Friday, March 22, 2019

Joint Committee on Education hears the funding bills:

This is bound to be a long one! I'll be updating this all day as we go.
The hearing begins at 10 am, but the auditorum is filling fast: the MTA is here with red "Fund our Future" shirts, I've seen a few superintendents come in, Mass Parents United is here with black tee shirts, and staffers from the Senators and Reps are in and out. My view is from the top back: 

regarding Worcester and funding reform

I'm not testifying today--just typing!--but I've found that my original testimony before the Foundation Budget Review Commission from over four years ago has held up well.
There are times at which it is no longer “effective” or “efficient” spending.
Sometimes a cut is just a cut.
The education and programs we were able to provide in 2000 were much closer to that which we should be offering our children in class sizes, in course offerings, in after-school programs, in support services, in supplies, in technology...across the board.

Of course, now the gaps are larger.

This is noted quite well in yesterday's WGBH article:
The early aughts were a boom time in Worcester Public Schools. The district offered afterschool programs, free pre-kindergarten and career pathway training in high school. These are all programs the district thought worked for boosting opportunities and achievement for low-income students.
But in 2004, as the cost of teachers’ health benefits and special education started to balloon faster than revenue, the district started making drastic cuts.
They were a boom time, of course, because the foundation budget was fully implemented and health insurance costs hadn't yet started to balloon.

I appreciated Rebecca Cusick's point on this in her op-ed earlier this week:
While accountability has increased and undergone a series of reforms since 1993, the funding formula has not. It’s time for some reciprocal accountability. Students and schools are compared to each other with the assumption that they are equal, while clearly, they are not. Education funding reform is the single best strategy for improving education for all kids.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Governor Baker at MASBO

Today MASBO has their annual Solutions Fair, and Governor Baker is giving the keynote. One assumes that the Governor addressing school finance people will involve school funding, thus posting to come here. 
Secretary Peyser is also here with the Governor.
Part of his introduction references the day his budget is filed being one of the biggest days of the year for the people in this room

Governor Baker: I really appreciate the work that you do
"I always say that I served on the board of selectmen rather than the school committee because the school committee is too hard."

Bruce Baker on Boston, weighted student funding, and the excess required

Well done by Kristin Johnson, Boston Public Schools parent, who as part of the Boston Coalition for Educational Equity work recently interviewed Professor Bruce Baker on Boston's weighted student funding formula.
Even if you're not in Boston and not interested in weighted student funding, there are things to learn from this one, particular about the excess required in systems that have things like charter schools or schools of choice:

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What does local accountability look like? Discussion with Ben Forman of Mass Inc

Ben Forman of Mass Inc, who wrote the piece on local accountability recently, came out to talk to me last week about local accountability. We also got into local elections, site councils, criminal justice reform, housing stability, who runs and who doesn't, and turnarounds.
Thanks, Ben!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Joint Committee on Ways and Means on FY20 education funding

We're at Bristol Community College (across the street from Fall River's new Durfee High project) for the Joint Committee on Ways and Means hearing on education accounts. This Committee is jointly chaired by Senator Michael Rodriguez of Westport and Representative Aaron Michelwitz of Boston. Note that generally the administration makes their pitch first, thus we'll hear early on from Lt. Governor Polito, Secretary Peyser, and the three Commissioners (early ed, K-12, and higher ed). 
Posting once we start 
Vice Chair Denise Garlick introduces Rep. Carole Fiola (of Fall River) and Sen. Jason Lewis (of Winchester, Assistant Vice-Chair), who will be co-chairing today. 
President of Bristol Community College welcoming the joint committee...two members from Fall River School Committee and one from New Bedford School Committee here today

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

The agenda is here. There are retirements, thanks, and such.

The report of the superintendent is on English learning. There's a lot to consider here, and I see some flags around partnering with families and perhaps a lack of historical context. Also there's a grant cited here that I can't find

Finance and Operations comes back with their second quarter report (including transfers) and their transportation items (no backup on the agenda). If you haven't been in touch with the committee on whatever bus concerns you may have, it would be important to contact them before Thursday.

There is a report back regarding an online gradebook creation: for outside bidders, it would be one time start-up costs of $125,000 plus $185,000. As that's more than one staff person, one has to ask: did anyone look at doing this in-house, as WPS runs most of its data systems in-house at substantial cost savings?

The request for a report on AP's to "include student/parent feedback" is back with two pages of courses, the test costs, the dates students are required to attend...and that's it. No details, no feedback, no plans for it.
It also still leaves out the part where the test is required.

On the other hand, there's a whole four pages on implementation Read Across America Day.
There is a recommendation coming back on a Claremont Academy catchement area.

There a request for reports/reviews on: the 100 Males to College Program; the Doherty building plan; the bus yard at Fremont Street (that would be WPS buses), and bus arrival times (I can't tell if that backup is for schools or for parents); A/C and water in buildings; the MOU with the Worcester Police Department; feminine hygiene products being available free (they are, at the nurse); DEP action at Bright Cleaners (next to Gates Lane); prioritizing homeless students; biweekly listening sessions; strengthening site councils; incorporating more diversity (racial, ethnic and around sexual identity) in history (required under the new state standards); balancing arts/history/etc in early grades; ethics; arts education; a racial equity study; a homebuyer program; a program for IAs to become teachers; increasing recess (admin says they can't go beyond the 30 minutes already required); specific preschool grant funding (already a response: not eligible); and makerspace in school libraries. The last fifteen of those, which is more items than that, are all from Mr. Comparetto. On one agenda.

There's a request the School Committee accept the following donations:
– $25,000.00 from The Hanover Insurance Group Foundation to The Hanover Insurance Academy for the Arts at Burncoat Middle School (I think this is the first one that has come through?)
– $20,000.00 from Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) to the Worcester Public Schools to be used as scholarships to graduating seniors.

There's an executive session for a grievance, two employee lawsuits, and the lawsuit of the Jane Doe V. Worcester Public Schools (which I might be this case (?), which hasn't gotten a great deal of local press).

No blogging from me: I have a meeting that night! 

Somebody has a meeting on Doherty (and a note from me on comments)

Someone finally had a meeting on Doherty's building plans, and, even if it wasn't the city and the schools, there was some good information shared. Good for the Friends of Newton Hill and ParkSpirit for keeping an eye on things.
The important bit of news that came out is this:
While no decisions have been made about where the new Doherty is going to be built, Mr. Miller said he has “unofficially heard” that the present school site is likely to receive the most consideration. That begs the question: If the current site is selected, would the students and staff at Doherty have to be uprooted during construction?
Mr. Miller said there has been some speculation that the current South High, which is in the process of being replaced with a new building, could possibly come into play as a temporary home for Doherty. But that’s nothing more than speculation at this point. Such a possibility has never been publicly discussed or mentioned.
The idea of South as swing space so Doherty could be built on the same site was something I hadn't heard til this week. The main complications would be parking and transportation (so maybe we should be talking about transportation costs seriously?). It is space the district already owns and operates, which is always the big issue with swing space, which otherwise can get expensive.
What was pointed out during the meeting is building a high school for 1700 on the 20 acres available at Newton Hill will take creativity, and that takes a particular kind of architecture. We can only hope--since no one is making that process public--that those abilities of the architects to build on the current space are being seriously considered.

