In November 2018, Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to vote on the Fair Share Amendment, a measure to reduce the impact of the Commonwealth’s regressive flat income tax in favor of an additional 4% tax on individual incomes over $1 million. The increased revenue will flow to education and transportation. As an organization that champions high-quality public education for all children, DFER is proud to support the Fair Share Amendment.
The Fair Share Amendment represents a step forward in the vision of education policy that has driven Massachusetts’ success for decades. In 1993, the Massachusetts legislature passed an education reform law that substantially increased education funding in exchange for schools using high standards and implementing a strong accountability system to measure progress against those standards. Updated in 2010 with help from President Obama’s Race to the Top competitive grant initiative, this “Grand Bargain” in education policy has made Massachusetts the country’s leader in K-12 education. By funding schools well, targeting that funding to students most in need, and building a strong standards-and-accountability system to ensure this investment improves student learning, Massachusetts has driven improvements in student outcomes across the board.
Looking back on the Education Reform Act’s enactment, the education commissioner at the time said that “for the first time in the history of the commonwealth, the law really addressed a significant number of issues in schools, with the idea that no matter where a child came from, he or she should have the opportunity of a quality education, and the state should fund it.” The two-pronged approach of revenue and reform was crucial to this endeavor: “If we're going to give you money, we said we're going to make sure that [students] were taught the standards.”
To build on the Commonwealth’s education success, both sides of the Grand Bargain must be kept. The increased state aid to districts agreed to in 1993 is disbursed using a formula that calculates the adequate spending level for a given district. When districts are unable to fund this amount, the state makes up the difference. Assumptions in the original formula greatly underestimated rising costs of certain education expenditures, particularly in healthcare and special education. To truly fulfill its obligation to districts under the Grand Bargain, the Commonwealth needs additional revenue to support an updated formula.
The Fair Share Amendment offers an opportunity to secure that revenue. It also does so in a just and progressive manner. Over the past several decades, the vast majority of economic gains have gone to top earners—which is one of many reasons why Massachusetts suffers from greater income inequality than do most states. It only makes sense to ask these top earners to fuel education—an engine of the economy that has benefited them greatly. As an organization of progressive Democrats who believe in government’s ability to improve students’ educational outcomes—and their lives—DFER sees the Fair Share Amendment as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make good on the Commonwealth’s commitment to providing high-quality education for all children.
Just as we keep the promise to adequately fund our public schools, the “reform” side of the Grand Bargain must also be kept—meaning that education funding must be spent accountably and equitably. New revenue should be targeted to districts and students most in need—especially given the Commonwealth’s persistent achievement gaps and the work remaining to close them. Proven programs that advance equity—like quality pre-K—should be prioritized. And we must defend the Commonwealth’s standards and accountability system, which allows us to make education decisions based on objective data about student outcomes. The accountability system allows us to measure the impact of state policies, replicate strategies that work, and keep students and districts from falling through the cracks. It is an essential tool in driving funding where it will have the greatest impact on student learning.
DFER supports the Fair Share Amendment because more funding is needed to ensure a high-quality education for all Massachusetts students, and we support progressive tax policies to generate that funding. As we campaign for the measure, we will point to the success of Massachusetts’ Grand Bargain and the need to champion all of its elements.