Former Massachusetts Senate President Thomas Birmingham, who was instrumental in enacting the state’s historic education bill in 1993, has died. He was 73.
Who was Thomas Birmingham?
Birmingham grew up in Chelsea, a working-class neighbourhood, and went on to Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He also attended Oxford University after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.
Despite his impressive school credentials, Birmingham remained in Chelsea and recalled his passion for state politics.
The Democrat was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1990 and was chosen Senate head of the Legislature’s Education Committee.
From that position, Birmingham collaborated with the committee’s House head, fellow Democrat Mark Roosevelt, to enact the Education Reform Act of 1993.
The bill established an education financing formula known as the “basic budget,” to assist in deciding how much schools should spend on education and how much the state should contribute.
The idea was to help close some of the educational gaps between affluent and poorer areas.
The bill also provided the framework for the state’s MCAS test, which is used to assess pupils’ progress. The test was also a prerequisite for high school graduation, and opponents, including the state’s largest teachers’ organization, argued that it should be eliminated in favour of more realistic measures of proving student performance.
After previous Democratic Senate President William Bulger stepped down in 1996, Birmingham assumed the presidency – one of the top three most politically significant posts in state government.
Birmingham served as president until 2003, after a failed attempt for governor in 2002, in which he lost the Democratic primary to former state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien.
Birmingham was described as “an excellent public servant devoted to driving Massachusetts forward” by Gov. Maura Healey.
“Though he went through corridors of power and privilege, he kept loyal to his origins and never lost where he came from or what mattered,” said Healey, a Democrat.
She also praised Birmingham for “advocating for worker rights and sticking out for marriage equality.”
Birmingham remarked during the introduction of his official Statehouse picture in 2011 that he wasn’t sure he wanted to commission a portrait of himself until he learned his predecessor, Bulger, and successor, former Senate President Robert Travaglini, all had portraits in the Senate Reading Room.
“Obviously, a tradition sprang up and enveloped me when I wasn’t paying attention,” Birmingham explained.
Thomas Birmingham Career
Birmingham, according to the Pioneer Institution, is a senior fellow at the institute.
“He devoted the last years of his life to defending high academic standards, MCAS, accountability measures, and school choice – all of which are fundamental to education reform. He diligently advocated for the Commonwealth’s excellent public charter, Catholic, and vocational-technical schools.”
“Tom served in the Senate for twelve years. He was instrumental in the passage and implementation of the landmark 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act,” Spilka wrote. “For seven years he ably led this body as President of the Senate. He will be deeply missed by those fortunate enough to know and work with him.”
“Tom Birmingham leaves a legacy of public service innovation, independence, and honesty,” stated Greg Sullivan, former state inspector general and Pioneer research director. “He committed his life to helping others and was enormously successful.”