State Senate passes Student Opportunity Act

The Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed the Student Opportunity Act on October 3rd. The bill will next go to the House of Representatives for consideration. If made law, the bill would provide an estimated $1.4 billion in additional state aid to Massachusetts public elementary and secondary schools. The increase would be instituted over a period of seven years, adjusted for inflation.

Gloucester, Rockport, and Essex representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante supports the bill. “The bill also provides additional state financial support to public schools to deliver high-quality education to every student, implements policy updates designed to maximize the impact of new funding in improving student outcomes, and identifies education policy areas requiring further analysis” said Ferrante in a September 26th press release

The bill would have a direct effect on the Gloucester Public Schools according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Safier. The increased funding could go towards covering transportation costs for special needs students, providing the resources needed by older English learners, and expanding mental health services in the schools. Increased funding would also enable the schools to more significantly account for employee and retiree healthcare costs. 

“The bill also recognizes percentages of students from low-income households to a greater degree than is currently accounted for,” said Safier. “The definition of low-income is returned to 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133 percent level that has been used in recent years.”

According to the text of the bill, districts receiving funding would develop a three year plan to reach targets established to address “persistent disparities in achievement among student subgroups,” and will be developed with input from “parents and other relevant community stakeholders.”

The proposed funding is in line with the recommendations of The Foundation Budget Review Commission issued in 2015, which stated that the cost of providing special education and health insurance has been underestimated, and that the funds provided for services for low income students and English language learners “are less than needed to fully provide the level of intervention and support needed to ensure the academic and social emotional success of these populations.”

The report recommended changes to the Foundation Budget, which establishes the funds allocated to Massachusetts public schools. Gloucester High School teacher and Massachusetts Teachers’ Association Senate District Coordinator Eric Leigh said that the Gloucester School district has been disadvantaged by the current methods of determining need. 

“Historically Gloucester has not fared very well because we have very high property values here near the ocean, and not a lot of industry,” said Leigh, “we haven’t gotten as much aid as other cities our same size.”

“The last time any changes that were made to this formula was 1993,” said Leigh. “Think of the things that have changed since 1993; the number of students diagnosed with ADHD, the widening income inequality, ELL students, the healthcare costs, schools that are falling apart, special needs education, including transport, the implementation of charter schools. All of these costs have increased but there’s been no change in the formula.”

The most recent data from the Mass budget council, is that by 2026 Gloucester could receive up to 2.1 million more a year if the bill becomes a law.

Leigh works with the organization called Funding Our Future to advocate on behalf of the Student Opportunity Act. The organization advocates for equity in public education.

All kids should have an equal education,” said Leigh, “regardless of their zip code.”