Education funding shaping up to be a top Massachusetts legislative issue in 2019

But in his inaugural address Thursday, Baker said this year, he plans to make his own proposal, which could provide renewed momentum for lawmakers to act. Baker is expected to release the details as part of his state budget proposal, which he must give the Legislature by Jan. 23.

“When it comes to the difference in performance between urban and suburban school districts, we can and must do better,” Baker said in his speech. “The foundation formula needs to be updated, and we’ll propose updates when our budget is filed later this month.”

Baker also said that making progress on education “isn’t just about money.” He said the budget will include opportunities for the state and underperforming school districts to invest together “in proven best practices like acceleration academies, professional development, after school enrichment and leadership development programs.”

After the speech, Education Secretary Jim Peyser said the administration’s proposals will be phased in over time and “will represent a significant new investment in our K-12 education system, while at the same time recognizing that how much we spend is ultimately not as important as how well we spend it.”

Peyser declined to say how much money the governor would invest or where that money would come from. But, he said, “There will be a funding mechanism to ensure that it’s paid for.”

Both the House and the Senate last session agreed to adopt the recommendations of a Foundation Budget Review Commission relating to health care costs and special education costs. The major disagreement was how to account for recommendations relating to English language learners and low-income districts.

Peyser would not discuss the governor’s specific approach, but he said, “We will be addressing some of the issues that were raised by the Foundation Budget Review Commission in terms of allocating more resources to low-income, high-need school districts.”

Even before Baker’s speech, lawmakers had been talking about returning to the education funding debate.

In her own inaugural address on Wednesday, newly elected Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said adequately funding education will be a top priority for the Senate. “I hope that we will pass a bill to finally implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission as soon as we are able, because all children deserve access to a quality public education, regardless of where they live or who they are,” Spilka said.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said Thursday that education reform was one of the items already on his radar screen for the new session.

DeLeo said he hopes that Baker laying out his position will help move the debate forward. “I’m hopeful that maybe that might make things a little bit better, to see where it’s at, where he’s coming from on this most important subject,” DeLeo said.

The devil will be in the details.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, who chaired the Senate Education Committee last session and is leading the Senate’s efforts to update the education funding formula, said, “I’m really glad that the governor has come into the table and is elevating the issue.”

But Chang-Diaz said she would have liked to see Baker give a more complete description of the scope of the problem, and she is not happy with the level at which Baker has funded education so far. However, Chang-Diaz said she is “keeping an open mind” and is hopeful Baker will adopt the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations.

The Fund Our Future Coalition, a group of students, teachers, parents and community organizers that are pushing for more education funding, accused Baker of “shortchanging” schools in the past. Our students can’t afford another year of Baker’s budget fiddling. The Legislature should reject the governor’s proposal and fully fund all of our local public schools and our public colleges and universities — this year,” the coalition said in a statement.

At the same time, Brianna Aloisio, policy and advocacy manager at Stand for Children Massachusetts, an education advocacy group, praised Baker for making it a top priority to improve schools in communities that are struggling today.

“Governor Baker made fair school funding the top priority for his administration’s second term and for that he deserves the appreciation of every parent in Massachusetts who is concerned that their children are not getting the same quality education as students in our wealthier communities,” Aloisio said in a statement.

Shira Shoenberg, MassLive, January 03, 2019

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