__________________________________________

Since I'm quoted in the piece, and since this appears to keep coming up in some quarters, let me say again--as I did multiple times at the meeting, as I do before I speak in public in Worcester at meetings, as I do on this blog, as I do on my Twitter feed, and as I do on my Facebook page--I don't speak for MASC in or on Worcester. I can't. MASC Field Directors intentionally do not have their own districts as field directors. We rarely speak in public on district matters of districts we are directors for (and generally when we do, it is to a school committee at their public meeting).
Reading with an English teacher's eye, I can understand what Nick is doing in the column: there is a reason I'd know what is happening in other districts, and thus citing my profession lends that creditability. I appreciate that. I do follow education news across the state for work.
When I speak about Worcester, I speak as someone who lives here and sends her kids to school here. That is more than enough.



Saturday, March 16, 2019

Big week on school finance next week

Hearings at either end of the week of note for school finance watchers in Massachusetts, with a bonus on school finance in the middle:
  • On Monday, the Joint Ways and Means Committee is holding their FY20 hearing on education at Bristol Community College in New Bedford (building G); that starts at 11 am. 

  • On Wednesday, Governor Charlie Baker is keynoting at the MASBO Solutions Fair in Marlborough.  One assumes that when the Governor comes to talk to school finance people, he'll talk school finance.

  • On Friday, the Joint Committee on Education is holding a hearing on the education funding bills in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House beginning at 10 am. Note that if you're in Worcester, there is a bus leaving City Hall at 8 am to take you there and back, if you like. 
Yes, all of the above will be liveblogged and tweeted, and MASC plans to report out on these, as well. And if you cannot make the hearings, you can always send testimony into the Committee chairs. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

I'm in.

Note that there will not be a lot of Worcester election posting here.
I want to cover this here, too, though.


I pulled papers for Worcester School Committee this morning. 
I want to be really clear that I am encouraged by those who have pulled papers this year, especially parents of Worcester students, who haven't been at the table recently.
Worcester needs a school committeee FULL of strong members. 
That's six seats. Sign those papers! Vote for good people!
I'm running to be one of them.

You can find more about me hereFAQ here, what I think about education here (as well as on this site for the past eleven years). 

And you can donate over there, too! 

Worcester Public Schools FY20 at CPPAC

I tweeted a few things out:

Monday, March 11, 2019

Worcester Finance and Operations takes up transportation (and the second quarter)

The agenda is here;
Second quarter report is up first, as Superintendent Binienda intends to attend (unusually) for transportation.
Balance being run plus charter hold aside being used for textbooks, security at Worcester Tech, and building repairs/environmental abatement
Mr. Foley says he's thrilled to see a full staff and vacancies covered in custodial.
pleased to see textbook allocation
Miss McCullough: nice to see utilities in positive this time
subcommittee votes to approve transfers as recommended

On to bid specifications for transportation
Mr. Foley asks administration to give summary of report, will allow questions from subcommittee, then take public comment

Allen: 223 vehicles transporting about 12,000 students each day
administration has conducted an analysis of self-facilitated transportation
as has been done in a number of other areas, zero-based budgeting
goes through history of district, of surrounding districts, of transportation audit
have conducted visits to districts that have switched to in-district services
Recommendation is a phased approached to student transportation that will possibly lead to full-self-conducted transportation in the future
first 7D vans switching
"the plan the superintendent has put forth would be this phased approach"
then will wish to review bid specs
next school year will be fifth year of a five year contract

Binienda interested in sending
"have felt that Durham has done a good job of meeting with us and addressing any issues"
meet with WPS transportation weekly; admin monthly
point of meetings is to bring up challenges and try to meet them
"And I really feel that they have done their best on that"
have worked on My Spot (GPS app)
have been working on a direct line from Durham to transporation
"have also felt their being very generous to us" to send staff to DCU Center
joint production  from South and Burncoat to Hanover
"never been a time that I've called them that they haven't gone an extra length for us"
"they stay positive on the collaboration that we have"

Allen on bid specs:
unless we can hold the contractor for the item we're not adding it
(thus for example, block heaters eliminated: "either they run or they don't run" says Allen)
supervisors required at both locations
elimination of substitute drivers now left to Durham ("again, either the bus runs or it doesn't run" and they get paid accordingly)
page 17 and 18 include new service credits that district would recover
made at recommendation of current contractor

Foley: no problem with the bid specs as recommended
find report
"inconsistency of report" with recommendation
"as I read the report, I find something very different here"
"this has been a tough year for bussing"
"what was included in that report...is the fact that Durham has not been as responsive this year as they should have been"
getting from point A to point B
cameras not working
hoping to have GPS to have real time monitoring a year or so ago
the first question is "I haven't seen Durham performing"
"I'm concerned it's a national trend"
"our eleven buses have given us far better services...and greater levels of flexibility"
Binienda: "I don't agree with that: I think Durham has been responsive"
"we had some challenges ourselves"
"it's a process...they've tried to work with us"
"I truthfully don't think that this year has been difficult because of Durham"
Foley: "I think people would disagree with that"
would we have capacity?
Binienda: "We don't have the capacity...very few places take over transportation"
"We right now have our hands full with improving instruction and turnaround schools"
Foley: trend nationally is much more taking over transportation out there
would say to superintendent if we ran our own system could provide our own 'free' bussing as needed
and with far less expensive field trips
projection is to save $36M over ten years, and that's backloaded
$2M for first five years, significantly more over subsequent years
Allen: agree that it would be backend savings in latter years
Foley: from a cost savings point of year
Binienda: we don't definitely know we're going to make that savings
"the work, and who's going to be running the bus company...we're not a bus company system"
"don't have the capacity to do that and we don't have the expertise"
Foley: saving $400K
Binienda: believe that some that funding is rebates
Note the report says this: 
Overall, the transition of eleven district-operated big buses saved the district $402,000, with $208,000 invested in new support positions for transportation operations (see pages 62 and 176-177 of the FY19 budget book) resulting in FY19 savings of $194,000.
It is a different line than the contracted bus services Foley: we do take on in-house services that we have done very well and saved significant money
really a single operation nationally is Durham
"I worry about that...we're looking at a reduced time frame...any vendor will be looking to maximize their dollars...than over a five year contract"
driving this price through the roof and there's very little competition for the vendor
puts us at real risk of a very high bid
Binienda could come in lower

McCullough: can appreciate district focus on instruction
"one of the most frequent complaints I've gotten from community members has been bussing"
will change in bid open to other contractors?
Allen: as Mr. Foley correctly points out, there are probably only two contractors who could bid on a contract of this size
McCullough: it's a safety factor
in some cases parents not even calling anymore
"knowing it will save money and improve service"
"can we at least have a comparison of services?"
could we have buses for special services?
Allen: if we had more buses, yes
McCullough: routing, would make sense to take over sooner
would support at least looking to see a comparison over two to three years
have been contacted with a member of the Framingham School Committee
"this year it seems more prevalent than ever"

