Student Opportunity Act

Student Opportunity Act
Initial summary

Chapter 70 Funding

  • The bill will dramatically increase funding for high-poverty districts over a 7-year timeframe.

    • The bill increases the low-income increment for the highest-poverty districts to roughly 100% of the average student amount.

      • To put numbers on this – the highest low-income increment in this year’s budget was $4,589. The bill will increase that increment to $8,797 in 7 years.

    • At the same time, the bill changes the definition of “low-income student” to capture all students in families with incomes at or below 185% of the poverty line (the current definition only includes students living at roughly 133% of poverty). So, districts will get more money per low-income student, AND the number of low-income students in most districts will be higher.

      • The bill does not specify how students will be identified – that’s left up to DESE.

    • The bill also raises increment amounts for English learners, for age groups, but especially high school

  • The bill increases the within-district assumed special education percentages to 4% in regular districts and 5% in vocational schools.

  • It also increases allocations for healthcare costs (to roughly $1,500 per student – about $500 more than this year’s budget)

  • There are a number of other funding provisions in there which will likely benefit higher wealth communities – have not parsed all those out yet.

How money is used

  • The bill requires the Commissioner to set statewide targets for addressing disparities in achievement between student groups.

  • It requires districts to establish targets for addressing disparities in achievement among student groups that are aligned with state targets.

  • Districts have to develop 3-year plans for meeting their targets that:

    •   Must describe how Chapter 70 funds will be allocated between schools in a district, including an explanation of how this relates to needs of ELs and low-income students

    • Must describe evidence-based interventions the district will implement, including, but not limited to:

      • Expanded learning time,

      • increased common planning time for teachers, wraparound supports,

      • hiring school personnel to best support improved student performance,

      • increased or improved professional development,

      • purchasing curricular materials or tech aligned with statewide curriculum frameworks,

      • expanding early ed/PK programming, including those provided in partnership with community-based organizations.

    • Must identify outcome metrics used to measure success in addressing persistent disparities

    • Has to “consider input” from parents and relevant community stakeholders, and must describe how the district will “effectuate and measure” increased parent engagement

    • Has to be submitted to DESE and be reviewed by the commissioner once every 3 years, starting April 1, 2020

      • The language is vague here, but it sounds like the commissioner may have leverage to push for changes to the plan if he deems it not in compliance with the requirements above.

      • Important to note, though, that the bill stops short of saying that a district must have an approved plan on file to receive funding.

    • Each year after submitting their plan, districts have to provide relevant data showing how they’re doing at addressing disparities in achievement and submit amendments to the plan that “reflect changes deemed necessary” to help districts meet their plan goals.


  • Bill requires DESE to collect and publish data on post-secondary and workforce readiness, including MassCore and AP enrollment rates, participation in college and career readiness programming, and postsecondary application and enrollment rates.

    • Note: The bill does not say that these data have to be disaggregated by student group.

  • District plans have to be posted on both DESE and the district’s website

  • The commissioner has to provide Senate and House chairs of the Joint Committee on Education (as well as other named committees) w/ reports on progress eliminating disparities in achievement and the state of college/career readiness.

In addition…

  • The bill establishes a Twenty First Century Education Trust Fund, to be administered by the Commissioner in consultation with an advisory council.

    • The fund will be used to support a competitive grant program targeted to supporting evidence-based strategies to address disparities in achievement (preference given to schools and districts with high percentages of ELs and low-income students) and approaches to improve efficiency/ education quality (preference given to rural communities or those with declining enrollment)

    • All applications have to include an evaluation plan, including a researcher/organization conducting said eval.

  • The bill increases funding for the special education “circuit breaker” and allows dollars to be used for transportation costs in addition to instructional costs

  • It also commits to fully funding charter reimbursement within 3 years.



 Student Opportunity Act
Fact Sheet

September 19, 2019

The Student Opportunity Act makes an unprecedented $1.5 billion new investment in Massachusetts public education, ensuring public schools have adequate resources to provide a high-quality education to students across the state, regardless of zip code or income level. Assuming inflation, over time the bill could provide an estimated $2.2 billion.

The Student Opportunity Act significantly helps school districts that serve high percentages of low-income students. At the same time, school districts across the Commonwealth will benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, along with increased state investment in other vital education aid programs such as transportation, school buildings and special education.

These new investments, coupled with policy updates, are designed to monitor and measure progress, support effective approaches to closing opportunity gaps, and deliver results for all students.

This bill modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas:

1. Fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) to ensure that the school funding formula provides adequate and equitable funding to all districts across the state. Provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. The foundation budget is updated as follows:

  • Estimates school districts’ employee and retiree health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC).

  • Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment.

  • Increases funding for English learners (EL) that is differentiated by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate our older EL students.

  • Addresses the needs of districts educating high concentrations of students from low-income households by:

    • Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district; districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students will receive an additional increment equal to 100% of the base foundation;

    • Returning the definition of low-income to 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133% level that has been used in recent years.

 2. Provides additional state financial support to help public schools and communities deliver a high-quality education to every student by:

  • Increasing foundation rates for guidance and psychological services that will support expanded social–emotional supports and mental health services.

  • Fully funding charter tuition reimbursements, which provide transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three year timetable.

  • Expanding the special education circuit breaker, which reimburses districts for extraordinary special education costs, to include transportation costs in addition to instructional costs, phased in over four years.

