Senator Jason Lewis Champions Education Funding Reforms

Students, parents, and teachers filled the State House as the Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to pass a key education reform bill to update the state’s 25-year-old school funding formula, known as Chapter 70. An Act Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century (S.2506) implements the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), which found that the funding formula drastically underestimates actual education costs in Massachusetts. As a result, school districts have struggled to balance their budgets and many have been forced to make deep cuts to educational programs and services.

For Senator Jason Lewis, passage of this legislation is pivotal progress on one of his top priorities since first being elected to the state legislature. When he previously served in the House of Representatives, Senator Lewis sponsored the legislation that created the FBRC, and he has long championed these necessary reforms to the state’s school finance system in order to provide adequate funding to our public schools.

Speaking on the floor of the Senate during debate on the bill, Senator Lewis said, “Massachusetts has long recognized that every child deserves a high quality education, but in recent years our school funding formula has been undermining this bedrock commitment. I’m very pleased that the Senate has passed this incredibly important legislation to implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. This is a major step toward ensuring that every school district in the Commonwealth has the resources it needs, and every student can realize her full potential.”

Established by the 1993 Education Reform Act, the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget was designed to ensure that every Massachusetts student is provided a quality education. However, the formula has failed to keep up with rising fixed costs like health care and special education that have outpaced initial estimates. It also underestimated what it actually takes to educate English Language Learners (ELL) and students living in poverty.

The FBRC found these combined costs have led the Commonwealth to underestimate the statewide cost of funding K-12 public schools by as much as $1-2 billion every year. Local communities have too often had to shift resources from other high priorities to cover education costs, and many have struggled with contentious property tax overrides. The funding shortfall has also exacerbated the state’s achievement gap.

This legislation addresses the funding crisis by accurately projecting special education costs, modernizing the ELL and low-income components of the foundation budget formula, and realistically accounting for school districts’ actual healthcare costs. The bill also establishes a Data Advisory Task Force that will enable greater transparency to school-level expenditures and student outcomes in order to better inform future policymaking.

The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Massachusetts Senate Approves BRAVE Act for Veterans, with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed the BRAVE Act, new legislation that will expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military, and their families. Understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home, the Massachusetts Legislature has consistently provided a continuum of major veteran legislation to help with those who sacrifice the most for our freedoms.

“Massachusetts has a strong record of supporting veterans, service members, and their families, and this legislation will ensure that the Commonwealth continues to lead the nation on this front,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Many of the initiatives advanced in this bill come directly from recommendations offered by veterans themselves. The Senate is proud to meet its commitment to supporting those who have put the most on the line to defend our freedoms.”

On the recognition front, the legislation designates the 5th day of April as Gold Star Wives Day and the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers and Families Day, and directs cities and towns to designate reserved parking for veterans at all city and town halls.

The bill also grants paid military leave for those called to duty by the armed forces for up to 40 days for training and operation purposes. To help ease the costs of housing, the legislation changes the requirement for veterans to receive property tax exemptions from residing in the Commonwealth for five years down to two years. It also increases the amount a veteran can earn on their property tax exemption for volunteering in their city or town.

The BRAVE Act increases the burial expense paid by the Commonwealth from $2,000 to $4,000 for indigent veterans to receive to adequately provide for a dignified funeral. It also exempts any veterans who receive annuities for service to their country from income calculations when applying for state programs or services.

The bill also strengthens services for veterans by: addressing emergency medical transportation reimbursements; revising Veteran Court Diversion programs; updating the veteran bonus program at the State Treasurer’s Office; and, providing several studies and analyses regarding higher education, incarcerated veterans, and National Guard recognition.

The BRAVE Act now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senator Jason Lewis Receives Public Servant of the Year Award from Triangle, Inc.

Senator Jason Lewis was honored to receive a 2018 Public Servant of the Year Award from Triangle, Inc., at Triangle’s annual award ceremony and gala, which occurred Wednesday, May 2, at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. Established in 1971, Triangle empowers people with disabilities and their families to enjoy rich, fulfilling lives, offering employment, residential, and other support services.

Senator Lewis has been proud to advocate in the Legislature for programs and services aligned with Triangle’s mission, including successfully advocating for stronger budgetary support for Triangle’s School to Career program, which assists students and recent graduates aged 16-26 with career planning and internship and employment opportunities.

