Column: Now is the Time to Finally Fix the School Funding Formula in Massachusetts

John Adams said, “Laws for liberal education of youth… are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” In drafting the Massachusetts state constitution (the oldest written constitution still in use anywhere in the world), Adams recognized that education is indispensable to the success and prosperity of a society, which is why he enshrined a right to education in this foundational document.

The landmark Education Reform Act of 1993 put in place a funding formula, known as Chapter 70, that was designed to ensure that every school district in Massachusetts would be fairly and adequately funded and every student would have access to a quality education. First, a “foundation budget” is calculated for each school district to determine the resources needed to educate the students in that district. Then, the “local contribution,” the amount that each municipality must contribute from its own revenues, is calculated based upon local income levels and property values. Finally, the state government allocates Chapter 70 aid annually to fill the gap between the foundation budget and the required local contribution. Additionally, if it so chooses, each community can put more of its local resources toward education if it wants to spend an amount greater than the foundation budget.

This formula worked well through the 1990s, with progress made in reducing inequities in school funding and closing student achievement gaps. However, we have been backsliding since 2000 because the foundation budget has become outdated and no longer accurately reflects the true costs to educate our young people in the 21st Century. This is due to a variety of factors, including rapidly rising healthcare costs, greater special education needs, underestimating the challenges faced by students from high poverty neighborhoods and non-native English language speakers, and more.

When I was a State Representative, I filed legislation that created the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC). This bipartisan commission spent a year studying school finance issues and received input from education stakeholders across Massachusetts. The FBRC’s 2015 report confirmed the gaps in the foundation budget and estimated that we are shortchanging our public schools by $1-2 billion annually, with the greatest harm being done to our poorest communities.

In the years since, the state Senate has twice passed legislation to implement the recommendations of the FBRC. Unfortunately, at the end of the previous legislative session in 2018, the House and Senate were unable to reach final agreement on the details of the necessary changes to the foundation budget and Chapter 70 formula. With the start of the new legislative session last month, I’m pleased that the House, Senate and Governor Baker have all indicated that fixing the formula is a top priority this year.

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz has re-filed legislation known as the Education PROMISE Act, and I’m proud to co-sponsor and help champion the passage of this bill. It would fully implement all the recommendations of the FBRC, which would lead to major improvements in the adequacy and equity of school funding in the Commonwealth. In addition to passing the Education PROMISE Act, we will also need to raise additional funding to enable the state to fully meet its obligations. This is why I’m committed to leading the effort to pass the Fair Share Amendment or millionaire’s tax in Massachusetts (more on this initiative in a future column).

Our students, schools, and communities can’t wait any longer for us to fix the school funding formula. We must get it done this year.

Senator Lewis Shares 2019-2020 Legislative Agenda

BOSTON, MA – Last month, Senator Jason Lewis filed dozens of bills for the 2019-2020 legislative session.

“I’m excited to champion a bold legislative agenda for the 2019-2020 legislative session,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I filed 98 bills that would advance equality, opportunity, justice, and sustainability for our communities and the entire Commonwealth. I’m also pleased to co-sponsor several hundred bills filed by my Senate and House colleagues.”

The bills Senator Lewis filed address many policy areas and issues, including shared prosperity, education and childcare, healthcare and wellness, a sustainable future, and social justice. To read more about individual bills, please follow the links below.

Link: Shared Prosperity  |  Link: Education & Childcare

Senator Lewis to Lead Working Group on Federal Government Shutdown

BOSTON — Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) joined with Senator Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester) on Thursday to announce a seven-member, bipartisan working group to examine the challenges facing the Commonwealth in light of the federal government shutdown, as well as to develop creative ways to help those Massachusetts families impacted.

“This shutdown has gone on far longer than expected, and, as a result, Massachusetts families and our economy could start to encounter serious challenges,” said Senate President Spilka. “Creating this bipartisan working group will allow us to effectively strategize ways to protect and care for individuals and families affected by the government shutdown, while also preparing for the long-term implications for our economy.”

“The federal shutdown is already having serious consequences for public employees struggling to pay their bills without paychecks, it also holds a looming possibility of far reaching impacts for our state and our economy,” said Minority Leader Tarr. “While it will hopefully end soon, we shouldn’t wait to consider the actions our state government may need to take to confront and prevent harm to the people of the Commonwealth in the face of this unprecedented situation.  This bipartisan work group will do just that.”

“I don’t think anybody expected that the federal government could be shut down for this long or that we could be facing such serious consequences for so many families and small businesses, not to mention impacts on public health and safety,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “We all hope that this shutdown will end very soon but in the meantime we must assess the harmful impacts on Massachusetts and what steps our state government can take immediately to help mitigate these impacts.”