Comparetto: share concerns of using a private, for-profit company
"horrible customer service and really bad communication"
looking for best practices
best practice across the country: cities are bringing these services in house
have been having this conversation for ten years now

Monfredo: "very interesting topics"
"to be honest with you I haven't heard of many districts successfully providing transportation for our students"
at least take time to see what would work and does not work
"do think phasing in makes sense than jumping in on something that we're not even sure of"

Biancheria: a couple of things we need before we can look at this
need some examples: how many employees, how will house
when we look at the city of Worcester, we have WRTA, what are those issues?
do we use Worcester Airport as an example?
"we're not in the business of running buses; we're in the business of education"
"very fortunate that we've stayed with employees in the Worcester Public Schools"
"have I been happy with Durham under the past year? No...but that doesn't mean I would sit back and run my own bus company"
"doesn't mean we won't create additional challenges"
think we should "get the information compiled"
maybe we need to back up a little and look at the actual savings
"when you have bus drivers, you have unions...what would those union stipulations be?"
"need to look at all the costs...certainly open for all the getting this information together"
"communicated to everyone and the public"'


Allen (to Q from McCullough): the $400K was entirely through taking back routes, not taking credits

Valentin Goins: "have never had the problems we have had this year"
starting in the first week this year...late from August to February
"they get marked late...staff is rushing them...burden is being placed entirely on students to solve a systems issues"
systems solution
"staff should say that I should call the bus company...that's absurd...that's not a job we should be doing"
"to say that lack of existing capacity stop us..." does not make sense

Foley: still see the need to have a comparative bidding process
what would be timeline to take over service?
Allen: one is space and one is vehicles
"some time...but not years"
"next one is around employees...clearly the biggest issue we would face"

Foley:
MOTION: to prepare two year with optional third year; to prepare a five year plan; and to have WPS to submit a bid to self-operate transportation
Allen: would go out end of month, would receive bids first week or so of May
motion passes
(note that it will still need to pass the full committee on March 21)

Saturday, March 9, 2019

On Worcester transportation

It's well worth reading the full report on transportation that's going to Finance and Operations on Monday, 'though I appreciate this summary article from Scott O'Connell. First, note the comment under transportation from the second quarter budget update (which is itself always worth reading):
The district’s transportation department has continuously been providing expanded customer service for parents and district staff, supervisory coverage for athletic trips during evening and weekends, as well as additional training for drivers.
Back to the report...
The executive summary lays out the following parameters:
The Administration of the Worcester Public Schools has been studying the full district-operated student transportation based on cost, customer service, and improved service to students.
Thus we should be looking in the report for evidence that the recommendation is borne out on cost, customer service, and improved student service.

The superintendent's recommendation is, again, is a "phased approach," switching only some vans next year, then considering the full transportation again in two years. Her justification is:
The Superintendent is committed to improved student transportation services but intends to focus district administration’s human resources and efforts to the sustained instructional improvements that have begun at the “underperforming” schools.
I have heard many things about making improvements at underperforming schools, but never have I heard it used as an excuse not to otherwise go about the work of the district. Worcester can't run buses on time as needed and improve the education of students at the same time? This is essentially a concession of not being able to manage a district.

The only savings suggested that this switch to vans would provide is possibly to provide transportation to early college and other such off-campus programming. This past year, early college programming was 159 students, in a district where buses serve 12,000 students daily.

Note that the superintendent is recommending a two year contract with Durham, with an option for a third year. Per the report (page 9), first year increases with Durham have been 11% (in this current contract), 8.8% (in the one before that), and 6.1% (in 2005-10) for five year contracts. What will be the increase on a contract that runs for only two years with a vendor that has made it clear it cares not a fig for "contractual specifications between the parties," as the report puts it? Further, look at the list of other Massachusetts districts on page 8 and how high those increases have come in across the state (and how many of them had only a single bidder).

It is difficult to see how the recommendation to go out to bid for two years could result in a positive result on cost.

The analysis on district-based transportation, however, is projected to save the district $36M over 10 years. That would bear out cost. This would allow the district, the report says:
...to provide additional transportation models for schools, such as later school start times, lower walking distances, and increased ridership opportunities for students at no new cost to the district
That would be improved student service. Additionally--and perhaps, ironically--later school start times have been demonstrated to improve academic performance, which would argue that we should be bringing transportation in-house if our concern is indeed on "underperforming" schools.

The report notes that having transportation in-house makes the district solely responsible for transportation, plus using updated technology would allow increased responsiveness. That would be customer service. Perhaps this would mean that we could finally get a GPS app for parents and students, something which has been required in at least the last two contracts with Durham, and still has yet to happen.

Athletic trips were brought in-house already this year.
As any teacher or parent who has tried to create them knows, the major expense on field trips is buses. The report says in-house transportation would allow for field trips at approximately 75% less than recent costs! Check out this chart from page 16:

We might actually be able to swing sending kids on field trips! That would also be both cost and improved student service.

The report then talks about the transportation study done in 2013-2014 (remember that?). Of the recommendations made in the final report were hiring a full-time route planner, which was done in FY19; updating repair records to software, which is being done now; and communication on buses that are running late...which can currently only be done in the eleven buses that WPS operates, as Durham does not communication appropriately with the districts about buses that aren't running or are running late.
Thus customer service is lacking, due to the intransigence of the contracted provider.

The report next relates the district's zero-based budgeting to transportation, relating the various programs in which costs have been brought down through changes in practice:
The district’s current practice has been to bring services into the district in areas that we have demonstrated:
  • Services converted to district-provided have been highly successful and sustainable
  • The ability to use existing resources to compensate new district employees at a fair market rate
  • The ability to obtain a better level of control of service delivery to students
  • The conversion of funds from the amount that would have otherwise been profit margin for the contracted vendor into investments into that program or savings back to the district budget for reallocation to other instructional services.

The goal and outcome in these recent experiences has been to provide some level of financial savings and improved customer service by moving services into the district.
Note further (page 5) that due to the city's chronic underfunding of the school district capital needs--my words, not the report's--the district has in-district buses on a 13 year replacement cycle. Leasing buses enables a quicker replacement cycle with lower maintenance costs.

The argument throughout this section is that the Worcester Public Schools have a solid history of closely examining services needed and adjusting the contractual requirements both to save money and to improve service. Thus:
Through the district budget and planning process, the Administration has identified each year since 2015, that the district should carefully examine the possibility of providing district operated student transportation services...
The end of that sentence--beginning in the 2022-2023 or 2023-2024 school year--is simply untrue. The recommendations have either said it should be looked at or that it should be looked at as the next (the current) contract closes. In sum:
In other words, while many districts, like Worcester, have no real demonstrated competition for student transportation, we continue to see annual costs exceed the rate of budget growth in any given year; whereas a school district is entirely motivated to control both costs without sacrificing the level of service provided.
And schools, unlike private service providers, don't run the services for a profit. They can focus on good service for appropriate cost.

