Town Crier

TEWKSBURY — The end of 2019 brought big changes to the state’s education system. Bill S.2365, better known as the Student Opportunity Act, was unanimously pas­sed in the state Senate and House of Represen­tatives, and signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on Nov. 26.

Based on the recommendations of the 2015 Foun­dation Budget Re­view Com­mission, the bill implements a new funding formula, and the Common­wealth will spend $1.5 billion in districts statewide over the next seven years.

In his weekly newsletter, state education commissioner Jeff Riley prais­ed the new law:

“We have once again reaffirmed public education is cherished in the Commonwealth. It is now up to all of us to en­sure we spend these substantial new funds in the way the Act intends, ma­king certain that all of our students have access to an excellent education.”

According to Commis­sioner Riley’s office, the state will still be “collecting and processing the enrollment, municipal re­venue, wage adjustment, and inflation data needed to calculate the state aid allotments and local contribution re­quirements for FY21.”

The updated formula will increase the threshold used to designate economically disadvantaged students from at or below 133 percent to 185 percent of the federal poverty line. The act will also phase in the reimbursement of out-of-district transportation costs for special education. Furthermore, the act commits to funding at least 75 percent of the charter school tuition reimbursement formula.

Districts’ initial three-year plan must be submitted to the Depart­ment of Elementary and Secondary Education by April 1, 2020. The commissioner has the ability to require amendments from districts to ensure the plan meets the re­quirements of the law.

Districts will make an­nual reports to DESE on progress made in “ad­dressing disparities am­ong student subgroups,” and will adjust their plans accordingly. Plans will establish benchmarks for measuring disparities, identify evidence-based programs to reduce disparities, and specify plans to increase family engagement ef­forts, with targeted plans for families of low-in­come students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

Though Tewksbury-specific figures will not be available for some time, local lawmakers are op­timistic about the impact the new law will have on the district.

“Our Commonwealth had made a promise in our Constitution to provide every child with a quality education. The Student Opportunity Act is aimed at fulfilling this promise by increasing education funding by $1.5 billion to allow us to close the achievement and opportunity gaps in our schools and level the playing field across our state,” said State Rep­resentative Tram Nguy­en. “It incorporates... re­search-back­ed recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commis­sion and will ensure our schools are receiving the funds they need for special education instructional costs and transportation needs, for teaching Eng­lish language learners, and to cover health care costs for employees and re­tirees. It is an extraordinary achievement, and Tewksbury schools will certainly benefit from an increase in Chapter 70 aid.”

State Senator Barry Finegold also praised the law:

“One of the top concerns I have heard from parents in Tewksbury is funding for special education services, and this law addresses that. In ad­dition to the overall increase in public education funding, the Student Opportunity Act will also expand the special education circuit breaker program, which reimburses districts for special education costs, to include transportation costs.

“This is critical for families of children with special needs and it will allow school districts to fully serve all of our kids. Every child de­serves a high quality education regardless of income or ability, and this law will ensure that.”

To read the full text of the law, visit malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S2365.

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