Working group members will examine ways to help struggling families and individuals find relief and meet their basic needs, including groceries, housing and childcare. It will also evaluate proposals designed to extend unemployment insurance (UI), as well as attempt to assess coming challenges to the Commonwealth if the shutdown continues.

The working group, which will be chaired by Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester), consists of Senator Michael D. Brady (D-Brockton), Joanne M. Comerford (D-Northampton), Viriato deMacedo (R-Plymouth), Donald F. Humason Jr. (R-Westfield), Senator Patricia D. Jehlen (D-Somerville), and Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury).

Nearly 8,000 federal workers in Massachusetts have been out of work since the government shutdown began on December 22, 2018. The shutdown is the longest in U.S. history.

Senator Lewis Files Legislation to Revive the Fair Share Amendment

BOSTON — On Friday, State Senator Jason Lewis (5th Middlesex District) and State Representative James O’Day (14th Worcester District) filed legislation in the State Senate and State House of Representatives to revive the “Fair Share Amendment,” a proposed Massachusetts constitutional amendment that could generate as much as $2 billion in new revenue to support the state’s education and transportation systems.

The Fair Share Amendment would add a surtax of four percentage points on annual taxable income that is above $1 million. The new revenue generated by the tax would be invested in public schools, more affordable public colleges and universities, and the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation. To ensure that the tax continues to apply only to the highest-income taxpayers, the $1 million threshold would be adjusted each year to reflect cost-of-living increases.

Right now, the highest-income households in Massachusetts – those in the top 1 percent – pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than does any other income group. Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of income inequality of any state in the nation. The best way to help working families and build a stronger economy for all is to make sure that we have quality public schools for all children, affordable public higher education, and a world-class transportation system.

In 2015, Raise Up Massachusetts launched a campaign for the Fair Share Amendment by collecting more than 157,000 signatures from Massachusetts voters. In May 2016 and again in June 2017, the state legislature, meeting jointly in a Constitutional Convention, voted overwhelmingly to advance the citizen’s initiative proposal and place it on the 2018 ballot.

The Fair Share Amendment was supported by a large majority of Massachusetts voters in repeated public polling, but was challenged by a lawsuit and then removed from the ballot by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. However, the basis for that disqualification was narrow, and does not apply to a legislative version of the amendment.

“The $2 billion in new revenue that this proposal would raise would go a long way in helping to fix crumbling roads and bridges, improving service on the MBTA and other public transportation, increasing funding for public schools, expanding access to quality early childhood education, and making higher education more affordable for students and families” said Senator Jason Lewis, the bill’s sponsor in the State Senate. “It’s also the best way to raise revenue that would make our tax system fairer and more progressive, rather than increasing taxes on middle class families who cannot afford to pay more.”

“The Fair Share Amendment would be critical to our Commonwealth’s investment in infrastructure, transportation and education – all of which are key to social mobility in the State of Massachusetts,” said Representative James O’Day. “The highest-income households in Massachusetts – those in the top 1 percent – pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes compared to other income groups. A tax system like this would alleviate the burden on middle-class families who are struggling to pay more.”

O’Day and Lewis both cited their strong desire to return the decision on the amendment to voters—an opportunity taken away by the Supreme Judicial Court’s 2018 decision—so that the citizens of Massachusetts can decide if the Fair Share Amendment is the best approach for raising necessary revenues, making the tax system fairer, and supporting transportation and education investments across the Commonwealth.

Gender Equity Bill Signed, Ensuring Fair Coverage in Disability Insurance

BOSTON — A bill filed by State Representative Ruth Balser and State Senator Jason Lewis to prevent gender discrimination in disability insurance was signed into law Thursday by Governor Charlie Baker.

In the state-regulated individual insurance market, women pay more than men for the same disability insurance benefits. Filings with the Division of Insurance show that women in Massachusetts pay more for the same disability insurance benefits than men in the same occupation class. This is true across the board, regardless of the insurance company, the age of the purchaser, the occupation class, the duration of benefits, whether long-term or short-term disability insurance. In every case, women pay more. On average, women pay 23.5% more than men. However, sometimes it is even more than that. Under some policies, women pay 61% more than men.

The bill prohibits insurers from charging higher disability insurance premiums based solely on gender, race, religion, or national origin. Currently, state-regulated disability insurance is classified by sex, and filings at the Division of Insurance show different premiums for men and women with the same job classification. For example, male nurses pay less than female nurses for the same disability policy. The new law will address this disparity.

