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MWDN: Spilka: Ed reform bill must include money study

November 17, 2009

November 17, 2009
By Abby Jordan, The MetroWest Daily News

With the state Senate taking up a major education reform bill today, Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said she won’t support it unless it includes a study to determine adequate funding for school districts.

Two of the bill’s 95 amendments come from Spilka, including one to create an Education Resource Study Committee that would assess what resources and funding are necessary to meet the state’s education goals.

The independent study would assess whether the state is providing sufficient money for education, and would be used to guide Chapter 70 funding.

“In the process, I’ve made it very clear to the Senate president and Ways and Means Committee that in order for me to support the bill, I need to have the adequacy study as part of the bill,” she said.

Spilka called the amendment a critical piece of education reform, as the state’s last study on adequacy of funding happened leading up to the Education Reform Act of 1993.

With changes made since then to state education funding and standards, including the implementation of MCAS testing in some subjects, Spilka said that it’s necessary to determine an adequate level of funding for districts.

“It’s most important to people in this area, and it would assist all districts across the state,” she said, noting eight other senators signed on.

The second amendment Spilka sponsored is to establish a charter school working group to study how those schools are financed, what innovations they promote and how to further utilize a charter school model that includes operation as a part of mainstream school districts.

The education reform bill lifts a cap from 9 to 18 percent on school district spending on charter schools in underperforming districts.

However, yesterday, the Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Association issued a statement saying it is concerned that provisions in the bill would undermine the expansion of charter schools.

Spilka said major changes have been made to how charter schools would be funded, the result of months of compromise between lawmakers and groups such as the MCPSA.

“I don’t think everyone loves every piece of this bill,” she said. “But it’s the result of many hours and a lot of hard work.”

Spilka said she hopes to see the bill pass because of the potential for the state to be eligible and receive federal Race to the Top funds, awarded to states encouraging education innovation and reform.

The state could receive $100 million, $200 million or possibly $300 million in aid through the program, Spilka said, and passing the education reform bill shows the state should be chosen.

“I think it sends a good, strong message,” she said. “It’s important to make a statement, to let the federal government know it’s important we receive Race to the Top money.”

But Spilka said she doesn’t want to see the bill pushed through in 2009 if all questions on it have not been worked out.

“To me, what’s important is getting it right.”

(Abby Jordan can be reached at 508-626-4449 or ajordan@cnc.com.)

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