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PRESS RELEASE: House and Senate finalize comprehensive education reform bill

Representative Sullivan supports plan to promote equity, accountability

BOSTON – The House and Senate have finalized a comprehensive education reform bill that will increase state education aid to cities and towns by $1.5 billion over the next seven years while also establishing strong accountability standards for local school districts to close student achievement gaps.

Senate Bill 2412, An Act relative to educational opportunity for students, reflects compromise language that was negotiated by a six-member Conference Committee.  State Representative Alyson Sullivan, R-Abington, noted that the passage of the bill will help to ensure that all Massachusetts students have access to a quality education, regardless of where they live.

The bill – which represents the first major overhaul of the state’s education funding formula since the passage of the landmark 1993 Education Reform Act – was approved unanimously by the Senate and the House of Representatives on November 20.  It is now on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk awaiting his signature.

The Student Opportunity Act requires school districts to develop 3-year plans to address persistent disparities in student achievement.  School districts will also be required to submit annual reports to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by April 1 to demonstrate their progress in closing these achievement gaps.

The final bill reflects many of the House’s priorities, including language that allows the Commissioner of Education to review each school district’s plan to ensure that it contains clear and achievable goals and standards for student improvement. It also requires districts to amend any plan that does not conform with the new statewide requirements set forth in the bill.

Representative Sullivan said the bill raises the annual cap for school building assistance projects to $800 million, and adjusts future caps to factor in inflation so that more school districts can qualify for state aid.  The bill also expands funding for out-of-district special education transportation costs and establishes a timeline for fully funding charter school reimbursements by Fiscal Year 2023.

In keeping with the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, the $1.5 billion in new Chapter 70 aid will be distributed using a revised formula that is designed to specifically address the needs of English learners, low-income students, special education programming, and the municipal costs associated with employee and retiree health care benefits.  Senate Bill 2412 also includes language requiring the Legislature to convene the Foundation Budget Review Commission at least once every 10 years to review the way foundation budgets are calculated and to recommend any needed changes.

The Student Opportunity Act also:

  • creates a Data Advisory Commission to ensure that resources are allocated effectively at the district and school levels;
  • increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment and costs;
  • requires the Secretary of Education to make recommendations to establish statewide and regional targets for student preparedness for workforce and postsecondary education;
  • sets financial literacy standards as a statewide educational goal so that all public elementary and secondary school students have an understanding of personal finances; and
  • establishes a Twenty-First Century Education program, along with an Advisory Council and Trust Fund, to provide competitive grants to public schools and districts to help address achievement disparities and increase efficiencies.