Updated 1:00 p.m.
Massachusetts officially committed Tuesday to investing an additional $1.5 billion in public K-12 education over the next seven years as Governor Charlie Baker signed long-sought legislation into law.
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.
"If there's one thing I've learned in my 63 years, it's that talent is evenly distributed. What's not evenly distributed is opportunity, and there's a reason why this is the Student Opportunity Act," Baker said at the bill-signing ceremony in Jamaica Plain. "This legislation is about making sure every kid in the commonwealth of Mass., regardless of where they live or where they're from or where they go to school, has the opportunity to get the education they need to be great."
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Education Committee Chairs Sen. Jason Lewis and Rep. Alice Peisch, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and several other legislators and advocates joined Baker at English High School for the ceremony.
The bill (S 2412) is based on legislation that passed both branches unanimously in October, more than a year after talks on a similar funding reform bill fell apart in the final hours of formal sessions of 2018.
Advocates kept the pressure on lawmakers to act this year with regular rallies and the filing of a lawsuit alleging unconstitutional inequities in the current funding formula.
The bill is aimed at closing persistent achievement gaps, and it provides new money to school districts to cover expenses associated with employee health care, special education, English language learners and students from low-income families. Those four areas were identified as major cost drivers in a 2015 state report that found the formula's foundation budget underestimates the cost of education by $1 billion a year.
School districts would be required to prepare plans detailing strategies they will deploy to close achievement gaps, with the first plan due in 2020.
State education officials will review the plans and can require amendments on those that do not conform to the bill's requirements.
That accountability provision was the main difference between the House and Senate versions of the bills, and Peisch and Lewis have both said they feel the language they settled on strikes the right balance between state oversight and local control.
The bill does not appropriate money or include new taxes, leaving it up to lawmakers to make annual funding decisions as part of the budget process.
"I certainly think what this means for us and for the Legislature on a go-forward basis, this is going to have to be sort of first-in when we make decisions about what the budget looks like," Baker said last week.
State House News Service contributed to this report.