“Senator Jason Lewis has been a strong advocate for the disability community his entire career,” said Coleman Nee, CEO of Triangle, Inc., which is headquartered in Malden. “As Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, Senator Lewis has worked diligently to ensure that more career opportunities are available for persons with disabilities and that our governmental and commercial workforces are diverse and inclusive for all our citizens. It was an honor to present him with this award and we deeply appreciate his support and leadership.”

“Expanding opportunities for all members of our community is a central focus of my work in the legislature,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “It has been a privilege to work closely with the tremendous advocates at Triangle to enhance the independence and realize the potential of people with disabilities. I’m honored to receive the Public Servant of the Year Award.”

Senator Lewis received the Public Servant of the Year Award alongside co-awardees and colleagues Senator Joan Lovely of Salem, Representative Steve Ultrino of Malden, and Representative Dan Ryan of Charlestown.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Column: We Need to Invest More in Early Childhood Education

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In our society we typically think that children’s formal education should begin at the age of five when they enter kindergarten. But, decades of research have now convincingly demonstrated the importance and value of early childhood education for much younger children. We need to think differently about how to ensure that all children – regardless of their family’s income – can access high-quality, developmentally appropriate early childhood programs in their community.

Early childhood education produces short- and long-term positive effects on children’s cognitive and social development. In fact, it is estimated that expanding early learning initiatives overall would provide benefits to our society of up to $9 for every $1 spent.

According to a 2017 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States falls significantly behind other developed countries when it comes to enrollment rates of 3- and 4-year-olds in pre-school programs.

Even here in Massachusetts, where we pride ourselves on our commitment to education, we are not doing enough to prepare our youngest children for academic and professional success in life. Approximately 43% of third graders in the Commonwealth cannot read at grade level. The third grade marker is viewed as a key indicator of future performance in school and beyond. Universal access to quality early education is critical to addressing this persistent achievement gap in our schools. The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care has found that low-income children who participate in high quality early education programs are 40% less likely to be held back or require special education services, 30% more likely to graduate from high school, and twice as likely to go to college. That is an astounding difference.

Unfortunately, many families in Massachusetts today cannot afford to send their children to pre-school, and financial assistance to aid these families is insufficient. The state legislature has been increasing funding in the past few years to help more low-income families enroll their children in quality childcare and early education programs. The legislature has also focused on increasing pay for early childhood educators, who are typically paid much less than K-12 teachers. But we must do more.

To address these urgent shortcomings, I am proud to be a co-sponsor of S. 221, An Act Relative to Universal Pre-Kindergarten Access. This important legislation recognizes that children age three and four should be part of our core public education system by adding them to their local school districts’ Chapter 70 enrollment (Chapter 70 is the K-12 school funding formula in Massachusetts). Implementation would initially focus on the highest-need communities and broaden to statewide coverage over five years.

To provide the necessary funding, I support passage of the Fair Share Amendment, also known as the millionaire’s tax. This proposal would assess an additional 4% state income tax on annual household income greater than $1 million. The threshold would be adjusted annually for inflation to ensure that only those residents who can afford to pay a bit more in taxes would be required to do so. The proceeds from the Fair Share Amendment could only be used to fund education and transportation. Thus, expanding access to affordable early education could be one of the uses for these new funds.

Ensuring that all families and all children in Massachusetts have access to high quality early education would be a wise investment that would help close our persistent achievement gap, maximize the potential of our youth, and ultimately strengthen Massachusetts’ economy.

Senate Passes Supplemental Budget to Boost Funding for State and Local Services, with Senator Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate passed a $156.4 million supplemental budget to cover increased caseloads and time sensitive deficiencies in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, including additional funding for local school districts’ special education costs and charter school reimbursement funds and programs for Massachusetts children and families.

Senator Jason Lewis highlighted a number of key priorities for local communities included in the supplemental budget including $12.5 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker, increasing reimbursements to school districts for the high cost of educating students with disabilities, as well as $4 million for charter school reimbursement funds, further supporting our school districts’ budgetary bottom lines.

Further, Senator Lewis, who serves as Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee, was pleased at the inclusion of funds supporting the health and wellness of our communities, especially children, including: $2.2M for the Healthy Incentives Program to increase access to nutritious foods for low-income residents; and, $1M to support the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, which invests in community-based efforts to enhance disease prevention and has improved the health of hundreds of thousands of Commonwealth residents.

