Thursday, March 31, 2016

RISE and shine!

This morning the Senate committee released the RISE Act (S.2203). The acronym (and nice job on this) is for An Act Enhancing Reform, Innovation, and Success in Education" per the Senate press release (which is a good bulleted summary). You can find MASC's response here.
So what's in it?
A lot, to be perfectly honest.

First (to focus on essentials) there is a charter cap lift in the bill. The lowest 10% performing communities (same as now) have a lift in the amount of spending on charters of up to 0.5% of net school spending per fiscal year, starting in 2019, up to a maximum of 23%.
HOWEVER (and this is a BIG however), that only happens if the state, in 2019-2025 fully funds the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, and, in 2026 and thereafter, fully funds what they're now calling "district mitigation" (charter reimbursement). If that doesn't happen, the cap can only go up by the percentage funded.
The bill also puts no cap on Horace Mann and innovation schools (both of which are district-run) BUT those may be counted towards the percentage of spending of the cap lift (so a district could exceed 23% or lesser percentages in previous years IF the spending was on Horace Mann and/or innovation schools).
The bill also puts no cap on schools that primarily serves at risk populations (75% of enrollment).

District mitigation payments are reformulated at 100%, 50%, 25% (right now it's 100%, 25%, 25%, 25%, 25%, though the last few tend to be irrelevant as they generally aren't actually funded).

What else?

The Board of Ed is reformulated to have one of the Governor's appointees be required to be a retired teacher, jointly recommended by AFT and MTA; currently, teachers are barred from serving on the Board of Ed. It also drops the phrase barring a Board member from serving "as a member of any school committee," thus reversing that ban ('though they can't be paid by a district and serve on the Board of Ed). Those currently in office are to complete their terms.

It requires the Secretary of Administration and Finance to jointly with the Joint Ways and Means Committee create an implementation schedule for the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations. It specifically calls out:
...tuitioned-out special education rate, assumed in-school special education enrollment, low-income increment, low-income enrollment, foundation benefits, retired employee health insurance and English language learner increment... the categories to be covered (note: those were the recommendations, but not everything mentioned; early childhood ed, inflation, as well as the question over if "assumed" was right for special ed aren't in here). It sets in place a seven year implementation schedule, to be equally implemented each year; in determining the schedule:
the secretary of administration and finance and house and senate committees on ways and means shall hold a public hearing and receive testimony from the commissioner of elementary and secondary education and other interested parties. The schedule may be amended by agreement of the senate and house ways and means committees in any of the 7 fiscal years to reflect changes in enrollment, inflation, student populations, or other factors that would affect the remaining costs in the schedule; provided, however, that the final year of the schedule shall not surpass fiscal year 2025, but the schedule may be fully implemented prior to fiscal year 2025.
In other words, yes, you get some wiggle room, but you don't get to kick the can down the road forever, and we're not taking excuses.

It is, however, as all such things are, "subject to appropriation."

The definition of "foundation benefits" is updated to include retiree benefits (which it hasn't).

In terms of implementation of the Foundation Budget Review Commission:
  • The benefits rate is set by "average group insurance commission premium for all plans for the 3 previous fiscal years" (so the three year GIC rate);
  • Health insurance now includes retirees in the calculation.
  • The ELL rate is set at $2,361 for 2019 and is expanded to include vocational students.
  • The low income rate is for students whose families are at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. Districts are divided into septiles (there's a new word to me!); the starting rate is set at $3,474 "and each subsequent septile shall increase by equal amounts up to the highest percentage septile rate of $8,179" which is to be annually adjusted for inflation.
  • The in-district special ed rate is raised to 4% overall and 5% of vocational students.
  • The out-of-district special ed rate is set at "4 times the statewide foundation budget per-pupil 434 amount less the sum of the statewide foundation budget per-pupil amount and out-of-district special education cost rate" (which is what the FBRC recommended).
DESE is required to "develop target percentages and standards for administrative costs."

If a student transfers into a different school during the school year, or has had substantial interruption in their schooling in the previous three years, their test scores don't count towards the school.

The bill expands those things required of Level 4 schools to Commissioner-designated Level 3 schools (the lowest performing 20%); the Board of Ed is charged with creating regulations regarding such a declaration of a "priority" school, taking:
...into account multiple indicators of school quality in making such designations, including, but not limited to: student attendance rates, dismissal rates and exclusion rates, promotion rates, graduation rates or the lack of demonstrated significant improvement for at least 2 consecutive years in core academic subjects, either in the aggregate or among subgroups of students, including designations based on special education, low-income, English language proficiency, and racial or ethnic classifications.
The teachers' union and school committee must then negotiate a waiver agreement (subject to approval of 2/3rds of those working at least 50% of their time at the school; if they can't come to agreement, the Commissioner can simply declare the school underperforming (Level 4)). The superintendent then convenes a turnaround stakeholder group. The turnaround plan then goes to the school committee for approval, as well as to the teachers' union for approval. If it doesn't get approved, the Commissioner can declare the school underperforming (Level 4). The plan goes to the Commissioner but is not subject to his approval. The "priority" designation is for two years, at which point it is reviewed by the Commissioner. (There's also a bunch of language which makes ch. 69 include "priority" schools, as well as "underperforming" (Level 4) and "chronically underperforming" (Level 5).)
It provides for regional school district planning boards and specifically allows for cities to be part of them. And there's a lot of language on this and I don't know why, so if anyone wants to clue me in, I'd appreciate it.

