Many needs for new school funding
Educators continue activism after signing of Student Opportunity Act
In the photo at left, Weston teacher Zena Link, left, and Chicopee teacher Laura Demakis reacted to a speaker at the Student Opportunity Act
signing ceremony on Nov. 26. In the photo at right, Fitchburg Education Association Vice President Susan Flynn gathered input from fellow
members during a recent meeting about the best way to use the additional funding the law will bring to the city.
Photos by Scott McLennan and Bob Duffy
By Laura Barrett
M alden educators would like the city’s high school to offer enough courses so that students don’t have to sit in directed
studies attended by 75 to 100 young people.
Springfield educators have testified about the
need for more special education and English learner
teachers, art and music instruction, wraparound
services and paraprofessionals.
Fitchburg educators say they need increased
support for English learners, more adjustment
counselors, smaller class sizes and raises for
Students speaking at a Revere event advocated
for more wraparound services, after-school youth
programs and, in the words of one teen, courses
that teach them “actual life skills” such as financial
These voices were heard in just four of the
many communities in which MTA local associations
are already working to ensure that educators have
a say in how new funds resulting from the Student
Opportunity Act should be spent.
Based on the recently signed law, Governor
Charlie Baker has proposed increasing Chapter 70
school aid by $304 million next year over the current
fiscal year — and a projected $2 billion over this
year’s allocation when the bill is phased in as of
fiscal 2027. In addition, many districts will benefit
from two other changes: increasing the special
education circuit breaker and moving to full funding
of charter school reimbursements.
“We won this bill by engaging in community
forums, rallies, petitions, letter-writing and School
Committee resolutions, and by making a lot of noise
on Beacon Hill,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy.
Also contributing to the victory was a lawsuit
filed by the Council for Fair School Finance,
a coalition spearheaded by the MTA. The suit,
Mussotte v. Peyser, was filed on behalf of
plaintiffs from seven school districts, the NAACP
New England Area Conference and the Chelsea
It asserted that the underfunding of
Massachusetts public schools violated the state
Constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment, by
discriminating against students of color and low-income students, and the Education Clause. The
council announced on Jan. 27 that the lawsuit would
be withdrawn in light of passage of the Student
Opportunity Act. But the council will remain active
to monitor the state’s implementation of the law.
“MTA members in our under-resourced
communities know that this act is a once-in-a-generation chance to fundamentally alter the
conditions in their schools,” said MTA Vice
President Max Page. “They intend to have their
voices and the voices of the community heard.”
A ssessing the size of the increase requires context. The governor’s proposal to add $304 million represents about a 6 percent
increase over the current year. Of that total,
$103 million is to cover inflation and changes in
enrollment; the rest is for new services.
While significant, the proposed amount is lower
than earlier projections that were based on a different
method. Under those estimates, the phase-in would
have been front-loaded, with more than $400 million
allocated in the first year but less later on. The
method the Baker administration chose is designed
to smooth out the increases, leading to approximately
the same additional funding each year for seven
By the final year, the total increase and
distribution across districts should be about the
same: approximately $2 billion, or about 40 percent
over the current year.
While the approach appears to be consistent with
the law, some legislators and advocates expressed
concern because they had pinned their hopes on the
S enator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston) was particularly vocal, saying she felt that the $304 million was fine but that it should be
distributed in a way that provides a larger share to
districts such as hers that have high concentrations
of low-income students. Under the governor’s
budget, almost 80 percent of the money would go to
the poorest 18 percent of districts — those with the
highest proportion of low-income students.
Others argued that the first-year funding should
be higher, perhaps by as much as $100 million, even
if that means less in the later years. This debate is
likely to play out during the upcoming House and
Senate budget debates.
No matter what, many districts will be receiving
significant increases in fiscal 2021 and beyond.
“Now that we’ve won the bill,” said Najimy,
“we have to continue our activism at the local level
to make sure the money goes where educators and
parents know it is most needed.”
The new law includes a provision for district
improvement plans to include such input.
To amplify that voice, the MTA and its Fund
Our Future partners recently held two major training
sessions for local leaders and community allies.
“Now that we’ve won the
bill,” said MTA President
Merrie Najimy, “we have
to continue our activism
at the local level to make
sure the money goes where
educators and parents
know it is most needed.”
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