Baker budget revisits effort to fund 2019 education law

Boston Statehouse

“Today we lay out a roadmap to reopening Massachusetts while we continue to fight COVID-19. These two will be inseparable,” Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday morning. (Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS)

BOSTON (SHNS) – For the second January in a row, Gov. Charlie Baker has put forward a spending plan he says will fully fund the first year of a landmark school finance reform law passed in 2019.

The specifics of the school funding proposed in Baker’s $45.6 billion fiscal 2022 budget differ from what he recommended in the original fiscal 2021 budget a year ago, which was scrapped after COVID-19 shocked the state and national economy.

Baker and lawmakers put implementation of the law, known as the Student Opportunity Act, on hold, and are now revisiting it. Baker’s budget proposes $246.3 million in new funding for the law’s initiatives, including an increase of $197.7 million in Chapter 70 aid to local schools.

State finance officials said this year’s number takes into account enrollment declines in public schools. Attributing the change in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said enrollment this year is down 3.26 percent statewide, and down more than 5 percent in 29 districts.

The Student Opportunity Act committed the state to $1.5 billion in new schools funding, to be phased in over seven years, with a focus on costs associated with special education, low-income students, guidance and psychological services, English learners and employee health care.

Baker’s budget would phase in the rate changes for each of those five categories at one-seventh of the target level, according to the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.

Last year, the administration originally sought to phase in the low-income rate at 4 percent of the gap instead of one-seventh, pointing to other funding changes associated with low-income students.

The Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance wrote to Baker on Tuesday, urging him to stick with the law’s original schedule and include two of the seven years in this budget.

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