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MWDN: Editorial: Measuring the adequacy of education

January 12, 2010

January 12, 2010
The MetroWest Daily News

The education reform bill working its way toward the governor’s desk rightly focuses on the state’s lowest-performing districts. But the most significant education legislation since the landmark 1993 Education Reform Act should also speak to the condition of education in all the commonwealth’s schools.

Among other things, the 1993 law created a formula for ensuring budget equity between school districts. That formula incorporated the results of a 1991 study defining what should be considered an adequate education.

Much has changed since then, including new mandates on schools built into state and federal law, new technology and new expectations. In recent years, school districts have struggled with successive budget shortfalls. Class sizes have increased, course offerings have been dropped. Are the schools, and the funding we provide them, still adequate to the task? We don’t know, because the 1991 adequacy study has never been updated.

An amendment added to the Senate version of the current education reform bill would remedy this problem. Sponsored by Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, the provision calls for a new adequacy study, at around $300,000, so that education policymakers have a better baseline by which to measure their efforts. A similar provision, sponsored by Rep. Tom Sannicandro and others, was added to the bill on the House side. It is important the House-Senate conference committee include the study in its final bill.

One reservation about doing an adequacy study may be that it could establish a legal requirement for school funding. But refusing to assess the state’s educational needs out of fear we may be required to address them is a head-in-the-sand approach that achieves nothing.

It is a tribute to the earlier education reform effort and to Massachusetts’ teachers, parents and students that standardized tests show Bay State students leading the nation. It’s not a stretch to say Massachusetts’ future depends on staying at the top of the educational heap. An educated workforce is our most vital economic resource.

It would be foolish to assume that the snapshot of school funding in 1991 reflects what it takes to provide a quality education today. A new adequacy study is needed, and now is the time to do it. Good public policy starts with accurate data.

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