WBJ: Ed Reform Will Prepare Mass For Future
December 7, 2009
Senator Karen Spilka
Special to the Worcester Business Journal
The Massachusetts Senate recently passed An Act Relative to Education Reform, an innovative bill that gives our public education system more tools to meet the demands of the 21st Century. As someone who began a public career fighting for education reform, I believe this bill makes important changes, particularly in the area of education funding.
Massachusetts passed its landmark Education Reform Act in 1993 that, for the first time, established a minimum spending requirement for all school districts. After dramatically increasing the amount of state aid to communities for education, this new system — known as Chapter 70 — was reviewed four years ago by the Legislature in a successful effort to make it simpler, more predictable and more equitable.
Getting It Right
One area that we have not fully addressed until now is that of adequacy — making sure that, although schools are struggling with a downturn in the economy, increases in class sizes, program cuts and fewer teachers — they are provided with adequate levels of funding. This is especially important since many areas including health care, special education and technology costs have increased, all while the commonwealth has placed more demands and standards on students and teachers with the ever higher standardized test score requirements.
The final 2009 Senate Education Reform bill contains an amendment I filed that calls on the commonwealth to establish an education resource study committee. This committee will be charged with determining the resources needed for students to achieve the state education standards. It will also help the commonwealth determine the appropriate amount of Chapter 70 funding for cities and towns for future years.
I believe that we have an ongoing obligation to meet the changing needs of our students and schools. 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 we will be ready to implement the appropriate changes once the economy improves.
Other forward-thinking provisions of the bill include the creation of “innovation schools,” which are district public schools with increased autonomy and flexibility to operate. The bill also removes the cap that limits the state’s total charter school population and raises the state spending cap for charter schools in the lowest 10 percent performing districts. Finally, it 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.
The changes provided in the 2009 Education Reform bill strengthen the commonwealth’s ability to compete for federal “Race to the Top” grant money worth up to $250 million. Perhaps more importantly, they better address the changing environment in which Massachusetts’ students are being educated — and the need for equity and adequacy for all communities across our commonwealth. As we look to innovate the way our schools operate and reform the way our districts are funded, this bill provides an excellent blueprint.