Dear Senator,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association would like to express our support and appreciation for the Student Opportunity Act before you for consideration today. We hope that the final bill will become law before formal sessions end in November, so that this important legislation will be in place before the fiscal 2021 state budget process begins in January.

We applaud the leadership of Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and the hard-working Education Committee chairs, Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Alice Peisch, for devoting countless hours to this task, and for reaching an agreement on this important legislation. While important interim progress has been made regarding Chapter 70 funding in recent state budget acts, this bill is needed to improve on these steps and make them an enduring part of state law.

For many years, stakeholders representing all aspects of Massachusetts have embraced the need to update the spending standards in Chapter 70, as a necessary action to keep the state’s landmark 1993 school finance law current and aligned with the actual needs and costs at the local level. This school finance bill, advanced last month by the Committee on Education (S. 2348) and by the Senate Ways and Means Committee (S. 2350), would amend key parts of Chapter 70 consistent with the 2015 recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. As a member of the Commission, the MMA was a strong voice in calling for updating the foundation factors that significantly undercounted basic education costs, including in the areas of special education, school employee health insurance, and educational programs for low-income and English learner students. We also endorse the increase in foundation rates for guidance and psychological services to support expanded social, emotional and mental health programming, about which we heard compelling testimony at the Commission’s public hearings. The Student Opportunity Act addresses all of these important improvements.

Separate from Chapter 70, we also strongly support the proposed changes to the special education circuit breaker program to include reimbursement for a portion of eligible out-of-district transportation costs, and the plan to phase in full funding of the statutory formula for charter school impact reimbursements. We look forward to these important items being included in future state budget bills, as well as the increase in the cap on spending through the school building assistance program. All of these initiatives are essential complements to the Chapter 70 investments.

There are many thoughtful amendments that have been filed for your consideration and action during your deliberations. We are highlighting three key amendments in this letter, each of which is consistent with the MMA’s longstanding school finance policies and priorities.

MINIMUM AID: We support Amendment #6, which would increase the minimum aid floor from $30 per student to $100 per student. A large number of communities will likely remain “minimum-aid-only” going forward, and at $30 per student, these school districts would receive below-inflation increases each year. At $100 per student, this amendment would provide support that would enable these cities, towns and school districts to maintain quality education programs and avoid extreme overreliance on the property tax.

CHARTER SCHOOL POLICY REVIEW COMMISSION: We support Amendment #29, which would establish a Charter School Policy Review Commission to study the fiscal and educational impact of how charter schools are financed and administered. The current system financially harms cities and towns and local school districts and lacks any real transparency or accountability. Even if the charter school reimbursement formula is fully funded, many districts could still lose more Chapter 70 funding to charter schools each year than they receive in new aid, which is why the entire charter funding system should be examined and improved.

RURAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS: We support Amendment #64, which would establish a special commission to study the fiscal health of rural school districts and make recommendations to help ensure that students in sparsely populated parts of the state have access to an adequate education.

Of course, there are many other amendments and issues related to state support for K-12 education, covering dozens of budget items that are also taken up annually as state budget appropriations. We look forward to working with you on these issues as this legislation moves ahead, and as the fiscal 2021 state budget is developed and approved.

We look forward to enactment of this important legislation and thank you very much for your commitment to public education and the cities and towns of the Commonwealth.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO