Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Massachusetts education funding history

As part of their FY18 Budget Browser, MassBudget has released program by program spending histories, adjusted for inflation. Here is the education chart:


You can find the full education report (including the chart) here. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Public input session on Worcester Public Schools' strategic plan

I think I've made it clear that I'm rather dubious about the strategic plan process that the Worcester Public Schools are going through right now, however, there is going to be a public input session and it would be good for people to go.
It appears to exist only as a Facebook event?

Monday, July 17
6 pm
Fuller Conference Room, MCPHS University
25 Foster Street, 9th Floor, Worcester, MA
Offered in English with simultaneous Spanish translation

Questions? strategicplanworcester@gmail.com

I'll be on vacation, so don't look for a liveblog 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

So what did the Legislature pass?

Yesterday, the House and Senate both passed a budget agreed to by conference committee. It was filed that morning, meaning, as noted by State House News reporter Katie Lannan:
Not, let's say, a triumph for public process. Among other issues, this got us a IIA report, which puts the numbers and account numbers in a spreadsheet, which included only the House numbers, not the conference committee numbers (causing some of  us not a small degree of angst!).

The budget now goes to the Governor, who has ten days to consider it and, if he wishes, to issue vetoes, which, in its turn, the Legislature can override. In other words: we're closer, but we're not done yet.

So what's in it for public education?

Chapter 70 came back at $4.746B, which is right between the House and the Senate numbers. As best as I can tell--I have yet to find the actual Chapter 70 language on this--they did this by keeping the $30/pupil minimum increase, keeping--and possibly adding to?--the insurance increase in the foundation budget, but not taking on the Senate's special education implementation of the Foundation Budget Review Committee's recommendation. Let me emphasize that on my part that is SPECULATION, again, because I haven't seen either an explanation or actual language (which should have been part of H3800). That means that most foundation budgets will be higher than both House 1 and the passed House budget, but not as high as they would have been with the Senate budget. As for state aid, the majority of districts were seeing their increase through the $30/pupil, so that doesn't change ('though do recall that the Governor's budget had set that at $20/pupil, so our foundation budget charts are not yet updated). And if anyone finds or has the actual language, please let me know; I'd be interested.

This means, of course, that two years on from the Foundation Budget Review Commission, with districts across the state repeating that we need finance reform, the only change we saw was the fragmentary one in health insurance. This isn't how one truly values public education.

Oh, and Senator Chang-Diaz was one of two votes against it.

The Department's budget is just over $14M, and continues to contain a boatload of earmarks, which I won't go into here, 'though at some point I have a whole rant on that.

METCO is $20.5M, splitting the difference between House and Senate.

Regional transportation reimbursement is $61.5M (which had been as high as $62M, so it also splits the difference).

The circuit breaker, something specified by Senator Karen Spilka as a "painful" cut, passed at $281,231,181, lower than BOTH House and Senate. Note, however, that it is $50,000 lower than what the Senate passed, which, in a budget of this size (and an account of this size) makes that more of a symbolic cut than anything.

Likewise, McKinney-Vento reimbursement was cut from both houses, being passed at just over $80M; this is an account which has never been fully funded.

Note that all of these previous three are reimbursements, meaning the district fronts the money and gets the money back from the state afterwards. There is here, then, less of a hit on the starting end, but we'll see budgets straining on by midyear.

Targeted intervention in underperforming schools passed at $7.2M, which is lower than either house had passed.

The MCAS line passed at $26.9M, also lower than either budget previously passed.

Extended learning time passed at $13.9M, lower than either.

Innovation schools split the different with a budget of $165,000; that's $150,000 with $15,000 earmarked for Pentucket Regional.

There had been no difference in the amount set aside for charter school reimbursement--an acknowledged-as-underfunded $80.5M--so that passed as previous.

Those are most of the major lines. As always, if you have questions, please let me know.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Oh, and about the July Worcester School Committee meeting

...The only agenda posted is one for executive session at 4:30 pm (for collective bargaining with the teachers).