“This supplemental budget includes much needed investments in public transportation, public education, and public health, three vital components to our overall quality of life and economic well-being,” said Senator Lewis. “This funding will support our schools, our communities, and vulnerable populations in the Commonwealth.”

Recognizing the financial challenges Regional Transit Authorities across the state face in providing reliable, affordable transportation, the supplemental budget invests an additional $4 million in these services.

Additional critical investments include: $25.6M for Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) grants; $19.3M for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters; $15.5M for recently ratified collective bargaining agreements; $5.3M for veterans’ benefits; $2.5M for services for hurricane evacuees residing in Massachusetts; $2M for DCF Family Resource Centers to support increased demand for services from hurricane evacuees; and, $150K for the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Trust Fund.

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives before going to the Governor’s desk.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senate Passes Credit Protection Bill to Protect Consumers in the Wake of Equifax Breach, with Senator Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts State Senate passed legislation to protect the personal information of consumers in the case of data breaches, like the one seen at Equifax, and provide free credit freezes for all consumers.

The bill, S.2455, An Act relative to consumer protection from security breaches, helps all consumers protect their sensitive information before, during, and after a security breach in several ways: providing for free credit freezes for all consumers and creating an online “one-stop shop” portal so that consumers can freeze and unfreeze their credit at all three main bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) in one place; providing five years of free credit monitoring for consumers whose information was part of a credit reporting agency data breach; and, empowering consumers to know when and why their consumer reports are being pulled by requiring that any company attempting to pull a consumer’s report must first obtain consent.

“The Equifax breach left many consumers concerned for their financial safety and illuminated gaps in how we can protect against the effects of a breach of this nature,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The legislation creates stronger protections against identity theft and data breaches for all consumers in the Commonwealth to better safeguard our financial transactions and give people more control over their personal data.”

The legislation allows increased oversight from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which recently filed a lawsuit against Equifax. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation will create a process requiring companies to certify that they maintain a consumer information security program as required by existing Massachusetts law.

“Equifax allowed the theft of our personal financial information, and then hid the breach from the public,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This bill would require companies like Equifax to pay for credit monitoring and makes it much easier for people to protect themselves from identify theft.”

Similar legislation has already passed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Minor differences in the House and Senate versions will be addressed before the legislation can advance to the Governor’s desk.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senate Passes Student Loan Bill of Rights to Protect Borrowers, with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts State Senate voted on Thursday to pass the “Student Loan Bill of Rights,” giving greater protections to student loan borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their loans. Advancing this legislation represents a victory at the intersection of economic justice and consumer protection, offering greater safeguards for our student population against unscrupulous lenders.

The bill, S.2380, An Act establishing a student loan bill of rights, requires student loan servicers to be licensed companies with the state Division of Banks, and empowers state officials to investigate the servicers and take action against those that violate the state’s banking and consumer protection laws.

The bill also supports the ongoing work of Attorney General Maura Healey’s Student Loan Assistance Unit by establishing a Student Loan Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office, who will lead efforts to respond to complaints from student loan borrowers and help them understand their rights. This measure to provide greater assistance navigating this financially perilous terrain is especially important given efforts at the federal level to weaken scrutiny on lenders.

“Unscrupulous lenders have enormous power to wreak havoc on the financial well-being of young adults seeking only to responsibly finance their higher education,” cautioned Senator Jason Lewis. “This important consumer protection legislation provides more tools and oversight measures to safeguard student loan recipients against predatory and unethical practices.”

Nationally, borrowers hold over $1.2 trillion in student debt, with student loan debt surpassing even credit card debt this decade. In Massachusetts, one in four people hold student debt, and the average balance has increased 75 percent over the last 10 years.

Under the bill, student loan servicers would have to apply for licenses from the state, which the Commissioner of Banks could revoke if the servicer is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits.

Student loan servicers that break state licensing requirements or take advantage of students could be fined and forced to repay student borrowers under the bill.

The bill now goes to the State House of Representatives.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Legislature Sends Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Bill to Governor’s Desk with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

Both Houses of the Massachusetts Legislature passed landmark criminal justice reform legislation, with support from Senator Jason Lewis. The bill passed the Massachusetts Senate with unanimous support, reflecting the bipartisan consensus on these reforms. An Act relative to criminal justice reform will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety.