This article from the 2017 Sunday Telegram is cited next, as is a review of other districts' experiences with recent transportation bids, and a review of the history of Worcester in looking at transportation. The 2010 budget reported that bringing services in-house should be considered in 2015! It was also mentioned in FY16, FY17, FY18, and FY19.

As for service:
...there have been detailed numerous other contractual compliance issues during this current contract period
Yes, indeed there have been, as many, many parents and students can attest. One doesn't have to look very far to see that this is a chronic issue with Durham, either. (When I first posted about this, a friend in Ames, Iowa commented about their issues as well, which sent me looking...) It seems, however, that such issues don't matter to those making the recommendation.

There follows a list of districts that either recently have or are shifting to in-district transportation.

If what you're interested in is why we'd want to change over, start on page 14, as that lays out how the costs work out--where that $36M in savings come from--and what has been considered. Again, note:
All other costs associated with a third party vendor that is “overhead and profit” is not needed in a district-operated model. All of these costs can be invested into improving transportation services and/or provide savings back to the district for reallocation to support instructional areas.
This also lays out what the district could do if it were running the system--real time arrival information (which we've been contractually requiring and not getting since...2010?); customer service staffing; supplemental transportation, including for field trips--as well as the staffing that already has changed and what would need to change.

So why should we change? To use only half of the second-to-last sentence:
...a cost savings, improved customer service to students, parents and schools, and expanded transportation options for the district at no additional cost than the current budget
(emphasis added)
It's been ten years. It is time to end the dithering and move to better service for lower cost.
This is taken up Monday at 5 pm on the 4th floor of 20 Irving Street. 

Second quarter of FY20 for Worcester

Before I go back to talking about transportation, this from the FY19 second quarter report caught my eye:
Nineteen accounts are moving to the new contract rates and the price has been reduced from $0.848/therm to $.49183/therm. With the remaining 36 accounts, these will return to the Eversource default supply at a winter rate of $0.5982/therm. The previous rate on these accounts were $0.848 per therm. This reduction of contracted rates, as well as a milder heating season has resulted in significant savings.
The district is saving over half a million dollars on utilities this year!
This and the salary vacancies means that administration is recommending WPS buys textbooks! 

Friday, March 8, 2019

As we assess student safety, what are we doing to the students assessed?

Important one from WBUR this morning:
A new study from the International Journal on School Climate and Violence Prevention looks at how one of the protocols, which is known as a student threat assessment, affects the students who are being assessed.
"Even when it’s shown that their threat was transient — [The assessment] can really torpedo a student’s education," said lead study author Nancy Rappaport, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Problems with the Worcester Public Schools and busing? Monday, 5pm

If you wondered if your concerns as a parent or student were being heard about student transportation, it seems the answer is no:
The Superintendent recommends a phased approach to district operated transportation over the next three to four years. The Superintendent is committed to improved student transportation services but intends to focus district administration’s human resources and efforts to the sustained instructional improvements that have begun at the “underperforming” schools.
...because, it appears, a district of over 4000 employees can't both sustain instructional improvements and transport students in a safe and timely fashion, in the view of the Superintendent.

The choice of what to do with student transportation, however, lies with the School Committee, and the Finance and Operations subcommittee has on their agenda for Monday night the request for bids for student transportation...
...which they could choose not to send out.

I'm planning on being there at 5 on Monday, because I'm tired of wondering if my kids are going to be picked up. It's the fourth floor of 20 Irving Street downtown, if you feel similarly.

I channeled a bit of my outrage on Twitter here.
It's also interesting to note that the second quarter budget report coming out at the same meeting says this: 

The district’s transportation department has continuously been providing expanded customer service for parents and district staff, supervisory coverage for athletic trips during evening and weekends, as well as additional training for drivers.
UPDATE: Decent summary from Scott O'Connell this morning

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Worcester and the proposed school funding bills

...the presentation from last Thursday is now up (and with that, Worcester has FY20 started).
As I believe I have said elsewhere, it's the only model I've seen so far comparing what implementation would look like for a district.

On the choices white parents make in choosing schools

Excellent piece by researcher (and parent) Amy Stuart Wells:
In fact, in a study we conducted on Long Island, we found that the race of the students in the school system affected property values of otherwise identical houses in districts with the same test score data by as much as $50,000. In other words, the perception of “good” schools is too often about the perception of race, even when black and Latino students perform well on tests normed toward white students.
And still, despite this evidence and the call for more integration, many white parents continue to derive status and honor from one another when their children are selected into predominantly white or Asian schools regardless of the climate or characteristics of these schools. As the viral video of a parent meeting on the Upper West Side of Manhattan last year demonstrated, white parents can become very angry when the admissions policies to these schools change.

Watch the language on the Governor's proposal

The Commissioner and Secretary spent some time with local newspapers on the Governor's proposed school funding bill a few weeks ago, and I think it's important to pay attention to the language being used.
The Secretary made this argument about the charter reimbursement change to State House News:
"It's a slightly smaller number, but it's over a shorter period of time," Peyser said. "The theory behind charter reimbursement to begin with is that it's transitional aid to help a district accommodate its budget for the loss of the students and that tuition revenue, so the idea being within three years you can sort of right-size a district or reallocate capacity in such a way that you'll be able to get back to a steady state -- that is, from an expenditure point of view -- that's basically where you were to begin with."
But note what I think is actually the most important part of the change, which would mean that most districts don't get reimbursement at all:
Baker's plan would also make districts ineligible for reimbursement if their charter school enrollment in a particular year is not above the "high-water mark of the previous five years," Peyser said.
"A combination of those two things gets us to a point where we think we can actually fully fund this formula so that districts can count on the money coming in, as opposed to now, where they really have no idea how much they're going to get, year in and year out," Peyser said. "One issue here is just being a more reliable, predictable partner on charter reimbursements. The second, which is related to it, is getting it to a point where it's funded at a level we think we can actually deliver on."
Thus the promise that can be kept isn't the promise at all; it's limiting reimbursement to only a few districts and giving nothing beyond facility reimbursement to most. That isn't fulfilling a commitment.

On the proposal that the Commissioner could hold aside up to an underperforming school's entire foundation budget, requiring that the district take that funding from areas that don't impact pupils (aside: there's no such thing), their argument to the Springfield Republican is:
As it stands now, they say, there is no middle layer between local under-performance and state takeover through receivership. To advocates of Baker’s proposal policy say, continuing to pour state aid into districts that don’t show improvement is a waste of money, and decreases the motivation of local districts to make the serious adjustments needed to raise performance.
The bottom line is pretty simple: no more excuses for poor performance. Circumstances matter but not at the expense of results. Peyser also said the withheld funds would go into a trust that could be restored to the district, once improvement is shown - an aspect of this policy that has received little attention.
The first sentence is simply not true: what was the Level 4 process (what we now will simply call "underperformance") requires a state-approved plan for turnaround with heavy state involvement in both the planning and the oversight. There is absolutely a "middle layer" before receivership. No one is "pouring money" anywhere--that is, after all, the entire point of needing to revamp the foundation budget--AND educating kids is never "a waste of money" AND this notion of decreased motivation is wrong and maddening.
Also, has the Republican just entirely missed that their own local school district is short $67M a year on health insurance and special ed alone, and 677 regular classroom teachers? It is an complete dereliction of their duty as the local press not to raise this issue when discussing state funding for education.
And districts operate on year to year budgets; removing an entire school's worth of funding isn't something that can simply be made up in a later year.