What's a consent agenda and why you should care if you're in Worcester

As I mentioned in my preview of the final Worcester School regular meeting of the school year, Mr. Foley raised the issue of a consent agenda, something which is covered in today's T&G, as the item was held for the July meeting. The item as filed reads:
To ask the Mayor and the Superintendent to develop a new approach to the School Committee agenda that will make the meetings more effective, productive, and deliberative. Suggestions would include the establishment of a consent agenda for items such as routine approvals of donations and recognitions, the development of criteria for recognitions, designated meetings for honoring recipients of recognitions, and the presence on the agenda at each meeting or every other meeting an important educational policy issue facing Worcester Public Schools that school committee members would learn about (through materials distributed prior to the meeting) and discuss with administrators at the meeting.
So, what's a consent agenda, and why is this being discussed?

A consent agenda takes all of the items that don't need deliberation, items that are simply going to be passed, bundles them together, and has the committee vote a single time to pass all of them.  No one, for example, votes against donations; rarely is there any discussion beyond a request that thanks be sent to the donor. There is no need for individual votes for (to look at that same meeting) donations:

  • of $19.10 for classroom books 
  • of $1000 for SAT for seniors
  • of $1000 for a scholarship (due to Mr. Allen's award)
  • of $676 for special education transitions
  • of $250 for the alternative program (from an award they won!)
  • of $660 from Intel
  • of $13,000 from the Quinsigamond Village Improvement Council for equipment
Should they be on the agenda? Yes, and they're legally required to be, as the committee must vote acceptance of donations. But do they need to be taken separately? No, not at all.
And if someone thought one of them warranted discussion, they could make a motion to take the item off the consent agenda; if that motion passed, the item would be taken up during the meeting as a regular business item. 
Another example, and one raised by Mr. Monfredo in the article, is recognitions. You may have noted that I no longer spell those out in my agenda summary. Frankly, recognitions have exploded over the past year and a half. In that same June 15 alone, for example, there were nine different recognitions, some of several people, several of which were recognitions of individuals who have been recognized more than once this year already! And while recognitions may well be popular--and I doubt highly they'll ever go away--they are not, by any means, a core function of the School Committee, which, under the Mass General Laws, are: 
...to select and to terminate the superintendent, shall review and approve budgets for public education in the district, and shall establish educational goals and policies for the schools in the district consistent with the requirements of law and statewide goals and standards established by the board of education.
More to the point, for each of those recognitions, there is an item filed at an initial meeting, at which at least the filer of the item speaks to the item, and then the item is brought back for the recognition, at which someone else, at least, speaks to the item. And NONE of that is actual school committee business!
If the committee wants to bring people in to recognize them, those who wish to do so need not take up two rounds of committee time in order to do so. Put the initial filing on the consent agenda, and have the recognition at a subsequent meeting.

There's an additional thing going on here, which is mentioned in the article:
In its recent comprehensive review of the district, for example, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education opined the committee was filing too many requests for information from the school administration – requests that often had little to do with the school system’s most pressing priority of improving teaching and learning, the report said.
This is a touchy subject: after all, DESE overreach and the tug-of-war over who manages what is something of a going concern in Massachusetts education and of this blog in particular. However, a quick glance back at some recent agendas speaks to the point:
  • a request for a list of STEM events during a particular month
  • a request for a report from a particular presentation at which the committee member was present
  • a request for a list of summer events
  • a request for a report on specific minor repairs undertaken to a specific school (out of 50 buildings)
  • a request that brush be cleared at particular schools
Can a school committee member make these requests? Absolutely. But as section BCA of the Worcester Public Schools policy handbook says about the responsibilities of school committee members, members will: 
Refer all complaints to the administrative staff for solution and only discuss them at Committee meetings if such solutions fail
In other words: Can it be done with a phone call? Can it be done with an email? Then it should be.
Otherwise, you're just putting it on the agenda to put your name on the agenda.
This will be taken up at Thursday night's meeting. EDIT: no, no regular meeting this week! Check in August! 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Why you maybe should still be worried about Chapter 70

You've no doubt heard the quotes: "Chapter 70 is the third rail;" "Chapter 70 is sacrosanct;" "The Legislature would never touch Chapter 70."
And if you've spent any time around this blog, you know that the state has a constitutional obligation around the funding of public education, thus protecting K-12 school funding.
That's protection only goes so far, however, and when now-Acting Commissioner Wulfson warns us not once, not twice, but three times that we should keep a wary eye on Chapter 70 funding, I believe him.

