Grassroots Organizing Just Won $1.5 Billion for Public Schools

Yesterday the landmark Student Opportunity Act was signed into law in Massachusetts, guaranteeing an additional $1.5 billion in funding for k-12 public schools across the Commonwealth: 

Four years after a state commission determined the existing foundation budget formula underestimates the cost of education by $1 billion annually and more than a year after a previous bill to correct inequalities collapsed, the focus now shifts to implementing the funding law and holding districts accountable for improvement plans.

The new money is intended to reduce disparities between districts across the state and to put communities with larger cost drivers — special education, employee health care, and high numbers of low-income students and English language learners — on a more even footing with their peers.

While the finish line for this bill may have been Boston and Beacon Hill, the route that got us here went through cities, neighborhoods, and schools all across Massachusetts. This kind of dramatic shift in funding priorities only comes about when grassroots pressure builds from the bottom-up and makes a change inevitable: when the people lead, politicians must eventually listen. Incredible, tireless work was done by a constellation of education justice groups ​including those that Schott supports, ​such as MassBudget's independent budget and policy analysis, which played an important role in the education funding increase. ​Partners like Youth on Board, Massachusetts Community Action Network, Worcester Interfaith, and Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, as well as leading-edge community and labor coalitions like Boston Education Justice Alliance (BEJA) and Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA) helped to center the voices of communities of color: students and parents brought a framework of racial justice to the public debate that won funding for English language learners and low-income students.

But it's important to highlight that the roots of this victory go much deeper. Systemic change is not a one-time victory but a commitment realized over the course of time. Since Schott’s founding in 1993, we have fostered and resourced cross-sector relationships among educators, students, parents, advocates and policymakers to build public and political will for equity and justice in public education. Many of the key leaders in this fight have been at it for decades in the courthouse and in communities.

Each step of the way young people have pushed the envelope of what’s possible. Many point to the self-organized mass student walkout in early 2016, spurred by looming Boston Public Schools budget cuts, which brought thousands of students out on the streets, as an important stepping stone to this victory. Such actions helped to build a larger narrative around the school funding crisis in Massachusetts as a racial justice crisis. Later that same year a similar coalition emerged victorious in the Save Our Public Schools campaign, which kept the statewide charter school cap in place. These have been interconnected fights to get here and has served as a reminder to both policymakers and the people themselves that organizing can move mountains.

Much work remains to be done. For the critical implementation of the bill to ensure funds get to where they are needed most, those mobilized by this effort— students, parents, teachers, civil rights groups and faith communities—will remain engaged ​in these new local tables and vigilant to ensure both the letter and spirit of the bill is made real.

Below are a few statements by our partners on this bill’s passage:

MEJAWhen we started this fight, we were told that we were asking for too much. We heard that just the “adequate” funding our public schools deserve was out of reach, even in a place as rich as Massachusetts.

But when we fight, we win. And we won big. Students, families, educators, and communities across Massachusetts will see $1.5 billion above inflation in new annual funding for public education, phased in over the next seven years.

Charlotte Kelly, Executive Director, Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance

Worcester InterfaithWorcester Interfaith is excited about the passage of the Student Opportunity Act. Our school district has been operating with an underfunded budget for years. We look forward to receiving the projected $164.8 million to address the various deficits to services, delivery of education, enhancements to programs, increase capacity to support our EL student and focus on decreasing achievement gap, restoring justice practices vs disciplinary practices and more training opportunities for staff, teachers, administration and school Committee.

Isabel Gonzalez-Webster, Director, Worcester Interfaith

Transformative Culture ProjectHaving documented youth-led education justice work for the last decade, Transformative Culture Project is so excited to celebrate with young people from across Massachusetts that have been fighting for the schools we deserve. While many legislators, adult advocates, and even the Governor will get praise this week, we want to ensure that we don't forget the youth leadership and sacrifice that made it possible!

Dr. Cara Berg Powers, Executive Director, Transformative Culture Project

Massachusetts Communities Action NetworkThis legislation is critical for many Gateway Cities across the entire Commonwealth.  It is important for a number of reasons: The budgets for all these cities are strained because of inadequate funding over a large number of years.  This money will help these districts provide the education that the students need so desperately. Class sizes are too large. City budgets are pushed to the limit because they do not have the resources needed to educate the large population of students whose primary language is not English.  The median income in many of these cities is low and the Net School Spending is usually at what is required. Students with social emotional learning needs are left wanting because the schools cannot hire the staff necessary to meet their needs. This legislation will go a long way to correct these shortfalls and head many school districts in the right direction. It's a generation changer of opportunity for all of our children. 

Jack Livramento, Board President of Massachusetts Communities Action Network and leader in United Interfaith Action of SE MA

MassBudgetThe education funding bilI, the Student Opportunity Act, signed today, fulfiIls a once-in-a-generation opportunity to allow children from all communities and backgrounds in the Commonwealth to succeed. This is the bold and decisive action we need to advance equity in the Commonwealth. We'd like to thank our elected officials including Governor Baker, Lt Governor Polito, Senate President Spilka, House Speaker Deleo, and Education Committee Chairs Rep. Peisch and Sen. Lewis for their leadership.

Also, we'd Iike to thank our senior policy analyst Colin Jones, the teachers unions, advocacy groups and alI the community members who worked tirelessly to make this landmark law possible. To fully implement the Student Opportunity Act, we need to prioritize raising new revenue to fulfill our $1.5 billion commitment to our children. This is a huge investment in our school districts serving children most in need.

Marie-Frances Rivera, President, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center

Mass Jobs with JusticeWe at Massachusetts Jobs with Justice are overwhelmed with love for all the students, educators, parents, and community allies who came together to make this victory possible. Because we fought hard not just for funding but for a fix to the formula that determines where money is allocated, this bill does not just attempt to provide equal opportunities to students, but to take a step towards true equity, redressing the historical neglect of communities of color, poor communities, immigrant communities, and rural communities. This was a truly grassroots campaign led by the people most impacted, and we are proud that the final result will provide the greatest benefit to those who have so often been denied a seat at the table.

Gillian Mason, Co-Executive Director, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice

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