(Mario Jarjour/WBZ NewsRadio)
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service
BOSTON (State House News Service) — Both the House and Senate unanimously adopted a landmark compromise Wednesday overhauling the state's public education funding formula with plans for a $1.5 billion infusion of new dollars over the next seven years.
The branches appear poised to send the legislation to the governor later in the day. Gov. Charlie Baker has not made his views clear on the bill, which he will review, but the unanimous votes are a sign that major changes to the bill may not be well received by the Legislature.
Rep. Paul Tucker, one of the three House conferees who worked with Senate negotiators on the final bill, described it as a "transformational" piece of legislation that will be "a legacy for generations to come."
One more procedural vote is required in both branches to send the bill on to the governor for his signature.
Rep. Alice Peisch, who led the House negotiating team, said the compromise bill closely follows the original version of the legislation that came out of the Education Committee.
The legislation, she said, "ensures we always put the students first" by directing the bulk of the new funding toward districts with the greatest need to close achievement gaps for low-income and other groups of students. She said accountability measures in the bill would ensure that students are the beneficiaries.
Lawmakers plan to work the higher levels of K-12 funding into future budgets, drawing from existing revenue sources, an approach that could put a strain on other areas of state spending.
Sen. Patrick O'Connor, a Weymouth Republican, called the bill "the biggest investment in our youth in modern history."
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat who has long been advocating for a rewrite of the formula, said the vote marks the seventh time the Senate has passed a bill calling for new money to address the rising costs of special education, teaching English learners and low-income students, and employee health benefits.
"Our vote stands as our generation's commitment to deliver on our core promise in Massachusetts -- that every child will get a quality education, and that zip code will not be destiny," Chang-Diaz said.
Education advocates have been prodding Beacon Hill to update the formula and invest more in education for years, arguments that have been punctuated by lawsuits.
"As organizations committed to educational equity, we urge Governor Baker to swiftly sign the Student Opportunity Act and lay the groundwork for improvements that will enhance learning experiences and outcomes for all students, and especially for students that have been underserved in our state for too long," the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership said in a statement.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association called it a "great day for students and educators in Massachusetts."