The Worcester Telegram and Gazette had this:
Mr. Riley portrayed the proposed change as a means to prevent those schools from slipping to the most severe penalty for poorly performing districts, state takeover.
“If (other accountability measures) are still not working, this kind of allows us to step in and be a second set of eyes,” he said, adding the education department “does value local control” over schools. “I don’t see it as a punitive measure.”
Again, the state already is "a second set of eyes" through the turnaround process. What the Commissioner does or does not see it as really doesn't matter when the local impact will be, in point of fact, punitive. 
Whether the Governor's bill or pieces of his proposal move forward or not, it matters how the Secretary and the Commissioner view charter reimbursment, funding, turnarounds, and state and local relationships. Pay attention to what is said.

Monday, March 4, 2019

More officers in Worcester schools?

I haven't said anything about Superintendent Binienda's endorsement of a police officer at Claremont Academy in part because Councilor Rivera nailed it on why this is a terrible idea.
Only because I see this being reported incorrectly: note that WPS discipline trended back upwards again last year. 
There is absolutely no question what impact having police in schools has on schools like Worcester's.
Although school policing and other security measures harm many students without increasing safety, they do provide one powerful benefit: making the loudest voices feel safer, according to Mallett. "In suburban, white schools that have had positive relationships with police, parents and teachers feel safer," Mallett says, "and it doesn't affect crime or school shootings in a positive way, but it doesn't make it worse."
However, that feeling of safety doesn't translate to students, even white ones. Schindler notes that research shows that a heavy police presence in schools actually has the effect of making kids feel less safe. "The most important thing is to identify where they feel comfortable behaving with adults, where they can share concerns, and where they can be identified if they need help," he says.
Do note how police officers in Worcester schools largely are funded (I covered this as part of my look at WPS FY19 last year; scroll down): most of the funding is city money spent through the city budget, credited as school funding. That has been over a million dollars a year for several years now. Those funds are never seen by the Worcester School Committee; they just show up on the schools' End of Year report "counted" as school spending. The School Committee could, of course, tell the superintendent this is a bad idea; they could renegotiate the MOU with the city that covers police in schools; what they can't do is spend that money somewhere else.
The city, on the other hand, could take those funds and instead add them to their allocation for the Worcester Public Schools, where they could be used on things actually of use to students in the school system. That might, however, require the city to notice that they'd be funding the schools at a slightly higher margin above the required minimum than they currently are, something, as Scott O'Connell noted during last week's meeting, only four Worcester School Committee members were willing to request.
And Clive McFarlane nails it.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, March 7

I know it's confusing, as they just met last week; February does that!
The agenda is here.
There are the usual array of resignations, appointments, and thanks.

The report on the superintendent is on technology (and can we talk about how hard it is to read a scan of a PowerPoint sideways?). Page 21 gets to access, with 2:1 access (planned? I think?) in K-2, 1:1 on carts in 3-6 and in general in 7-12, but the key point there is "funding to be identified." This ties in explicitly with the motion last week to re-examine the cell phone policy; note that with the big push towards technology use in the classrooms but the dearth of actual technology, students are using smartphones in the classroom and for homework. The district absolutely should not be making this push towards use without supplying devices and then punishing students for using the devices they have. Also, it's a relief to see student information staying in house; that gets shockingly expensive quickly, and WPS being able to staff and adapt is a district strength.
I'm a little puzzled by this appearing now, though, as it was one of the goals on which the superintendent was evaluated back in November.

The other item of note is the response of the administration on Advanced Placement courses, and I don't just say this as a parent who has a couple hundred dollars in checks to the high schools here on the desk next to me. While it lists the courses and reports the costs, it doesn't mention two things that are of central import in understanding this in Worcester: the first is how few other options there are at the high schools when it comes to what might otherwise be "honors" or "advanced" courses. Once you get to junior year (and I say this as a parent of kids in two high schools), your options get very, very limited beyond AP (and most students are urged into AP's in any case). The other key part of the contract that has not been mentioned in the backup is this:

The exams--the part that costs money--are not optional; this is a required cost for a course, and the cost of the exams--and the vast majority of the exams, despite the mention, are not covered by grants--is borne by students, in a district in which most of our kids are poor.

There is a response to an item on contractor wages for school construction projects.
There is a request for approval for new courses (these usually go to subcommittee for consideration):

  • Acting Character Study Magnet
  • Introduction to Networking
  • Advanced Acting I Magnet
  • Language and Literature Through the Arts
  • Advanced Acting II Magnet
  • Machine Operations
  • Advanced Technical Theater
  • Media Arts III
  • African American Literature
  • Media Arts IV
  • American Literature
  • Meteorology
  • CNA and Health Care Skills
  • Musical Theater for Performance Majors
  • Comparative Mythology
  • Neuropathophysiology and Film
  • Construction Techniques and Specifications Course Application
  • News and Media Literacy OCPL
  • Computer Science Discoveries (For Middle School)
  • Personal Financial Literacy OCPL
  • Directing I Magnet
  • Playwriting Magnet
  • Directing II Magnet
  • SAT Math Preparation
  • Economics
  • Shakespeare- Tragedies and Comedies
  • Ensemble I Magnet
  • Technical Theater II & Design II Magnet
  • Ensemble II Magnet
  • Theater Lab Acting
  • History of Theater Magnet
  • Theater Lab technical Theater
  • Integrated Dance
  • Urban Agriculture and Food Systems
  • Introduction to Acting Magnet
  • US Government and Politics
  • Contemporary World Religions
...which is a lot? Remember that just because it exists, doesn't mean it is offered. 

There is a request that the committee vote to accept:
  • a $150K English Learners pathways grant which appears to be for professional development for "bilingual education," if I have waded through the edu-lingo correctly. No word on the link with current programs, including the dual language one.
  • a $7540 planning grant for implementation of the updated history and social studies standards 
Mr. O'Connell would like Worcester to participate in Massachusetts State Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (APIB) Fee Subsidy Program  (which...doesn't seem to exist? I can't find this anywhere.).

There is an executive session posted for two grievances, collective bargaining with IAs, bus monitors, plumbers/steamfitters, and tradesmen, and contract negotiations with the superintendent. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Numbers and dates on the foundation budget bills

More on this in a bit, but do note:

  • The Joint Committee on Education will be having a hearing on the foundation budget bills on March 22 at 10 am in Gardner Auditorium at the State House. They will be taking public testimony, but note that they take people in the order in which they sign up (except for elected officials). 
  • The various bills now have numbers: the PROMISE Act is S238 and H586; Rep. Tucker's House bill is H576; the Governor's (we already knew) was H70. Those links will help you track what is going on with those bills. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Looking back on Tinker's anniversay

Des Moines Public Schools Twitter wins today:

Not familiar with Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District? Read about it here.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, February 28

And the agenda is here. Much of it, the--finally!--report of the superintendent on FY20 included, is items held from last meeting due to the three hours of public testimony on sex ed.

