Lessons from a Leading State: Massachusetts

The Greatest Needs Receive the Greatest Resources


Learning From Leaders

Michigan has long had one of the nation’s most regressive school funding formulas.

In fact, Michigan has been near the bottom for the additional funding the state provides for both multilingual learners and students from low-income backgrounds, leaving substantial funding gaps in what students currently receive under Michigan’s funding system and what they truly need. Moreover, Michigan has been underfunding students with disabilities by hundreds of millions annually.

Yet there is hope in the example from leading states like Massachusetts, widely considered the top state in the nation for education — and a leading state for fair funding. Massachusetts made a historic commitment to overhaul its education system decades ago through the implementation of career- and college-ready expectations for all students, greater supports for teachers, and a commitment to effective teaching and school leadership, alongside a grand bargain for the state’s charter sector. Most importantly, Massachusetts decided to invest heavily in its students through increased funding. Despite pushback in certain areas, Massachusetts’ education reform leaders held fast in their beliefs, and a strong tapestry of coalition support made funding overhaul possible.

To achieve the funding overhaul in the early 90’s, business groups, teachers’ unions, research organizations, foundations, and the media worked in partnership with legislative champions to bring meaningful reform to Massachusetts schools. Over a decade later, advocates including the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership, worked with legislators and educators to make the Student Opportunity Act a reality.

The Grand Bargain, as it has been called, secured support from many corners — business and education groups, teachers, and parents all aligned on the common goal to improve academic achievement.

These varied reforms and investments helped Massachusetts become the top education state in the country. Recognizing the persistent opportunity gaps that still existed among student groups, however, Massachusetts again took a position of national leadership and adapted its funding formula to explicitly address concentrations of poverty—meaning that students who have the greatest needs receive the greatest resources.

Michigan has a great opportunity now to learn from leading states like Massachusetts.

When you look at Massachusetts’ overall performance nationally, we have gone from the middle of the pack to the top of the pack.
Former State Education Secretary | Source

The Massachusetts Difference

Average Scale Scores for National Assessment for Educational Progress – Massachusetts v. Michigan

NAEP Grade 4 | Reading | All Students (2022 )

Source: NAEP Data, NCES (Basic Scale Score=208; Proficient Scale Score=238) 2022

NAEP Grade 8 | Mathematics | All Students (2022 )

Source: NAEP Data, NCES (Basic Scale Score = 262; Proficient Scale Score = 299) 2022

Additional Resources

Student Opportunity Act – Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education


NDE Core Web

https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/landing (nationsreportcard.gov)

Lifting All Boats

https://annenberg.brown.edu/sites/default/files/LiftingAllBoats_FINAL.pdf (brown.edu)

Building on 20 Year of Massachusetts Education Reform



Lessons from California

When California overhauled its school funding system, the state did not put strong enough fiscal accountability and transparency systems in place, leading to concerns that increased equity investments were not reaching the students for whom they were intended.

The California State Auditor found the State Legislature and State Board of Education — and the new funding system in California — had for years failed to ensure that billions of dollars targeted for low-income children and other students reached those students’ schools. School districts on average, were directing only 55 cents of every dollar of extra funding from the Local Control Funding Formula to the schools where students with additional needs (and who generate those funds) attend.

Recent updates to California’s funding system include a new requirement that districts with schools where any student group is performing at low levels must work to boost achievement, in part through targeted funding. Districts must also show evidence that their strategies are effectively boosting student achievement. Equity multiplier schools, which serve a higher number of students from low-income backgrounds (as well as other student populations with greater funding needs), will receive additional dollars–and accountability—to better serve the lowest-performing student groups.

Then California story highlights the importance of implementing strong fiscal accountability and transparency systems alongside funding reform – a lesson Michigan would be wise to heed.

Opportunity for All Means Fair Funding for All