No education funding package was going to satisfy everyone.
The Massachusetts Senate version that passed by unanimous vote didn’t do that.
But at long last, the Senate moved forward with a bill designed to launch the state into a new era of equal education opportunity. Now it goes to the House, where different philosophies on this package have existed, but the Senate’s 39-0 vote makes a powerful case for acceptance.
The Student Opportunity Act will require an increase of $1.5 billion annually by the time it is fully implemented. That’s a lot of money. But as a rule, most taxpayers accept spending on public education if they have the confidence that increased funding will actually produce better schools.
Senators believe there will not be a need for new taxes or revenue streams, meaning existing resources can absorb it. Frankly, that remains to be seen over the seven-year phase-in period for implementation. But if it happens, the bill could prove to be worth the cost and then some.
Debate over priorities, time frame and cost have been going on since 2015, when Massachusetts was deemed inadequate in serving needs that were not so prominent in 1993, the last time an educational overhaul took place.
The fiscal 2018 and 2019 years in particular ended with disappointment and no resolution.
The Senate version is being supported by teacher unions and education advocates, and hopefully not just out of relief that results are finally being delivered. The culminating debate did leave some ideas on the table.
No amendments were adopted regarding charter schools and reimbursements, nor where. There was also disappointment that even greater special education increases were not included.
One amendment that was adopted, however, will require local school committees to approve plans to address achievement gaps with input from parents, including parents of special education students and English language learners. It would set “measurable targets” for reducing achievement gaps.
Massachusetts sits at an education crossroads.
There are many admirable qualities in our schools, some as a carryover result of the 1993 legislation and others through the diligence of local administrators, teachers and an increasingly active parent base.
Will 21st Century needs be adequately addressed? Will kids from lower income areas, and not just those in more affluent districts, get a fair chance?
The Senate version says yes. Now it’s up to the House to see if this long-awaited reform can continue moving forward.