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Baker Signs Ambitious Education Law That Will Send Billions Of Dollars To Mass. Public Schools

Gov. Charlie Baker gestures to the audience in the gymnasium of Boston's English High School after signing a landmark education funding reform law on Tuesday. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
Gov. Charlie Baker gestures to the audience in the gymnasium of Boston's English High School after signing a landmark education funding reform law on Tuesday. (Sam Doran/SHNS)

With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Charlie Baker made it official: Massachusetts will send billions more in aid to its public schools over the course of the next seven years.

On Tuesday afternoon, Baker signed the Student Opportunities Act, the first major overhaul of school funding in this state since 1993.

The law is projected to add about $1.5 billion in annual state aid to schools by 2026, when it is fully phased in. The increase will reach most of the state, but it will be particularly targeted at urban districts with high concentrations of low-income students and English learners, and where many district funds now flow to charter schools.

At a signing ceremony at The English High School in Jamaica Plain, Baker praised lawmakers and advocates from very different backgrounds for working together on the bill: "that every kid in the commonwealth ... regardless of where they live or where they go to school, has the opportunity to get the education they need to be great."

The event took place before a planned pep rally ahead of English's annual football game against Boston Latin, so students' marching band and step-dancing crew lent the event some celebratory energy.

Brenda Cassellius, the new superintendent of Boston Public Schools, kicked off the proceedings with a chant of "Sign that bill!" Cassellius said afterward that she wants "to spend every single dollar" of new aid that BPS receives on the district's "neediest" students.

Some on Beacon Hill didn’t expect such ambitious legislation to be confirmed and signed so quickly and with so little friction. The bill didn’t earn a single “no” vote in either chamber, during multiple votes.

But this change was long in coming.

Since 1993, the state has apportioned Chapter 70 aid to cover part of each school district’s projected minimum costs — also known as their foundation budget. The amount of aid each district receives is based on its revenue from property taxes, ranging from 17.5% to 82.5% of those minimum costs.

But in 2015, a bipartisan commission found the state was underestimating what those minimum costs should be, and sometimes radically.

Statewide, health care benefits and special education were outstripping increases in Chapter 70 aid. And a mounting body of research suggested that English learners and low-income students benefit from extended learning time and extra support staff. But millions of those students were clustered in districts that were struggling to pay their base costs — let alone those added resources.

In the years since, some lawmakers — led by that commission’s co-chair, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston — have led efforts to update the foundation budget formula behind those calculations. But their highest-profile push failed in the summer of 2018, in the waning moments of the last legislative session.

Related:

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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