Relatedly, if for some reason you didn't read Bill Shaner's comprehensive cover story in last week's Worcester Magazine on Worcester's long and winding road to not getting anywhere on sex ed, you really should.

That FY20 report appears also to be the only place as yet that anyone has compared actual impacts of the three (as yet) bills proposed in the Legislature on reforming the foundation budget, 'though of course it only does so for Worcester. Scott O'Connell asked Secretary Peyser about the lesser funding in the Governor's bill in his interview covered in yesterday's T&G, to which Peyser gave the meaningless response that he thinks "people should wait to see how these proposals unfold,” before responding. Not when we have actual analysis in front of us, thank you.


A number of the other items that have been held from the prior meeting are related to transportation, responded to here.  Also of note: going to subcommittee is this:
To review bid specifications for student transportation services and award contract to lowest responsive and responsible bidder for a contract term to begin in June 2020.
That's the bid for school buses! If you haven't been happy with the WPS bus service, now is the time to speak up (and keep an eye out for that Finance and Operations subcommittee meeting)! Goodness knows I plan to.

There are an array of recognitions, thanks, appointments, and such.

There's also still a prior year payment (of $48 to Learnwell Education) and I am curious if anyone at any point is going to bring up that this is not good practice.

There is...I wouldn't really even call this a response...an acknowledgement of the request for information on how the district plans to implement civics education ("we're going to pilot some things" is not an answer). The bill is much longer than quoted, has many more pieces than referenced, and this should reassure those asking not at all.

There is a muli-part response to an item on a specific dyslexia program (the link goes to the part that actually responding about the program; there is a summary of district sped literacy initiatives here, a summary of the dyslexia screening law here, a dyslexia evaluation checklist here, and what appears to be a copy of an individual's discussion of types of dyslexia here), of which the upshot appears to be no, we're not going to do anything with this.

I am going to interrupt myself for a moment here to call attention to how little sense the amount of time and attention being given to those items. Should there be a response to the second? Maybe, although evaluation of the appropriate models of learning ability is precisely why one has professionals; responding to a multi-grade requirement imposed by the state that may well require additional funding should take more than a sentence, on the other hand.

Mr. O'Connell and several other members propose to comment on the state health education standards (which won't be set out for public comment for a bit as yet).

Several members wish to support HR 141, which would make those who get a government pension, currently not eligible for Social Security eligible; you can read the argument from those in favor here. 

There's a request for an update on bringing down school suspensions.
There's a request to administration to change policy in the handbook regarding headwear (as that's under policy, the committee can just do it).
There's a request from Mr. Comparetto and others to use some of the taxes from marijuana for schools, and also to increase school funding "in light of new revenues coming into the city."
Five members have co-sponsored an item to support the PROMISE act (Note that this will go nicely after a presentation that shows that easily being the best of the bills for WPS of those thus far proposed.)
Mr. Comparetto also wants to reduce state spending on prisons and spend money on schools.
Miss Biancheria wants an update on the use of the Shannon Grant.
She also wants an update on lawsuits.
Mr. Monfredo, who is under the impression the school districts bans cell phone use in school (it does not) wants to consult with "secondary school principals" about their use. Perhaps we're missing several groups of people there?
Miss McCullough is asking for an update on graduation rates by ethnic categories.
Mr. O'Connell wants an update on a court case.
The Committee is being asked to approve:

There is also a posting for an non-specific executive session, which is not something that one can do legally under the Open Meeting Law.

Parenting style and its connection with public policy

Good piece in the Washington Post covering how a country's income inequality appears to correlate with what we might otherwise think of as parenting "style":
...we have found in our research that varying parenting styles among nations are rooted primarily in economics — specifically, economic inequality. The common denominator in countries where intense, achievement-oriented parenting abounds is a large gap between the rich and the poor. Conversely, where inequality is low and governments provide safety nets, a more relaxed, permissive parenting style holds sway.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

What are we doing with Doherty?

Thanks to Steven Foskett for getting in today's Telegram and Gazette that the Worcester City Council is getting updates on the building projects at South High and Doherty (not North, as the headline has). It's in the ridiculously-difficult-to-navigate City Manager portion of the Council agenda for Tuesday; check page 32 and following.
South has actual dirt being moved around, so clearly something is happening over there. But what's going on with Doherty?
You might remember that I asked this back in August, as well, when it had been six months since the school had been accepted to Feasibility. Well, now it has been a year.
The Feasibility phase of the program requires that the city:
...document their educational program, generate an initial space summary, document existing conditions, establish design parameters, develop and evaluate alternatives, and recommend the most cost effective and educationally appropriate preferred solution
And what is it that we're told the City is going to be doing now?
The City of Worcester has selected an Owner’s Project Manager to assist in the oversite of all aspects of this project. In December, DPW&P’s Architectural Division issued a Request for Design Services to secure an architect to conduct the Feasibility Study. The MSBA and the City of Worcester has scheduled a Designer Selection Panel Meeting on March 12, 2019 to review the five submittals received. The MSBA will also schedule interviews for the selected firms in early April. The City and MSBA anticipate an architect to be under contract for this work by May 1, 2019. 
The selected architect will begin the Preliminary Design Program immediately after contract execution. This study will determine the required program needs for a comprehensive high school with an enrollment of 1670 as determined by the MSBA and Worcester Public Schools. The Preliminary Design Program will establish the needed infrastructure required to meet the program. It is anticipated the Preliminary Design Program will be completed and submitted to MSBA by August 1, 2019. Along with the development of the Preliminary Design Program, the City, architect, and OPM will begin to study options that will lead to a Preferred Schematic Report. This Report exams the condition of the existing facility and the requirements to upgrade it to design current standards. This Report will also study the existing building’s ability to accommodate the design program or the existing building with additions. The Report will also examine building a new facility at the current site or at an alternate site. The MSBA has established the June 2020 Board Meeting to act on the Preferred Schematic Report and authorize Schematic Design.
That's...everything in the Feasibility phase, save selection of the Owner's Project Manager, which maybe you should have mentioned the name of. So what has the city been doing for the past year? As far as this report reveals, nothing. And the school website doesn't even having a building link on it.

There's a few reasons why this matters. First, nothing else is moving until Doherty does. Want a new Burncoat? Not til Doherty moves. Noticing we have some aging elementary schools? Not til Doherty moves. Doherty is the bottleneck in the system.
Also, notice that there have been no meetings and no notices about what is happening. This tends to be the way the city operates, so it can then spring a "deadline's looming, we have to do this" option. The obvious version of this is the city says, "sorry, the only option we have is to take Newton Hill." The less obvious version of this is the city has brought to their attention that most of the unbuilt space within Doherty's quadrant is preserved open space, parkland or otherwise. Because the city seems stuck on the notion of a suburban campus, they're looking for acreage, just like they did for Worcester Tech.
It's useful to note that Worcester Tech took as long as it did (once we started trying) because the city was sued over the project. I would assume the same would happen if the city tried to take other preserved open space for the program. There are other options; we could convert buildings. We could build up.
The first thing we have to concede, though, is that Doherty isn't in the suburbs.
I will also reiterate: This is public funding for a public project of major concern. There should be regular public meetings happening. There are not.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Leading where?

