Student Opportunity Act has multiple benefits to education in Massachusetts
Throughout my campaign and my tenure in the Senate, one of the things I heard from you, frequently and consistently, was the need to reform our statewide education funding system. I am so proud to say, we got it done.
The Student Opportunity Act is game-changing education equity legislation. The schools and educational needs in our district are diverse, and the Student Opportunity Act, in a herculean way, lifts up everyone. That’s why I voted for it, along with every single one of my Senate colleagues. Every child in the Commonwealth deserves a quality education and a fair shot at a bright future.
The Student Opportunity Act makes an unprecedented $1.5 billion investment in K-12 public education. Highlights of the legislation include: restoring the definition of low-income students to 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL); fully funding charter school reimbursements; accounting for special education transportation costs in the Foundation Budget; accurate estimations of employee and retiree health care costs; English learner funding that better reflects actual needs, differentiated by grade level; additional funding proportional to a district’s percentage of low-income students, with an additional increment of 100 percent of the base foundation to the districts educating the largest percentages of low-income students; a $200 million increase to the annual cap on MA School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for school construction and renovation projects; and enhanced funding for guidance and psychological counseling services to support students’ social-emotional learning and mental health.
If you’ve followed me at all, you know that I care deeply about the data. We cannot properly manage what we don’t measure. I am very pleased that the Student Opportunity Act creates a Data Advisory Commission to help the state, districts, and individual schools use data to shape strategic planning, student learning, and resource allocation.
I am also proud to report that through the amendment process, I directly enhanced the equity provisions of the bill, specifically regarding parent engagement. We know that parent engagement is critical to student success; we also know that participation is easier for some and more complicated for others, including parents who work multiple jobs to make ends meet, single parents, and parents who speak a language not shared by teachers or school administrators. My amendment, included in the final Senate bill, ensures that districts provide supported outreach and engagement opportunities to low-income families, families of English learners, and families of students receiving special education services. The amendment also requires districts to report their initiatives to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), so districts throughout the Commonwealth can replicate best practices to support equitable parent engagement. As I said on the floor, if we want to create equity, then we have to break down the barriers precluding that equity.
Charter schools were a big component of the Senate debate. Beyond the bill, the Senate will launch a working group to take a comprehensive look at our overall charter school policy and further advance educational equity for all students.
We still have work to do, of course. For example, regional school transportation is still underfunded, and our conversations about revenue to support this $1.5 billion investment are not done. The Senate has committed to multi-million dollar increases in education funding every year during the seven-year phase-in period of this bill, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that happens.
The bottom line? The Student Opportunity Act, as passed unanimously by the Senate, reduces educational opportunity gaps and benefits every single district in the Commonwealth. I am deeply grateful for the tremendous work and leadership of many of my colleagues who brought this bill to fruition, especially Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, co-chairs of the Education Committee Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Alice Peisch, and Senate President Karen Spilka. I am also grateful to the countless advocates without whom this bill would not exist.
The next stop for this historic legislation is the House of Representatives, and I look forward to supporting my House colleagues as they consider it. A child’s educational opportunities should not be determined by their zip code, so I won’t stop fighting for the Student Opportunity Act until it becomes law. This is what you elected me to do. I am so honored to be a part of this incredible progress.
Sen. Becca Rausch represents the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex District, comprised of Attleboro, Franklin, Millis, Natick, Needham, Norfolk, North Attleborough, Plainville, Sherborn, Wayland, Wellesley, and Wrentham. Currently in her first term, Rausch serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government and the Senate Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs.