Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a ten-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Annual MASC Day on the Hill

From Boston’s Grand Lodge of Masons in Boston, today’s annual Day on the Hill was an opportunity for school committee members, student guests, and others to hear from legislators about budget/policy plans that affect public school children in the Commonwealth. Notes from legislators and MASC legislative priorities as follows:

Rep. Jay Kaufman, Chair of Joint Committee on Revenue

·               A fundamental lie is that we don’t have the money. We just don’t have the will to raise the money.
·               Data shows the poorest pay about 10% of income for taxes and wealthiest pay under 5%.
·               The Fair Share Amendment on the 2018 state ballot provides that the tax rate on the 2nd million dollars of an individual’s income would be 4% ($40K).
·               Would raise $2B/year to be used only for education and transportation.

Rep. Alice Peisch, Co-Chair of Joint Committee on Education

·               The newly released House budget contains a Ch. 70 increase that’s a little higher than the Governor’s ($105M over last year); starts to implement the healthcare benefit recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC); $500K increase in METCO over FY17; $20M reserves for early ed staff (and anticipate doing more in early ed).
·               Has worked on re-files of bills that were reported out favorably last year. Her priorities are those that (1) give districts more flexibility and autonomy before they get to Level 4 status and build on opportunity to create [empowerment] zones; (2) improves teacher prep and creates career ladders; (3) new emphasis (not new concept) expanding early access to college in a more systemic way.
·               Please resist the rollback of state sales tax (to 5%).
·               Educate yourselves on ballot questions and advocate for those bills that support the tax revenues that fund our schools and state. (Legislators really listen to informed constituents.)

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Co-Chair of Joint Committee on Education

·               Need to “keep being tremendous” re: advocacy around Ch. 70 funding. (Everything comes back to “it’s the Foundation Budget stupid.” Will take long, sustained, high level of activism.)
·               Gov. Baker’s Executive Order to recommend streamlining of regulations is being addressed by DESE in the area of education.
·               Advocates need to move strongly on all recommendations of FBRC because coalition is important (if not, “student groups will be splintered”).
·               1993 ed funding was successful because there were benchmarks. If we don’t start implementing, it will be time for FBRC review again (every 5 years). They recognize that you can’t “flip a switch” but could do it over 5 or 7 years.
·               FBRC gave a “hot list” of things that are known to improve student outcomes and that improve achievement gaps. Must do more than one intervention at one time (e.g. looking at data at school level vs. just district level to provide more tools to help make useful decisions).
·               Federal education direction unknown but whatever it turns out to be, it’s unlikely to impact FBRC.
·               What is standing in the way of students in poverty? It’s FBRC. 1993 started process to get everyone to a “quality floor;” that floor has eroded and districts who can afford it are spending it but for communities who don’t have local means, they are falling at or below Foundation Budget.

Sen. Pat Jehlen, Vice Chair of Joint Committee on Education 
·               People really value their local public schools and local democratic control.
·               House increase of FBRC is really not much and it would take 100 years (with no inflation) at this rate to get us to adequacy.
·               What about our legal obligations for circuit breaker, regional transportation, and charter reimbursements? We aren’t keeping our promise. Even Foundation Budget doesn’t recognize state requirements around technology.
·               MA is 42nd in equity across the country (lowest vs. highest spending schools). Taxing high, spending low, low achievement scores (accountability measures) are districts with most challenges (poverty).
·               Heard on FBRC listening tour: how can you judge a district with 27 Kindergartners in a class with no aide, 1/3 special needs and 1/2 in poverty, and hold them accountable? (Test scores mostly measure income.)
·               Accountability works two ways – if the state doesn’t provide money to districts that need it, they can’t hold them accountable for student outcomes.

MASC’s 2017 legislative priorities include:
·               support for early education programs (increasing program access; improving affordability; funding to support transition to full day K; and guaranteeing high quality programs/staff);
·               strengthening the children’s services safety net (encouraging cooperation between agencies serving families; funding and expanding promising social services programs and adding a Ch. 70 calculation for migrant, transient, mobile students);
·               funding the revision of Ch. 70 (increasing funding; ensuring realistic/accurate inflation factor; and ensuring a $100 per pupil increase for all districts to ameliorate under-funding);
·               full funding for Circuit Breaker;
·               charter school funding reform (require local approval; fully fund reimbursement account; and continue the enrollment cap);
·               restore funding for regional transportation;
·               full funding for METCO;
·               mandate and regulatory relief (freeze any new regs; prohibit DESE from issuing regs that don’t directly apply to public ed students, teachers, administrators; require that any proposed regs undergo impact study);
·               charter school operational reform (enroll cross sections of student population; require charters to meet sub-groups representative of sending communities; require pre-approval for new charters; require that charter trustees include approval and representation by sending communities; require charters demonstrate and share any innovative practices);
·               support rural school districts (encourage sharing of resources; ensure no authority will be authorized to consolidate, dissolve, or restructure without legislative approval);
·               retain Medicaid-covered services;
·               cover medically insured services in schools.

Marching orders: talk to legislators. Have students talk about their vision. Change happens slowly! Legislators have many issues to review and they need expertise of local leaders.