Statehouse dome

The Massachusetts Statehouse. (AP file photo)

The state Senate Thursday unanimously approved long-awaited changes to the way schools are funded to better account for rising costs.

The legislation, spearheaded by lead sponsor Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, adopted reforms recommended by a commission she headed in 2015.

The changes would require the state to more accurately account for factors such as the rising cost of health insurance for school employees and increases in special education when distributing so-called Chapter 70 aid to schools.

Senate passage is not a sure bet to solving school funding problems, however. The House has not yet taken up the matter and there is the question of where the $1 billion to $2 billion needed for implementation will come from.

But, support for the bill was so widespread that conservatives such as Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, and Republican leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, joined liberal Democrats such as Chang-Diaz in voting for it.

Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, pointed to the financial troubles schools systems such as Norton are having because the increase in state aid is so low.

Norton, which is getting less than a 1 percent increase in aid in the coming school year, is considering laying off 25 teachers. Attleboro laid off 35 two years ago.

Feeney, who campaigned for office promising to support the changes, said the bill was one of his highest priorities.

“This bill was at the top of the list for me. It will go a long way in leveling the playing field. It would more accurately reflect the true costs,” he said.

He said the bill, if signed into law, would phase in changes to the funding formula so the state would not have to come up with all the funding at once.

“It doesn’t flip a switch and come up with all the money upfront,” he said.

Feeney supports a ballot measure that would place a surtax on millionaires to fund education and transportation.

State Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham also supported the Chang-Diaz bill.

“Massachusetts leads the nation in so many areas, yet municipalities are being squeezed to face more and more mandates and challenges to an already very high bar,” Ross said in a statement.

“I support modernizing the foundation budget because we owe it to our communities to follow through on our commitment to providing the best education possible for all students.”

The school aid funding formula was written in 1993 and was supposed to be reviewed every four years, but no changes have been made in the past two decades.

By not accurately accounting for the true costs of running a school system, the state has forcing cities and towns to bear a greater share of the financial burden, straining their budgets, local leaders said.

Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux, a former state representative, said he supported the changes when he was in the House but cautioned the new formula could have unintended consequences.

While forcing the state to increase its funding, it could also call on cities and towns to budget more for schools, he said.

Jim Hand may be reached at 508-236-0399 or You can follow him on Twitter at @TSCpolitics.

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