For the purposes of school discipline regulations, "a commonwealth charter school shall be considered a school district." They thus are held accountable for all portions of the law, including the revisions to chapter 222. They must post their policies pertaining to conduct on their websites. Charter schools thus must provide for alternative education for students suspended or expelled. Charter schools specifically must: 
...establish a panel consisting of 3 members of the board of trustees to hear appeals of disciplinary actions taken by the charter school, 1 of whom shall be the representative of the district school committee and 2 other members who shall be appointed by the chairperson of the board of trustees. Unless otherwise provided in this section, the panel shall have the same rights and responsibilities as a superintendent in hearing appeals and issuing final decisions.
...which brings us to the changes for charter schools. Their board of trustees are required to have at least one full-time teacher at the school, at least one representative of the sending district's school committee, at least two (or 25%, whichever is greater) parent or guardian of current students at the school, and high schools must have a current student member, all of whom are to be voting members of the board. Members of the Board of Trustees and their families may not materially benefit from the school (save the teacher may be paid). The same change is made for Horace Mann charters.

Charter school teachers must be evaluated as public school teachers are. They also shall if unionized acrue seniority and receive compensation equal to with that received by district teachers. Charter school teachers are to be certified by July 1, 2019, and charters must file plans about their progress towards making that happen.

Charter schools may not expand or create new schools if their suspension rate overall or for subgroups exceeds that of sending districts for the previous three years. This does not, however, apply to the alternative charters (we're getting there) and it may be waived for a subgroup if the gap is small and the Board of Ed feels they're making an effort.

Applicants for new charter schools have to meet with the superintendent of the district before applying, and they must explain how their program will compliment the district. They also must hold a joint hearing with the district school committee. Not doing so automatically disqualifies them from applying.

As part of the application process, the "superintendent may submit an analysis to the department that describes how approval of the proposed charter school may affect the district’s students," AND the Commissioner is REQUIRED to:
...explain in writing to the board that the commissioner’s decision is responsive to the district superintendent’s submission and provide an assessment of the accuracy of the analysis of the impact on the programs and services of the sending school district or districts...
Further, the Board of Ed is required to "substantially consider" materials submitted by the district in their decision on charters and:
When making a decision on an application, the board shall explain in writing how the decision takes into account the district superintendent’s submission under subsection (h) regarding how the school’s approval is expected to impact the district’s students.
It appears that the Senate believes that falls under the Board's purview.

Charter schools can only be created, renewed, expanded, or amended if they have an opt-out lottery system of some kind. This may (Bostonians, please note both the verb and the stress on it) be a unified enrollment system with the district, 'though if that is the case, the charter may only enroll students from the single district, may not displace district options in choices, and students cannot be compelled to attend a charter school. Charters that already exist may phase it in. All students eligible for enrollment are entered in the lottery ('though parents and guardians may opt their children out); those pulled may also choose not to enter the school. The charter will also create a waitlist through the lottery, from which it will backfill students into seats that open during the year for all grade levels; if the waitlist is exhausted, the charter is to conduct a new lottery.
Charter schools may offer priority enrollment to  at-risk students, students who are homeless, students who are pregnant or parenting or students who have dropped out of school.
Districts that rent space to charters can require that students in that district be given preferential enrollment, though (here and throughout) the low income percentages must be at least those of the sending district.
Charters may also preferentially enroll the children of their employees.

Charter schools are to update their waitlists monthly. They must include names and addresses, and they must include those taken off the list (either through enrollment or by request). Waitlists annually expire on July 1. Waitlists will be maintained separately for Horace Mann and Commonwealth charters; they will be available publicly (without student identifying information) on the DESE website.

Contracts and leases, partnerships, grants, and gifts must be posted on the charter school website.
No charter management organization may "exercise a proprietary claim" on practices at a charter school.
Charter schools may not charge tuition or fees. They may not require a contract be signed by parents or guardians.
DESE is charged with creating a charter and district exchange program, including the exchange of employees to share best practices.
Districts continue to provide transportation IF they and the charter agree on start times. If not, the charter school has to cover 50% of the cost. What if the district is just given a bill?
Limitations that districts put on busing also cover district charter schools; if there's transportation for specialized district programming, the charters are covered.
Districts also must provide charters with field trip transportation equal to the average field trip transportation for the prior three years provided by the district to their schools (easy in districts where we've long since stopped providing field trip transportation).

Attrition, stability, and suspensions, including those of subgroups, must reflect those of the sending district for the previous three years; there is again a provision for a waiver if it's a small gap and "the charter school has made a rigorous effort to maintain all of its students."

Charter schools are to publish an annual report, including a financial report. The department is to create regulations regarding the net asset balance of charter schools. That is all to be on the charter school's website as well.

The Commissioner is charged with collecting attrition and stability data annually and making it publicly available.

DESE has until January 1, 2017 to revise its regulations.

DESE is to make recommendations regarding the revision of definition of low income by January 1, 2017.

There is to be a charter school funding commission with a report due January 1, 2017.

There is to be a commission on school start times with a report due December 31, 2016.

The State Auditor is required to issue a report on the first five years of the changes in chapter 222. It's to be filed with the Civil Rights division of the AG's office, among others, and is due December 31, 2019. 

1 comment:

Mike Can said...

Tracy, Thank you for this work!