The legislation contains provisions to provide better care for vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, and implements policies to strengthen protections for public safety and witness protection. The Legislature also passed the accompanying Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.

“These reforms will help address racial injustice, reduce recidivism, improve public safety, lower the taxpayer-funded costs of incarceration, and significantly improve the quality of life in many of our most disadvantaged communities across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis.

For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation would establish a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime.

The Legislature has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. The legislation establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission, which will make the state eligible for additional federal funding, and a Childhood Trauma Task Force to study and recommend gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches to treatment of youths in the juvenile justice system. The bill also extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.

This legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. Additionally, it creates the nation’s strongest law for Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens the existing Fentanyl trafficking law, bolstering the Legislature’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic. The legislation also strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence (OUI).

This legislation requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues in order to combat the opioid epidemic and provide healthcare parity. It also expands diversion programs to the Juvenile Court and removes the existing age restriction on diversion in the District Court.

Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing, enacting the following policies: reducing the wait time to seal a conviction from ten years to seven years for a felony, and from five years to three years for a misdemeanor; allowing a conviction for resisting arrest to be sealed; expanding the ability of an applicant with a sealed record to be able to answer “no record” on housing and professional license applications; and, establishing protections for businesses and landlords who shall be presumed to have no notice or ability to know about criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.

This legislation updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. It also raises the threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony from $250 to $1,000. It also creates the crime of solicitation that is tied to the severity of the underlying crime.

Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; and release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senate Passes Short-Term Rentals Bill with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate passed S. 2381, An Act regulating and insuring short-term rentals, with the support of Senator Jason Lewis. The bill expands the scope of the state’s room occupancy excise tax and local option excise tax to include short-term transient accommodations, including those arranged through platforms such as AirBnB.

The legislation would generate an estimated $34.5 million and $25.5 million in state and local revenues, respectively, based on the most recent Senate Ways and Means Fiscal Impact Report. The expanded tax base will automatically apply to all 175-plus cities and towns that have already adopted the local room occupancy excise to date.

“This important legislation includes measures to level the playing field, preserve local control and flexibility for cities and towns, and support the emerging short-term rental industry,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “As innovation continues to power the Massachusetts economy, our legal framework has to keep up to ensure fairness. This bill accomplishes that in a responsible and balanced way.”

The bill contains consumer protection measures, including a requirement that hosting platforms maintain liability insurance, and strengthens data collection and sharing for cities and towns. It also creates a commission to examine ways that hospitality lodging units can be used as a resource to increase availability of emergency shelter for displaced persons.

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senate Passes Housing Bond Bill with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate voted to pass S. 2368, An Act financing the production and preservation of housing for low and moderate income residents, a housing bond bill. The bill is the outcome of a session-long collaboration between the Senate and House, with a focus on preserving, modernizing, and increasing production of the state’s affordable housing stock.

In spite of other strong economic indicators, Massachusetts is in urgent need to further develop affordable housing. The housing shortage has placed the Commonwealth in the bottom tier of housing affordability, and rents have risen to the third highest in the nation. The Housing Bond bill authorizes $1.8 Billion in investments in the preservation and production of affordable housing across the Commonwealth.

Senator Lewis sees the housing bond bill as being at the intersection of state government’s role as a partner for cities and towns in promoting local economic development and his advocacy for policies that benefit working families and create greater economic opportunity for all.

“Keeping housing costs affordable is a necessity both for families’ qualities of life and for keeping our state economy growing,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “For our workforce to thrive, the cost of buying or renting a home cannot continue rising faster than much of the nation. The investments we’re making in housing through this bond bill are a significant step toward maintaining affordable access to quality housing for all.”

Critical authorizations include: $600M for the modernization and redevelopment of the State’s public housing stock; $400M for the development and preservation of affordable and mixed income housing; $125M for the preservation and improvement of existing and expiring use affordable housing; $100M for the preservation and development of workforce housing; $65M for community based housing for individuals living with mental illness or disabilities; $60M for home modification for elderly residents and those living with severe disabilities; $50M to incentivize smart growth production and transit oriented developments; and, $45M for the capital investments in early education and out of school programs for low income residents.

The bill also extends and expands critical tax credits dedicated to incentivizing the development and modernization of the Commonwealth’s housing stock.

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.