Column: The Student Opportunity Act Reaffirms Our Commonwealth’s Commitment to Public Education

Massachusetts has a long and proud commitment to public education. President John Adams, the author of our state constitution, saw public education as the spark that would set the fire of democracy alight. Horace Mann championed the once radical idea of a free public education for all children.

The Commonwealth’s strong commitment to high quality public schools has provided us with a highly educated workforce and a dynamic 21st century economy. The passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act has been credited with putting Massachusetts students at the top of national and international lists of student achievement. That legislation set high academic standards, along with assessments to measure student performance, and established a first-in-the-nation funding formula to ensure that all districts had the resources necessary to provide the education needed to meet the standards.

While the standards and assessments have been periodically updated, and the funding annually increased to reflect cost increases, concern that some elements of the formula were not keeping up with inflation led the Legislature to reinstate the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC). The FBRC identified four areas within the formula that needed to be updated — employee and retiree health insurance costs, special education costs, and the additional amounts provided to serve the needs of English learners and low-income students. The Legislature and Governor Baker began implementing these recommendations in Fiscal Year 2018.

The Student Opportunity Act, released by the Joint Committee on Education last week, ensures full implementation of the FBRC’s recommendations over a seven year schedule, giving school districts the additional resources needed to educate students and the predictability needed to build an effective school budget. This unprecedented $1.5 billion pre-inflation investment will go a long way towards closing opportunity gaps facing students, especially for our minority and low-income students. The Student Opportunity Act also recognizes that more needs to be done to support our schools, and it contains a number of additional funding provisions, including: updating foundation budget rates for guidance and psychological services to better meet the social-emotional and mental health needs of students; fully funding charter school transitional tuition reimbursements to help districts that lose students to charter schools; expanding the special education “circuit breaker” to reimburse districts for out-of-district transportation costs in addition to instructional costs; and lifting the annual spending cap on the Massachusetts School Building Authority so that more school construction and renovation projects can move forward sooner.

The Student Opportunity Act also recognizes that additional steps are necessary to maximize the impact of this new funding in improving student outcomes and closing opportunity gaps. The bill establishes a new 21st Century Education Trust Fund that will support districts and schools pursuing creative approaches to closing opportunity and achievement gaps, and will help schools identify effective practices that can be shared across the Commonwealth. This Fund will also support efforts to achieve greater efficiencies in districts facing low and declining student enrollment, particularly in rural areas of the state. In addition, the bill requires school districts to develop public plans with clear goals and metrics for improving student outcomes; directs the Secretary of Education to collect and publish data on student preparedness in each district and high school for post-graduate success in college and the workforce; and creates a new Data Advisory Commission to improve the use of data at the state, district, and school levels in strengthening instruction and learning.

This consensus legislation is the result of work shaped by ongoing and vital input provided by education stakeholders from across Massachusetts, including teachers, administrators, students, parents, state and local officials, business leaders, academic experts and community organizations.

We believe this legislation reaffirms the Commonwealth’s commitment to providing a high quality public education to all students, and will set a course for greater academic and life success for current and future generations of students.


Representative Alice H. Peisch
House Chair, Joint Committee on Education

Senator Jason Lewis
Senate Chair, Joint Committee on Education