Widespread praise for ed funding bill
Money and new accountability measures offer something to all
WHEN THE YEAR STARTED, with Beacon Hill poised to make another go at a bill revamping the state’s education funding formula, some advocates were focused on boosting funding for schools, while others were insisting that new money come with new ways of holding districts accountable for how it’s spent and for closing the yawning achievement gaps that characterize the state’s K-12 landscape.
The fact that leading voices from both camps are applauding the legislation that was rolled out last week underscores the success legislative leaders have had in crafting a bill that’s receiving widespread support.
“Two thumbs up,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz on a new episode of The Codcast. “In vast majority, it hits all of the marks,” she said of the bill unveiled jointly by the education committee co-chairs, Rep. Alice Peisch and Sen. Jason Lewis, together with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka.
Chang-Diaz, a former co-chair of the education committee, was a primary sponsor of the Promise Act, a funding bill filed in January with strong backing from education advocates, teachers unions, and many municipal leaders.
While her focus has been on boosting funding, especially for districts with high concentrations of low-income students, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) was a strong voice advocating for reform measures to be paired with new funding.
The bill announced to great fanfare calls for an increase over seven years of $1.4 billion in state aid to local school districts. It would also require districts to prepare reports detailing how they plan to tackle the wide achievement gaps separating students across the state, setting firm targets for improvement. It also includes a $10 million fund to be used by the state education commissioner to fund innovative approaches being taken by districts.
Lambert says he hopes there will still be room to take up improvements to the bill that strengthen the start it makes in focusing on college and career readiness. He said that would include considering a provision of the funding bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker that called for funding early college programs that let high school students get exposure to higher education classrooms — and credits that count toward an eventual degree.
On the funding side, the bill matches the call in the Promise Act for districts with the highest concentration of low-income students to get double the base “foundation budget” rate for each of those students. That is a huge win for Chang-Diaz, but she was in a magnanimous mood about other aspects of the bill, a sign that leading voices in the debate are looking to close the deal and pass a bill, not wage big fights over any remaining disagreements they may have.
“Much that’s in the bill mirrors what was in the Promise Act,” she said. “But a lot of important stuff that’s in the bill was taken from the advocacy of MBAE, and some of the things were taken from the governor’s bill that were excellent ideas, and I’m thrilled to see them in there.” Chief among those, she said, is the $10 million fund for innovative practices; Baker’s bill proposed a similar fund with $50 million.
When the Promise Act was unveiled in January, Chang-Diaz sounded wary of putting any conditions on new funding, arguing that the debate was about “owed money” that the state had shortchanged districts on as the funding formula failed to keep pace with rising costs. But she minimized any concerns over the requirements for district improvement targets in the “Student Opportunity Act,” as the new bill was dubbed.
“I feel like the way that this bill threads the needle is appropriate,” she said. “I’ve never been allergic to the world accountability.”
The one key player who has been notably reserved in reacting to the bill is Baker, whose bill called for substantially less new state aid to districts — about $460 million versus the $1.4 billion being proposed. He offered a vague statement in response to the bill, but only days earlier penned an op-ed warning against going too far in increasing state aid. With both DeLeo and Spilka backing the bill, however, don’t look for any retreat on the bottom-line number as the legislation moves forward.
But Lambert pumped up the idea of Beacon Hill cooperation that Baker so often touts, and suggested everyone will be on board in the end. “I think at the end of the day,” he said, “all of the entities — the administration and the Legislature — will move toward the goal.”