bill addresses:
Foundation Budget Review Recommendations
This bill 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. It does this by:
- Estimating school districts’ employee and retiree health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collection by the state’s Group Insurance Commission.
- Increasing special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment
- Increasing funding for English learners that is differentiated by grade level to reflect greater resources required to education our older EL students
- Addresses the needs of districts educating high concentrations of students from low-income households
Additional State Financial Support for Public Schools:
- Increases foundation rates for guidance and psychological services that will support expanded social-emotional supports and mental health services
- Fully funds charter school tuition reimbursements, which provide transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a 3 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 4 years.
- Lifts the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority spending for school building construction/renovation by $150 million.
Policy Updates for 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.
- Makes it so that school districts must develop and make publicly available plans for closing the opportunity gaps. These plans must include specific goals and metrics to track success.
- Tasks the Secretary of Education with collecting and publishing data on student preparedness in each district and high school for post-graduate success in college and the workforce
- Establishes 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.
Identifies Education Policy Areas Requiring Further Analysis:
- The Department of Revenue and Department of Education are directed 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 communities.