With just a few changes, the Senate last night unanimously approved a $1.5 billion multiyear school finance bill that was unveiled by House and Senate leaders on Sept. 19.

The Student Opportunity Act (S. 2350) now goes to the House, where it could be taken up as early as next week.

There were 69 amendments filed for debate in the Senate, and most were rejected or withdrawn, including an MMA-supported amendment to increase the minimum new school aid floor to $100 per student.

The Senate also rejected an amendment that would establish a Charter School Policy Review Commission to study the fiscal and educational impact of how charter schools are financed and administered. In a letter to senators, the MMA argued that the current system financially harms cities, towns and local school districts, lacks real transparency and accountability, and needs serious review and reform. Instead, senators said they would set up a special work group to take a look at problems related to charter schools.

The Senate did adopt an MMA-supported amendment that would establish a special commission to study the fiscal health of rural school districts.

Much of the early part of the Senate’s debate yesterday focused on the availability of reliable estimates of the impact of the bill’s Chapter 70 changes on local contribution and school aid amounts for individual cities, towns and school districts. The governor released an impact estimate for individual cities and towns earlier in the week, including a look at what could happen in fiscal 2021. Legislators have criticized the governor’s numbers, but have not released their own analysis.

In the letter to the Senate before debate started, the MMA stated its support for the Student Opportunity Act and urged legislators to enact a final bill before formal sessions end in November so that it will be in place before the fiscal 2021 state budget process begins in January.

The MMA’s letter noted that, as a member of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, the MMA supported 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.

Link to full text of S.2348 Student Opportunity Act (before amendments)
Student Opportunity Act Summary (before amendments) (632K PDF)

See amendments to the Student Opportunity Act (S. 2350)

Written by