“Women’s rights groups have been working to eliminate gender discrimination in insurance since the 1970s when Massachusetts adopted the Equal Rights amendment to the state constitution.  Slowly and incrementally, Massachusetts has eliminated gender disparities in most insurance products including automobile, homeowners, health, and annuities,” said Representative Ruth Balser, the lead House sponsor of the bill. “Today we have eliminated the unfair practice of charging women more than men for the same disability protection.  Many thanks to the large coalition of groups led by the Mass Commission on the Status of Women, the legislature, and the Governor for insisting that Massachusetts continues to lead when it comes to ensuring equality for all.”

“On the long march to gender equality, the passage of this bill is another step forward,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the bill’s lead sponsor in the state Senate. “Thank you to Rep. Balser and the advocates who worked tirelessly for many years to pass this legislation; it will improve fairness and lower insurance premiums for tens of thousands of women in Massachusetts.”

Nina Kimball, the Chair of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, said: “The Commission on the Status of Women commends Governor Baker for signing this bill that will finally bring equality to women purchasing disability insurance, ensuring an end to gender discriminatory pricing in the Commonwealth — which for years have prevented many women from being able to afford disability insurance that could protect them and their families when a medical crisis arises.

“MA has much to be proud of in the passage of the Equitable Disability Insurance Bill,” Kimball continued. “We are only the second state in the nation to eliminate gender discrimination in disability insurance. This is no small feat. And no small change for women of the Commonwealth. Now instead of having to make the horrifying decision to risk economic stability because insurance costs are out of reach, women will be able to protect themselves and their families. Women will be able to care for themselves and ensure economic security for their families at the most vulnerable time of illness and injury.”

Please fill out our brief constituent feedback survey

BOSTON — With a new legislative session beginning in January, State Senator Jason Lewis is preparing his policy agenda and priorities, and is seeking feedback from constituents on the issues that are most important to them and their families.

Senator Lewis invites you to fill out a brief survey, which can be found at this link. The survey should only take a few minutes to complete and all responses will be anonymous.

To gather further input from his constituents, Senator Lewis will be holding a “virtual town hall” in January. During a Facebook live-stream on January 8 at 6:00 pm, he will discuss the survey results and take questions and feedback from the online audience.

Constituents may also contact Senator Lewis anytime by phone at (617) 722-1206 or by email at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov with any concerns to bring to his attention or feedback to share with him on any issue.

Senator Lewis Submits Testimony on National Grid Bill

A letter from Senator Jason Lewis to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy:

December 4, 2018

The Honorable Michael J. Barrett
Senate Chair, Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy

The Honorable Thomas A. Golden
House Chair, Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy

Dear Chair Barrett and Chair Golden:

Please accept this correspondence as my testimony in support of House Bill 4960, An Act relative to the employment of certain workers by National Grid.

As we in the Legislature grapple with the multiple explosions in Merrimack Valley on September 13th of this year caused by over-pressurized gas mains, we need to think long and hard about how the Commonwealth’s gas infrastructure is operated. While natural gas is a tool by which so many heat their homes, cook food, and get hot water, we were reminded on September 13th of how dangerous it can be when not handled with care.

When the United Steel Workers were locked out on June 24th by National Grid, good workers with vast amounts of experience were put on the sideline. USW offered to extend their contract while bargaining continues but National Grid refused. Instead, National Grid decided to sideline those workers and take away their wages and benefits in an effort to gain leverage in negotiations. It is unfortunate that National Grid is utilizing such a tactic. It is a bad faith negotiation tactic and it endangers the citizens of my district and the Commonwealth.

This legislation would deny public funds, including chapter 90 money, to National Grid for use on gas infrastructure work and would prevent National Grid from seeking any increases in rates. Most importantly, this legislation would ensure that the locked out workers receive health insurance so that they receive needed care that we all should expect. If passed into law, the provisions of this bill would last until the end of the lockout, which I hope will come soon.

I respectfully request the Committee to vote favorably on this legislation as soon as possible. Please do not hesitate to contact my office should you require any further information.

Sincerely,

Jason M. Lewis

Senator Lewis Accepting Applications for 2019 Winter/Spring State House Internships

Senator Jason Lewis is looking for civic-minded individuals interested in a winter-spring internship in his State House office. State Senator Jason Lewis proudly represents the people of the Fifth Middlesex District of Massachusetts, which includes the cities and towns of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and parts of Winchester. He has been a leader in shaping public policy on a range of issues important to his district, region and the state, including healthcare, education, and economic opportunity for all.

Interns will have the unique opportunity to experience policymaking, politics and government from the inside. Although unpaid, interns will obtain meaningful experience by witnessing and participating in the day-to-day functioning of a State Senate office.

