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Education Funding Bill Unanimously Clears Senate

The Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed an education reform bill Thursday night that would invest a new $1.5 billion in the state's public K-12 education system over the next seven years, with a focus on providing resources that will help low-income students.

The bill aims to funnel additional money into the state's public education system in a way that would boost every district. The legislation does not call for new or increased taxes to pay for the investment.

"Every community, every school district, would be getting more Chapter 70 aid under this bill, the Student Opportunity Act, than they would get if this bill does not get passed into law," Sen. Jason Lewis, chairman of the Education Committee, said. "

Almost four years ago, a state commission reported that the current starting point in the school funding formula, known as the foundation budget, underestimates the cost of education by an annual $1 billion by inadequately accounting for expenses associated with low-income students, English learners, special education and employee health benefits.

Since that report's release, lawmakers have made several attempts to overhaul the funding formula. In each of the last two legislative sessions, House and Senate Democrats have been unable to agree on an approach to school finance reform. Last year, the House and Senate each passed education financing bills, but negotiators could not reconcile them before the final minutes of formal sessions ticked away.

"This has been a long time coming, as we all know. This is really a historic day in this chamber and that is not an overstatement by any means," Sen. Sal DiDomenico said.

Thursday's debate in the Senate was preceded by handwringing over the Baker administration's release of its own town-by-town analysis of the bill's impacts on school funding. Senate leaders argued that the administration's numbers did not tell the whole story and needed to be put in the proper context.

The House has not specified a date to take up the bill but it is expected to surface before mid-November, when the House and Senate are scheduled to embark on another break that runs into early January.

Without new revenue sources, the commitments under the bill, or other state programs that may lose funds to the education initiative, could be threatened by an economic slowdown or a recession. But for now, supporters of the bill are pressing for its near-term passage, and hoping the state will then deliver on its promises.

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