I think of the February and April vacation weeks as two of the most unequal weeks of the school calendar. While some families head off to warm beaches or ski slopes, and some school districts sponsor trips to see and experience international locations, many families struggle to ensure their kids will be fed these weeks with no free and reduced lunch. There are few weeks (all of summer is certainly another) where the gaps among all those receiving a "free and adequate" education in Massachusetts is visually so vast.

I'm thinking of this as I read this piece on Commonwealth Magazine on why we've seen a change in leadership in the Senate side of the Joint Committee on Education:
“Education reform was the reason I ran for the Legislature in the early 2000s,” she said as she walked to her office from a midday event at the State House. “As chairman of Ways and Means, we implemented the ed reform, the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations, three times in the last two sessions. Clearly it’s a top priority and it remains one.”
Asked whether she thought her appointment last week of Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester as the Senate chair of the Education Committee (replacing Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain) was a key step in moving the legislation forward, Spilka said: “I believe so.”
Since what separated the House and Senate bills in the last session was that the House bill didn't include funding for English learners and poor kids, one has to wonder, at least where I sit in Worcester, what this means for the negotiating position of the Senate.

And also, this.

Monday, February 18, 2019

So how ARE we funding charters in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts public schools, both charter and district, are funded through a combination of state and local funds, with the split of how much of each based on the local capacity to pay for an adequate education.

This is the principle underlying the state's calculation of Chapter 70 aid to districts.
The state gives at least 17.5% of the foundation budget to every district, regardless of that district's ability to fund its school system, and regardless of the level at which it does fund its school system.

To that, the state generally adds--though there is no Constitutional requirement to do so--that no district receives less aid than in a prior year, and every district receives a per pupil increase of prior years.

Charter schools--whose students are counted in their sending district's foundation budget--are funded on a per pupil basis at the same level (at or above foundation) as their district's students. These funds are entirely taken from Chapter 70 aid, regardless of the proportion at which their district is funded by the state.

The sending district is reimbursed for the amount of the per pupil funding for the first year a student attends a charter school; theoretically, there is also supposed to be funding in subsequent years, but that never happens. Any positive increase in charter funding triggers a state reimbursement. The principle here is that there is a transition as the district readjusts to not having that student's funding.

The model is presented as "the funding follows the student," that is, if the student attends the charter, the funding of that individual student goes with that student.

We now, however, see several other rules being presented:

  • The Governor's funding bill argues that only districts that see positive real change in students over five years, not any single year, should get reimbursements. Thus this is no longer, it appears, about transitions, which do happen every year, but about sustained charter growth being recognized as a funding issue. Changes every year are, in fact, a funding issue, still. Sustained charter growth is also a funding issue, but transitional funding doesn't deal with the issue at scale.
  • The Governor's budget and the PROMISE bill both add concern for the amount of funding a district gets from the state. That this funding is not a matter of constitutional need has been set aside to a principle of every district has to get their bit and further that the bit must reach the district schools. Thus the question of the money following the child, and the principle of funding at least in large part being based on district need, has been moved over due to the demand of every single district getting and retaining Chapter 70 aid. 
I, perhaps obviously, have opinions on this. Setting that aside for the moment, however, I want us to recognize that we are changing our conversation around charter school funding here. I don't want us to be fooling ourselves around what it is that we are doing. 

On Abby Kelley Foster Charter and the poster removal

...reported over here, two thoughts:
  • while we've certainly seen plenty of examples of this being an issue with charter schools, let's be cautious about an assumption this doesn't happen in district schools.
  • if you think that the school's namesake's position on Black Lives Matter and the disproportionate death of young black men by police officers wouldn't be that of Colin Kaeperneck, you don't know much about Abby Kelley Foster
Go where you are least wanted, for there you are most needed. -motto of Abby Kelley Foster

We can't ignore this, Worcester

I've already tweeted this several times, but note that this is the demographic makeup (and trending) of the Worcester Public Schools:

This is WPS data reported to DESE; the chart is from this report shared with the Mayor's Commission on Latino Educational Excellence (and which I want to talk more about!).

That got me wondering: if our largest and fastest growing portion of the population is Latino students: how is Worcester doing with graduation of Latino students?
Note that you can click on these and they'll get bigger and you can zoom in. Last year here is '17.

This is the four year (non-adjusted) graduation rate for the Worcester Public Schools taken off the district profile page. This isn't, note, all groups of students; I haven't broken out Asian students (6.7% of WPS in 18-19), Native American students (0.2% in 18-19), or multi-race non-Hispanic students (4.3% in 18-19). I did also add English learner students (yellow) to all students (blue), Black students (red), Hispanic Latino (green), and white students (white).
Those green and yellow lines look rather flat to me these past few years, particularly in contrast to the years prior (look at those gains by English learners starting in '11, for example), and even in contrast to the other portions of the population and to all students.
UPDATE: Here's that same chart with a data table:

Has anyone been talking about this? Or doing anything about this?

Lest it look as though I am cherry-picking my data, here's the five year data ('17 isn't here yet), which looks a bit better for Latino students.
Five year rate so far has only been released through '16. You can click to make this bigger.
No student group here is reaching 90%.
Note, also, though, that "a bit better" still looks like 1 out of every five Latino kids, themselves about 43% of the full enrollment, not graduating in five years. And the English learners rate fell this past year.
UPDATE: And with a data table:

Those kids are not only the future of the district; they're the future of the city. We can't ignore this, because this is Worcester.
And I haven't seen this discussed by the administration or by the school committee.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Governor Baker submits a school funding bill: H 70

note that for the most part, the Legislature doesn't as yet have bill numbers for what is filed; thus everything is "SD" and "HD" until they have numbers, which is for "Senate Docket" and "House Docket." Somehow the Governor jumped the queue and already has a bill number, which is (as some have pointed out, an appropriate) H.70.
(I always wonder about these things and there never seems anyone to ask, so I try to include them.)

This is "An Act to Ensure Equity and Excellence in Education," which demonstrates that the Senate has better acronym writers. It has been referred to the Joint Committee on Education.
It's also probably good to note that there is at least some indication that this isn't a popular bill. 


The thing that is most important to know about House bill 70 is that is the product of more than one author and more than one motivation. There is a Governor Baker-oriented school funding bill with some Foundation Budget Review Commission implementation with some additional funding pieces including a draconian (literally?) funding consequence for underperforming schools, on the one hand. There is also a bill that combs through the school funding law as it currently exists and updates it to the way that we actually operate; that part comes to us, I believe, from the school finance people at DESE.
That last part is fine. We could argue over if this is really how we want to run things or if we want to make other changes, but making the actual law reflect reality on the pieces behind the calculation (not the foundation budget itself) is a reasonable thing to do.
These two pieces are intermixed, though, so disentangling the parts is necessary.

The Governor sends along a filing letter presenting his argument and his perspective on what he is doing. I don't know who wrote it--it sounds like Secretary Peyser, but that could mean nothing--but certainly expresses what I have seen of Governor Baker's view on education.

