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Senator Spilka Successfully Advocates for Adequacy Study in Education Reform Bill

November 17, 2009

November 17, 2009

BOSTON – The Senate on Tuesday passed an innovative education reform bill that establishes a new category of public schools, provides options to improve existing school districts that are underperforming, and puts the Commonwealth in better position to secure federal funds to help all public schools in Massachusetts.

The final bill contained an amendment filed by Senator Karen Spilka that calls on the Commonwealth to establish an Education Resource Study Committee.  The Committee will be charged with determining the resources needed for students to achieve the state education standards in order to help the Commonwealth determine the appropriate amount of Chapter 70 funding for future years.

“Reforming the education funding formula is the reason I entered politics in first place,” stated Senator Spilka.  “I’m thrilled that this amendment, which I originally filed as a bill, has been included as part of this major education reform package.

“We have an ongoing obligation to meet the changing needs of our students and schools,” Senator Spilka continued.  “Passage of this adequacy study will help us plan for when additional investments and increased funding are economically feasible.  Now may not be the time for a funding increase, but with this study will be ready to implement the appropriate changes when the time comes.”

Over 16 years ago, Massachusetts passed its landmark Education Reform Act of 1993 that, for the first time, established a minimum spending requirement for all school districts, known as the foundation budget.  The act also set out a plan to phase in state aid to local districts to meet the new requirements.

“To ensure that the state is maintaining adequate funding for public schools today,” Senator Spilka stated, “a reassessment of the foundation budget was long overdue.”

Senator Robert O’Leary (D-Barnstable), lead sponsor of the bill and Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Education, said: “This bill represents a collaborative effort by educational stakeholders from around the state. In addition to putting Massachusetts in a competitive position for federal Race to the Top funds, this bill encourages innovation in school districts and will equip underperforming schools with the tools they need to turn around. All in all, this is a good, well-balanced bill that I am proud of, and which I believe puts our education system on the right path to better serving all of our students.”

An Act Relative To Education Reform (Senate, No. 2205) creates Innovation Schools, which are district public schools with increased autonomy and flexibility to operate. Any school, in any district, may take advantage of this new model, and the funding of these schools is the same as for any other school in the district.

Any groups or individuals can submit proposals for innovation schools and approval depends on collaborative evaluation by the school committees, teachers union and superintendent.

The bill also addresses “underperforming” and “chronically underperforming” schools by authorizing the commissioner of elementary and secondary education to intervene and work with school superintendents to develop turnaround plans for those schools.

Plans can be approved for up to three years. Upon expiration of the plan, the commissioner will review the school and decide whether the school has improved sufficiently, requires further improvement or has failed to improve at all. If no improvement has occurred, the commissioner can take steps to institute dramatic turn around.

Schools that score in the lowest 20 percent in the statewide Composite Performance Index are designated as either underperforming or chronically underperforming. No more than 5 percent of the state’s schools can have either designation at any given time.

A final piece of the bill removes the cap that limits the state’s total charter school population to 4 percent. It also raises the state spending cap for charter schools from 9 to 18 percent of net school spending in the lowest 10 percent performing districts.

The legislation requires charter schools to develop recruitment and retention plans which include annual goals and specific strategies to attract, enroll and retain low-income, special-education, limited-English, and sub-proficient students.

All the changes provided in the legislation strengthen the Commonwealth’s ability to compete for federal “Race to the Top” grant money worth $150 million to $250 million which represents a one-time-only opportunity to maintain and improve our education system, especially in these tough fiscal times when budgets are being slashed and programs are being cut.

The application deadline for these funds is fast approaching, and the Senate’s vote puts Massachusetts one step closer to obtaining these funds.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further action.


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