BOSTON (CBS) – Last week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate unanimously passed the Student Opportunity Act, which will invest $1.5 billion in the Massachusetts public education system.

Two high-profile supporters of the bill are Devin and Jason McCourty of the New England Patriots. To them, their involvement is just one part of a larger mission.

On the field, on the sidelines, and last March testifying at the State House for the bill – an update to the Education Funding Formula that will mean more money for school districts with low-income students across the Commonwealth – the McCourty brothers are often seen together.

They were intimately involved in the debate. As the legislation moved through the process of Beacon Hill, Devin and Jason followed every development closely, calling attention to the issue: testifying, visiting schools, writing an Op-Ed, and putting their famous faces to a rather dry issue to help bring the bill over the goal line.

“It’s been very rewarding,” Jason told WBZ-TV.

Jason and Devin McCourty speak with WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben. (WBZ-TV)

It’s all part of a larger game plan. The brothers, along with teammates Matthew Slater and Duron Harmon, have joined forces with a dozen other NFL players to form “The Players Coalition.”

“About three years ago The Players Coalition really took off, and started to add in different members,” Devin said.

They focus on social justice issues, including education.

WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben asked: “Do you think this is one of the most important civil rights issues of our time?”

“I do. I think education is one of the biggest things you can have in the world,” said Devin.

“It can’t be taken away from you,” Jason said.

“It just can’t,” Devin agreed. “And I think once you educate yourself, there’s a lot you can do.”

Matthew Slater, Duron Harmon testify in support of an education funding bill along with Jason and Devin McCourty. (WBZ-TV)

The Education Funding Formula had not been adjusted since 1993. The focus of the Student Opportunity Act is to make sure that more money is spent in school districts where there is a high percentage of low-income students and English Language learners so that those students can have access to more local and state resources.

“It’s just trying to give them a chance,” Devin said. “You know I think some of these kids started with such a disadvantage.”

Massachusetts has some of the best schools in the nation – always No. 1 in public education. But the Commonwealth does have a continuous battle with the achievement gap.

“Massachusetts is very unique because if you want to find the best schools in the country you go to Massachusetts from elementary all the way up to high school, graduate school, college you have the top universities here,” Devin said. “But I think what goes by and everyone misses is that gap you’re talking about and that’s what we talked about. Some of the schools we went to the teachers and the principals they found ways to get things done without the resources … Sometimes like we saw one school, they had no library, they put it in the hallway – so they’re finding ways to get things done.”

Now that their participation has helped the bill along, perhaps it will encourage some friendly competition with the Players Coalition?

“It does feel good to get on our group conference calls we’re like you know in Boston we did this, you know but it’s just a lot of good guys doing some great work. So I think that is a great type of competition, though whenever we’re trying to make a difference.”

The Student Opportunity Act is in committee now, but it has bi-partisan support, and the hope is that it will be on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk by the holidays.

Paula Ebben

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