12/05/2019

Historic school funding bill signed into law in Massachusetts

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After years of campaigning by educators, students, parents and other public school advocates, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has passed a historic school funding bill that will deliver billions of dollars in additional state aid to local schools over the next decade.

AFT MA funding rally

The landmark Student Opportunity Act, signed into law Nov. 26, commits the state to achieving equitably funded public schools over a seven-year span, promising $1.5 billion in additional annual state aid once the law is fully phased in. Many schools and communities will begin to see the benefits of the law as soon as the next school year, the first year of implementation.

This law is a reason “to rejoice and celebrate,” says AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “The strength of this new law is a testament to the tens of thousands of AFT members, parents and activists who poured their hearts and souls into this multiyear struggle for equitably funded public schools. Make no mistake: Our hard work and dedication paid off. The Legislature and governor heard our voices and saw our determination. Consequently, we won a great victory for students, educators and parents.”

With the Student Opportunity Act, “Massachusetts is funding our future,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “For far too long, our nation’s public schools have been systematically shortchanged. Massachusetts is changing that paradigm because of the fight waged by parents, the community and our members. By signing this pathbreaking bill, Gov. Baker has shown that a lack of funding isn’t inevitable but rather the result of deliberate political choices. When we make the right choice, we can secure the investments in public schools necessary to fund our future.”

To get the bill passed, public school advocates across the state, including AFT Massachusetts, joined together in the Fund Our Future campaign. Tens of thousands of AFT Massachusetts members and other advocates made phone calls, sent emails and letters, attended rallies and forums around the state, and demanded transformative investments in Massachusetts public schools.

“We celebrate the work of grassroots activists, labor and organizations who have insisted on the right of our communities to have fully and equitably funded schools,” says Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, a crucial participant in the fight. “We will continue to build an education justice movement that guarantees every student and educator has access to the schools our communities deserve.”

Due to the campaign’s aggressive approach and deep commitment to education justice and equity, the bill directs the lion’s share of resources to communities with the highest concentrations of low-income students.

“The Student Opportunity Act will deliver increased state funding to every district, but the greatest increases, rightfully, will go to low-income districts whose students have the greatest needs,” Kontos says. “This means that students of all backgrounds will finally be able to enjoy the benefits that their peers in wealthier districts take for granted—everything from smaller classes and additional counselors to up-to-date classroom supplies and more art, music and enrichment. It’s a true game-changer for low-income students and their communities.”

Among the highlights, the Student Opportunity Act:

  • Increases Chapter 70 state aid to local school districts by $1.4 billion per year—above inflation—over a seven-year phase-in period.
  • Addresses four of the major recommendations of the state’s Foundation Budget Review Commission: more resources for educating students with disabilities, English learners and students from low-income families, and adequately funding the rising cost of health insurance for staff and retirees.
  • Expands the special education “circuit breaker” program, which reimburses districts for extraordinary special education costs, to include transportation costs in addition to instructional costs, phased in over four years at an estimated annual cost of $90 million.
  • Fully funds charter tuition reimbursements, which provide transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three-year timetable.
  • Increases the annual spending cap for Massachusetts School Building Authority projects by $200 million, to $800 million.

“This new law makes clear that equity matters for all, not just some, children,” says Weingarten. “By investing where students are most in need, we can create safe and welcoming environments where they can flourish and thrive. I’m celebrating with the community on the signing of this bill, and I urge other states to follow Massachusetts’ lead by acting now to make families’ lives better. That starts with sustainable investments for our children in public schools.”

 [Virginia Myers, AFT Media Relations]