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Massachusetts Education Funding Debate Begins

On Friday, March 22nd the Greater Boston Chamber submitted data-driven testimony to the Joint Committee on Education and signed on to an MBAE coalition letter regarding H.70, An Act to promote equity and excellence in education. While the Chamber understands the need for adequate funding, we believe it is also necessary that additional funding be linked with clear goals and measurement to ensure that the additional funding achieves the outcomes necessary to make Massachusetts a place for all residents to thrive. 

In tackling education funding reform, Massachusetts also has a unique opportunity to tackle the achievement and opportunity gaps in our schools. Education is the most important resource the state can provide to promote economic and social stability, advancement, and success. Ensuring that every student in Massachusetts receives an education that will prepare them with the training, skills, and abilities to participate in the workforce is crucial to the long-term economic health of our region.

The Foundation Budget Review Commission indicated that funding for low income and English Language Learners (ELL) has fallen short, but the state of Massachusetts still made substantial progress in the last decade on graduation and MassCore completion rates for these populations. Graduation rates for both ELLs and low income/economically disadvantaged students increased by 9.6 percentage points and 15 percentage points between 2006 and 2018, respectively. [1]

Despite that progress, education gaps persist in Massachusetts student outcomes. In 2018, fewer than two-thirds of English Language Learners graduated high school in four years, a sharp contrast to the statewide four-year graduation rate of nearly 88 percent. In 2017, just 59 percent of ELL students completed MassCore requirements compared to 81 percent of all students statewide. Figure 1 demonstrates that between 2008 and 2017, the difference between ELL students completing MassCore and the entire student population widened from 15 percent to 22 percent.

MassCore Completion Rate

Economically disadvantaged students face similar gaps in student outcomes. For instance, in 2018, only 45 percent of the Advanced Placement (AP) exams taken by economically disadvantaged students had a passing score compared to 66 percent for the entire student population. These gaps also exist in 10th grade MCAS scores. In 2018, there was an 18 percentage point gap in passing rates between economically disadvantaged students (60 percent pass rate) and all students (78 percent pass rate). That gap was even wider – 21 percentage points – on the Science and Tech/Eng MCAS, where 54 percent of economically disadvantaged students earned a passing score compared to 75 percent of all students. 

Recognizing the importance of adequately educating all students, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce would support the Governor’s proposed education funding increases to the economically disadvantaged and English learner increments, in addition to the new high needs concentration increment for districts with the highest proportion of both economically disadvantaged students and English learners, provided the final bill includes robust accountability measures.

We urge the state of Massachusetts to add a category to the existing accountability system that is specific to the achievement gap and to determine a goal relative to that measure. This measure for closing the achievement gap should be clear and accessible to the average Massachusetts resident. 

We also urge the Committee to require each district to publish a plan for how it will use the additional ELL and economically disadvantaged increments to close the achievement gap. The plan should also include which metrics the district and state will use to measure progress on closing the achievement gap. The existing scorecards provide a good foundation and can be strengthened by adding post-secondary outcomes. We also urge the Committee to consider what steps will be necessary if a district’s progress falls short.

In addition, we urge the Committee to expand beyond rural districts in Governor Baker’s proposal for a commission to review the financial health of districts with declining enrollments (section 24 of H.70). Non-rural districts, including Boston, have experienced enrollment declines for years and need to adapt to a reduced population. Since 2000, Boston’s enrollment declined by 18 percent; it declined by 7 percent since 2010. As Figure 2 shows, other non-rural districts are also experiencing steady declines in enrollment since 2000, ranging from 8 percent in Bridgewater-Raynham to 26 percent in Salem. 


Adequate funding to educate students is important. However, it is just as important to ensure that increases in funding result in higher graduation rates, stronger student achievement, and better opportunities for all students. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce urges the Committee to resist writing a blank check. Instead, include regular reporting and measurement of progress on goals and a plan to adapt if progress falls short of those goals so that taxpayers and parents are assured that the state is providing the education its students deserve.

[1] The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently changed their income-based measure from "low income", which relied on qualification for a free or reduced lunch, to "economically disadvantaged", which considers students' participation in any of the following state-administered programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Transitional Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC); the Department of Children and Families' (DCF) foster care program; and MassHealth (Medicaid). For foundation budget calculations, FY16 served as a transition year to the new measure, with full implementation occurring in FY17. Most school districts have fewer economically disadvantaged students than they had low income students, as such, we cannot perfectly compare data from before and after this transition.