  • Lifting the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for school building construction/renovation by $150 million (from $600 million to $750 million), enabling more projects across the state to be accepted into the MSBA funding pipeline.

 3. Implements policy updates designed to maximize the impact of new funding in improving student outcomes and closing opportunity gaps.

  • Establishes the 21st Century Education Trust Fund to provide flexible funding to districts and schools pursuing creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.

  • School districts must develop and make publicly available plans for closing opportunity gaps. These plans will include specific goals and metrics to track success.

  • The Secretary of Education will collect and publish data on student preparedness in each district and high school for post-graduate success in college and the workforce. 

  • Establishes a Data Advisory Commission to help improve the use of data at the state, district, and school levels to inform strategies that strengthen teaching, learning and resource allocation.

4. Identifies education policy areas requiring further analysis.

  • The Department of Revenue (DOR) and DESE are directed to analyze the method of determining required local contributions in the Chapter 70 formula for the purpose of improving equity, predictability and accuracy.

  • Establishes a Rural Schools Commission to investigate the unique challenges facing rural and regional school districts with low and declining enrollment. The Commission will make recommendations for further updates to help impacted districts and communities.


Student Opportunity Act
Question and Answer

September 19, 2019

1.     How much does the Student Opportunity Act invest in the Commonwealth’s schools?

 The Student Opportunity Act makes an unprecedented $1.5 billion new investment in Massachusetts public schools. Assuming inflation over time, the bill could provide an estimated $2.2 billion. This funding:

  •   Includes a $1.4 billion increase in Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation;

  • Expands the state’s special education reimbursement program with an estimated annual cost of $90 million to include out-of-district transportation funding;

  • Establishes the 21st Century Education Trust Fund, estimated at $10 million annually, to support innovative approaches to education;

  • Provides an implementation timeline for fully funding charter school reimbursement costs; and

  • Increases the annual spending cap for Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) projects.

2.     How does this bill modernize the foundation budget?

 In 2015, the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), made up of key education stakeholders, made recommendations to update the foundation budget. Starting in Fiscal Year 2018, the Legislature began funding those recommendations. The Student Opportunity Act builds on those investments – continuing to implement the recommendations in four areas:

  • Increases the base for the low-income student increment, which varies depending on the percentage of low-income students in the district.  Districts with the largest share of low-income students receive an additional increment of 100% of the statewide average base rate.

  • Increases the foundation budget increment for English learners with the largest increase targeted to high-school age English learners due to the increased needs of those students.

  • Uses up to date health care cost data, compiled by the Group Insurance Commission, to determine the foundation budget estimate for employee and retiree benefit costs.

  • Updates foundation budget assumptions for special education enrollment and out-of-district special education costs.

 In addition, the Student Opportunity Act increases foundation budget spending for guidance and psychological services to expand social and emotional learning and mental health services.

 3.     What is the timeline for implementation?

The Student Opportunity Act assumes a seven-year implementation period beginning in Fiscal Year 2021. 

4.     How does this bill change funding for low-income enrollment?

 The Student Opportunity Act significantly increases funding for low-income students. Funding varies based only on a district’s percentage of low-income students, as opposed to how its percentage compares to other districts in the state; the higher the percentage, the higher the increment, up to 100% of the statewide average base rate. The bill revises the current method of assigning low-income increments by grouping districts according to the percentage of low-income students in the district and assigning an increment amount to each group. This ensures the district’s increment will change only when the percentage of low-income students in the district changes.

 5.     Does this bill change how the state counts the number of low-income students in a district?

The Student Opportunity Act defines low-income students as those students in families with incomes equal to or less than 185% of the federal poverty level.  In recent years, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) used a 133% threshold. The bill directs DESE to develop a reliable method of determining the number of low-income students. In the meantime, it directs DESE to use a combination of data sources to estimate low-income enrollment in each district.

6.     How does this bill address school district costs not accounted for in the foundation budget?

 The Student Opportunity Act expands state support for other programs that help K-12 public schools beyond the foundation budget by including three major provisions to address additional district financial pressures:

  • It increases the annual state spending cap on school construction and modernization projects by $150 million to $750 million.

  • It modernizes the special education reimbursement program (circuit breaker) to include out-of-district transportation costs.

  • It commits to a three-year implementation timeline to fully fund charter school tuition reimbursement program as adopted in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

 7.     Does the bill affect the Fiscal Year 2020 budget?

 The fiscal provisions of the Student Opportunity Act will be effective in Fiscal Year 2021. This historical level of funding builds on previous investments over the past three budget cycles, including the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

8.      Is this the first time the foundation budget has changed since 1993? 

 The Student Opportunity Act represents the most significant change to the Foundation Budget since 1993. However, the foundation budget has changed each year since its establishment, as the formula is a dynamic funding mechanism. The first Foundation Budget Review Commission issued a report in 2001 and some changes were adopted based on those recommendations. Further, in 2007, the Commonwealth overhauled the contribution rate, and the Legislature began implementing the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review beginning in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. Those implementations are noted below:

 FY 2018

  • Increased employee and retiree health care benefits

 FY 2019

  • For the first time, implemented the funding rate dedicated to English learners

  • Continued increase for employee and retiree health care benefits over the FY 2018 budget

 FY 2020

  • Continued increase for English learners

  • Increased funding for low-income students

  • Increased special education funding

  • Continued increase for employee and retiree health care benefits