So this holiday week as we're still awaiting an FY18 budget (with the fiscal year having ended at midnight on Friday), here's how we could still see cuts in Chapter 70 school aid.

On the spreadsheet issued by DESE, I'm looking at the tab marked "summary" which is here:
(See the note up on top that says "Preliminary"? DESE issues this twice each year: once for the Governor's budget, and once for the final, signed-sealed-and-delivered state budget. We don't have the latter, so these numbers are still from the former.)

We could use lots of communities for this example, but for this round, let's look at Leominster, which has been in the news in central Mass lately. Leominster has a student enrollment of just over 6100 students in PreK through 12. They have a foundation budget of $69.4M for FY18. Leominster generally hovers just over required spending (and much of this year's debate has been over the mayor's assertion that he would fund the schools at, not over, net school spending for FY18). 

The summary page for Leominster looks like this: 

(as always, if you click on images, they'll get larger.)
A quick glance in the upper right hand corner of that sheet may give you a hint where this is going: like many districts in Massachusetts, Leominster Public Schools' enrollment is declining (down 99 students from the previous year). As the foundation budget is a student-driven formula, that means the foundation budget is also declining (down $81K from the previous year).

What does that mean for state aid? Take a look at the left column of the sheet:

From the calculation of the municipal wealth formula, Leominster is charged in FY18 with carrying $27.8M of its foundation budget, leaving $41.6M for the state to pick up. 
However:

For FY17, Leominster received $43.8M in Ch. 70 aid.

You can imagine the outcry if Leominster--and many other districts--heard that they were going to get over $2M LESS in state aid than they did the year before. 
Thus two principles--neither of them constitutionally mandated--kick in: hold harmless and minimum aid.

"Hold harmless" straightforwardly is that your aid is "held harmless" or not hurt by the change in the calculation. In practice, that means that the district does not see an aid cut, even if one is warranted by the calculation.

"Minimum aid" comes to us courtesy of the elected branches: 
Remember, we're still working here on the Governor's budget; the Legislative houses both set this at $30/pupil.
Minimum aid means that for every student in your system, you will get an increase of at least that dollar amount. The Governor's budget (which this spreadsheet is based from) set this at $20/pupil; the Legislative branches both set it at $30/pupil.

If you're a district with increasing enrollment and a correspondingly increasing foundation budget, you're seeing more than that per pupil increase already (as the per pupil increases in foundation are significantly more than that) in your constitutionally-mandated state aid.

However, neither hold harmless or minimum aid are constitutionally mandated. 

Last year, about $450M of the full Chapter 70 budget was hold harmless and minimum aid. This year, the Governor's $20 per pupil increase alone is $11M.

Am I saying that the conference committee is definitely going to hit this section of the budget? No. I don't have any sources on that.
But they can. And if Jeff Wulfson is worried, I'm worried.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Update from DESE regarding the late Commissioner

From today's Commissioner's update:
Message from Acting Commissioner Jeff Wulfson: 
This has been a difficult week here at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. With Mitchell Chester's passing, we lost not only an inspirational leader, but a great friend, colleague, and mentor. Thank you to everyone who reached out to us with messages of encouragement and support and to all those, locally and nationally, who paid tribute to his lifelong contributions to education. As Secretary Peyser said, we were blessed to have had Mitchell with us. 
At his family's request, this week's burial service was private. Condolence cards for his wife, Angela Sangeorge, and his children can be sent care of Helene Bettencourt here at ESE, and we'll make sure that they get to the family. Contributions in Mitchell's memory can be made to Habitat for Humanity, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or a scholarship fund that will be announced at a public memorial service that is being planned for August or September. 
Mitchell is gone, but the important work he led, the work that all of us are engaged in, goes on. Here at ESE, we are committed to honoring his memory by pursuing that work with renewed dedication. At the same time, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will soon begin the thoughtful and deliberate process to select the Commonwealth's 24th education commissioner. As acting commissioner, I will do my best to keep you informed and provide any assistance you need. Please do not hesitate to contact me.
I've added links to the above for donations.