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.