Interns will report mainly to Lizzi Tran, Constituent Affairs Director, and will be responsible for assisting with a variety of tasks, ranging from constituent correspondence to legislative research to database management to communications and social media projects. In addition, interns will have the opportunity to attend events, hearings, and meetings in the State House. Interns in Senator Lewis’ office will gain the satisfaction of serving the Commonwealth and will be able to add valuable experience to their resume.

Interns must have excellent written and verbal communication skills, a high level of attention to detail, and good overall professionalism. Candidates must also be comfortable with Microsoft Office, Google applications, and major social media platforms. Preference will be given to college students and young adults, but high school students will also be considered. Winter/Spring internships generally span from late January to early April. Hours are negotiable, ranging from 10-14 hours per week.

Candidates with a particular interest in communications, public relations, graphic design, video production or social media should indicate so in their application.

Candidates should send a resume, brief letter of interest, and writing sample to Elizabeth.Tran@masenate.gov by Friday, January 4, 2019. References should be available upon request. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, so interested parties are encouraged to apply promptly. With questions, please call (617) 722-1206.

Senator Lewis to Host Forum on Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault

Continuing his “Community Conversations” discussion series, Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to host an upcoming conversation on education, prevention and survivor support strategies in the challenging areas of teen dating violence and sexual assault. “Community Conversations” are issue discussions delving into a different timely topic at each forum, with ample opportunity for residents to share feedback and have their questions answered by experts on the given topic.

This upcoming event — Community Conversations: Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault — will take place on Wednesday, November 14, at 6:00pm. The event will occur at Memorial Hall, 590 Main St, Melrose, and is free and open to the public. Attendees will hear from Melrose Alliance Against Violence Executive Director Rebecca Mooney, anti-violence advocate Dr. Malcolm Astley, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Director of Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention and Education Mark Bergeron-Naper, with introductory remarks from Senator Lewis, State Representative Paul Brodeur, and Melrose Mayor Gail Infurna. Senator Lewis is the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health.

This forum will offer the chance to hear directly from advocates and experts about the salient and challenging topics of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and sexual violence. Director Mooney will discuss the teen dating violence public awareness initiatives undertaken by the Melrose Alliance Against Violence, and Dr. Astley will share his real-world experience with teen dating violence and the important advocacy efforts he has undertaken to educate youth, especially young men, about consent and violence prevention. Director Bergeron-Naper will give insight into his work coordinating the prevention and education initiatives in the Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention and Services Division of the Massachusetts DPH Bureau of Community Health & Prevention. There will be ample opportunity for Q&A from attendees.

The forum is co-sponsored by Mayor Gail Infurna, State Representative Paul Brodeur, the Melrose Alliance Against Violence, the Stoneham Alliance Against Violence, the Wakefield Alliance Against Violence, and the Winchester Coalition for a Safer Community.

Previous “Community Conversations” forums have addressed topics including: public education; public transportation; small business and entrepreneurship; challenges facing senior citizens and caregivers; veterans’ issues; mental health; housing; energy policy and environmental priorities; and, efforts to combat substance abuse and opioid addiction in our region.

Senator Lewis Supports Passage of Budget Bill Investing in Local Priorities

BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts Legislature passed a budget bill which invests in local community priorities, such as school security, road and bridge repairs, and municipal snow and ice removal relief, in addition to responsibly contributing to the state’s “rainy day” stabilization fund and supporting other fiscal and policy priorities. Senator Jason Lewis supported the legislation’s passage.

“The budget bill will support our towns and cities with essential funding for local road repairs and school security, delivering the support that our communities need from the state” said Senator Jason Lewis. “At the same time, the bill invests substantially in our rainy day fund to make sure that our state is prepared to meet any future economic downturn without interruptions to crucial state services and programs.”

The supplemental budget includes $40 million in Chapter 90 funding for roads and bridges, and $32 million for snow and ice removal.

The budget bill directs $7.5 million to the Executive Office of Education to establish an infrastructure grant program to assist public schools in enhancing safety and security measures by upgrading or retrofitting school buildings. The program would pay for, among other things, classroom door locks, security cameras or active shooter detection systems. The grant funding will also assist school districts in contracting with licensed community-based mental and behavioral health service providers for services in public schools.

The supplemental budget also deposits $240 million into the state “rainy day” stabilization fund, pushing that account’s balance past $2 billion and leaving the Commonwealth better prepared for any future economic downturn or major revenue loss.

The supplemental budget bill is on Governor Baker’s desk awaiting his signature.