There’s an exciting, new education bill in the State House: the Student Opportunity Act.
It calls for “an unprecedented $1.5 billion new investment in Massachusetts public education,” a fact sheet says.
The bill also notes that K-12 education can benefit from strong preschool programs.
“The proposal — jointly announced by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Senate President Karen E. Spilka, and other legislative leaders — aims to bridge the divide in educational opportunities between poor and affluent systems by directing more money to districts that serve greater concentrations of students living in poverty or those with language barriers,” the Boston Globe reports.
Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), a chair of the Joint Committee on Education along with Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), tells WBUR, “I think it’s fair to say that if this bill passes into law we will have the strongest and most progressive education funding system in terms of how we reflect the needs of low income students.”
The bill calls on school districts to develop three-year plans for addressing “persistent disparities in achievement” through “evidence-based programs, supports and interventions.”
The bill lists seven possible interventions schools could implement, including “expanding early education and pre-kindergarten programming within the district, including those provided in partnership with community-based organizations,” which wisely includes Massachusetts’ mixed delivery system of schools, centers, and family providers.
Chris Martes, Strategies for Children’s president and CEO – and a former school superintendent, praised the bill’s inclusion of early education and care programs, noting, “As I’ve said many times, when it comes to improving education, K-12 schools cannot go it alone. Schools need community support, a strong pre-K system, and the kind of thoughtful investments that the Student Opportunity Act would make.”
School districts would also be able to implement other achievement-boosting interventions such as longer school days or years, improved professional development time for teachers, more common planning time for teachers, more wraparound services to support students’ emotional and physical well-being, and the purchase of curricular materials that align with the state’s curricular framework.
There is a lot of history behind the bill.
The Student Opportunity Act “would be the biggest overhaul of the state’s school financing law since passage 26 years ago of the landmark Education Reform Act,” CommonWealth Magazine says.
“On Nov. 2, 2015, a state commission reported that the current starting point in the school funding formula, known as the foundation budget, underestimates the cost of education by an annual $1 billion by inadequately accounting for expenses associated with low-income students, English learners, special education and employee health benefits.
“This is not the first time since the report’s release — more than 1,400 days ago — that lawmakers have attempted to overhaul the formula. In each of the last two legislative sessions, House and Senate Democrats have been unable to agree on an approach to school finance reform.
“Over that time, Gov. Charlie Baker and lawmakers have increased the amount of Chapter 70 school aid in the annual state budget, at times describing the boosts as down-payments on future reforms.”
Next, the bill will make its way through the state’s legislative process – creating great opportunities for advocacy. Please reach out and encourage other legislators as well as Governor Charlie Baker to support this bill. More information about it is available in this Q&A document.
Action is essential. As Speaker DeLeo (D-Winthrop) told the Globe, “While we are all proud that Massachusetts is top-rated nationally in education, we want to extend that success to all students.”