On Tuesday Governor Baker signed S.2412, An Act relative to education opportunity for students, increasing investment in public schools by $1.5 billion annually when fully phased in over the next seven years. This bill changes the formulas used by the state to calcuate education costs, updating the rising costs of health care, special education, programs for English Language Learners and costs for low-income students.

According to the Governor's office, the bill requires school districts to develop three-year plans to close achievement gaps using evidence-based programs and supports, such as expanded learning time, increased counseling and psychological services, professional development, expanded early learning and pre-kindergarten, early college and career readiness pathways, and a more diverse teacher workforce. The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education will establish statewide targets for addressing persistent achievement gaps among student groups, and will review each district's plan to ensure it sets measurable goals for student improvement, with credible strategies for achieving them. Districts must amend any plan deemed by the Commissioner not to conform with these standards.

The bill also requires the Secretary of Education to collect data on student preparedness for college and career success by school district and high school, including student participation rates in college and career readiness programs, college acceptance and graduation rates, as well as percentage of students in internships and earning industry-recognized credentials. The annual report will be developed in consultation with a data advisory commission, school districts, the department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Higher Education and other state agencies.

Under the legislation, school districts will see increased reimbursements for transporting students to out-of-district special education placements. It also raises a cap on state funding for school building projects by $150 million, from $600 million to $800 million; fully funds charter school reimbursements; and creates a giant fund for innovative educational approaches.

Included in the bill is a requirement for the administration to analyze the impact that Proposition 2-1/2 has had on municipal budgets and potentially make recommendations to mitigate Prop 2-1/2 constraints.

Proposition 2-1/2 was passed in 1980, a copycat law from one passed in California. It prevents municipalities from increasing tax collections by more than 2.5 percent a year, and caps overall tax revenue at 2.5 percent of the value of all taxable property within the city or town. These limits can be overridden, but only by voter approval on a case-by-case basis.

Prop 2-1/2 has hit slow-growth and low-income communities disproportionately hard, especially cities and towns in central and western Massachusetts. Many of these communities have the highest tax rates in the state because their total property value is much lower than in cities and towns around Boston. The highest tax rate is Longmeadow's, which is in the Springfield area.

Winchendon's comparatively low tax rate for north central Massachusetts reflects its higher aggregate property values. But all of Winchendon's schools are Title 5 schools with high numbers of low-income students. The provisions of S.2412 will address several specific needs for Winchendon. But the Winchendon school department was forced to make severe cuts it could not afford after the last Prop 2-1/2 override vote failed. A loosening of the Prop 2-1/2 rules would help the Winchendon schools meet student needs.