House Speaker Robert DeLeo is shrugging off the Legislature’s unsuccessful attempts to address education funding inequities, but others are using this week’s collapsed talks on Beacon Hill as an election-year rallying call for change.
“No full funding for schools. No #SafeCommunitiesAct. No housing bill. I’ve never seen people so angry at the end of a legislative session. There’s fury out there. Expect there to be political repercussions,” Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone tweeted Wednesday, dropping his comments into the #mapoli hashtag that’s a running resource for political give and take.
Democrats who lead the House and Senate wrapped up formal sessions Tuesday without taking any action on Gov. Charlie Baker’s bill to create 135,000 new housing units over the next six years. Legislative negotiators also failed to reach agreement on high-profile bills to stabilize community hospitals and shore up underfunded local education accounts.
In a statement Wednesday, DeLeo said consensus “eluded us” on health care and education bills.
“While certainly frustrating on some levels, the reality is that the legislative process is often incremental and builds off the work done in previous sessions,” said DeLeo, who has been speaker since 2009. “I have no doubt that the work we have done thus far on healthcare and education funding will significantly inform and enhance our ultimate policy decisions next session. It’s better to get complex policy right.”
House leaders also could not come to a consensus within that branch this year on legislation known as the Safe Communities Act, which supporters say is critical to prevent local law enforcement from enhancing the Trump administration’s stepped up enforcement of illegal immigration.
The House and Senate education bills respond to a 2015 report by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which lawmakers formed to study the school funding formula. The commission found the formula underestimates the cost of education by $1 billion to $2 billion per year by inadequately accounting for expenses associated with health insurance, special education and teaching low-income students and English language learners.
The Senate bill, which the Massachusetts Teachers Association said would increase state education spending by more than $1 billion annually, would have tasked lawmakers and the Office of Administration and Finance with annually determining their schedule for fulfilling the commission’s recommendations in all four issue areas.
The House bill would have delivered new funding to school districts over five years to help cover help cover special education and health benefit costs, and trigger research on costs associated with educating non-native English speakers and low-income students.
The legislation’s end came six weeks after the state’s high court knocked off the ballot a proposed surtax on incomes over $1 million, eliminating the possibility of a revenue windfall backers had been eyeing to steer more money toward education and transportation.
“I don’t expect that this issue is going to go away,” lead Senate conferee Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz told the News Service in a midnight interview Tuesday. “People are going to push us to be back at it next year. It’s a damn shame we couldn’t get it done this year, after eight years of grappling with the issue.”