The piece that I want to wave a giant red flag on is the piece expanding the Commissioner's power, which of course has nothing to do with the foundation budget at all:
  • the first bit is that currently a turnaround plan created by a described stakeholder group (MGL Ch. 69, section 1J, subsection e) is issued by the superintendent: "the superintendent shall issue a final turnaround plan for the school and the plan shall be made publicly available." The union or the school committee may then appeal the plan to the Commissioner. This bill would have the superintendent submit the plan to the Commissioner and only after his approval would the plan be publicly available. This would, obviously, render moot after that any appeal to the Commissioner by school committee or union. This is a big deal. 
  • not only the superintendent, but also the commissioner will conduct an annual review of any school deemed underperforming; this is a change from what is done right now. It's not clear how that would be possible. The kind of review done by DESE is a comprehensive, time consuming endeavor by all involved. 
  • the actions of the commissioner if a school substantially fails to meet goals, the commissioiner can appoint an examiner, require changes, or appoint an external partner; all of these are provided in the law already, but this section puts it together.
  • the big issue is the funding piece of this, as the bill allows the commissioner if he "determines that the district is taking insufficient steps to implement changes to the turnaround plan" to take away the district's Ch. 70 aid at the beginning of the school year (if you were looking for evidence that whomever behind this is missing how school budgets work, there you go!) up to an amount equal to per pupil allocation times the number of students in the school--this in essence means that school's foundation budget. That funding would be set aside in a "Public School Turnaround Fund" of the state "until such time as the district implements the changes as determined by the commissioner." In turn, the district could not lower the school's funding, but could only be taking out of non "direct access to students." If we did this, Massachusetts would join the ranks of states that have made the grave error of taking away funding from underperforming schools. This builds on the myth that districts are overspending or spending ill on administration--most are not--and that services that don't directly access students don't serve them. This is, to give but one example, the reverse of what the state itself found in Southbridge, where it found the district was under-administered. We absolutely should not do this.
About the foundation budget piece
  • while it keeps being said that the bill fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, it does not in a very specific way: while the bill does implement changing the assumed in-district special education enrollment from 3.75% to 4% for regular districts, it does not shift vocational schools/districts from 4% to 5%. Those from DESE whom I have heard speak to this have argued that the needs of special education students at vocational schools were not as high as the fully population of students in special education elsewhere, thus the shift was not warranted. That wasn't the argument put forward by the Commission. 
  • the bill does, as of FY21, boost out-of-district special education to three times the state average per pupil foundation budget
  • the bill does, as of FY21, tie health insurance inflation to the GIC rate annually. It resets the rate for FY20 at about a 30% increase over the actual proposed budget for FY20. Offhand, I don't think that gets us where we need to be in terms of the current gaps between spending and foundation budget allotment.
  • it keeps English learner as an increment, as added by the Senate this past year, and makes the increment between 27 and 33% of the base rate, progressively weighted to the higher grades (the bill uses the same numbers actually proposed in the FY20 budget). As the Foundation Budget Review Commission gave an actual dollar amount in 2015, it isn't right to make that comparison, and the progressive funding (which is the way these bills seem to be going) is a positive step. 
  • it includes additional funding for poor students, keeping the decile ranking system and current direct certification counts, and using the same dollar amounts in the first five deciles that are used in the FY20 budget, but weighing the latter increments more heavily, with decile 10 topping out at $500 per pupil more than the FY20 budget does. What this doesn't do is break more than 50% of the base rate per pupil, however, save in high decile younger grades. It takes the smallest step possible within implementation, which recommended between 50-100%. They do also (as in the FY20) add the "high needs" category for decile 9 and 10 and 20% EL.
  • there is not any inclusion of a data commission. This, to me, more than anything, says that someone (DESE?) thinks that work is done; see below for more on that. It was, however, a Commission recommendation.
  • Note that on all of the places where it includes a dollar amount effective FY20 that is different than the actual budget for FY20, the budget is what would happen, but the bill then would become the goal rate towards which implementation was moving. 
Pieces that are neither of the above:
  • The bill creates two trust funds, one for further regionalization encouragement and another for to stash the above money that would be taken from districts with underperforming schools at the Commissioner's discretion. 
  • The bill requires spending reporting by foundation budget category and can require it by enrollment and by program area, which is kind of a way of wrestling with the question of if we have enough data without requiring a data commission (this is a super DESE way of handling this, by the way; they know the data exists, so they're just requiring that it get reported).
  • The bill creates a regionalization assistance program and creates at Regionalization Fund for grants for planning and implementation. It gives priority to rural areas (without defining them) and other districts with persistent enrollment declines. 
  • It changes the charter funding in a couple of ways. First, it boosts the facilities component that all charters get to $938 and then indexes it to inflation (that number has been the same for quite a number of years). It shifts back to 100% for the first year, 60% for the second, 40% for the third year of what they are calling transitional assistance. Most importantly, the bill changes who gets tuition reimbursement: transitional assistance funds the difference between the current charter enrollment MINUS the highest enrollment of the previous five years, thus only districts where charter schools are actively growing will receive this funding. It also creates and codifies "supplemental charter assistance" for districts that have low Ch. 70 and high charter numbers; this year, that means $6M for Boston and two towns on Martha's Vineyard (please tell me how THAT is the highest and best use!) It also ties both these sections together to be funded at the same pace.
  • The bill creates a commission on rural schools to come back with trends, projections, and recommendations for rural schools in the state, and their report would be due June 30, 2020. 

The wonky "we do this but it isn't written down" bits are as follows:
  • it spells out the components (and only the components!) being currently used in the foundation budget (in section 11). Note that this is part of what caught those who wrote the House bill (which we'll get to eventually, as well), as they used old language on preschool and "bilingual" students. This includes definitions of combined effort yield, excess effort, effort reduction, municipal revenue growth factor (in fact, it spells out how to calculate it!), minimum aid, net school spending, and so on, which in many cases were not codified. Note that this would put into the law something which was done this year, which is requiring that districts with a combined effort yield equal to or greater than 175% of its foundation budget be responsible for the full 82.5% of its foundation budget.
  • it eliminates a bimonthly recalculation of the ch. 70 formula so that it can work with the state budget cycle (section 12)
  • it gets rid of the idea of "overburden aid" which we haven't been doing in years (section 13)
  • it codifies net school spending as a requirement and requires the Commissioner let districts know of their minimum local contributions by March 1 (which happens now through the Governor's budget, 'though that isn't necessarily where it ends up). It also drops a 30 day waiting period on preliminary estimates, and drops an old method of calculating regional vocational funding (section 14) 
  • it repeals an automatic reduction in local required appropriation if the final state appropriation is reduced (section 15)
  • it codifies taking school choice and charter tuition from a district's Chapter 70 appropriation. (section 17) Did you know this wasn't in the MGL? I didn't!
  • it repeals the original phase-in of the law from 1994 (section 18)
  • it codifies that in any year in which there isn't enough funding to do everything, foundation aid gets funded first (section 19)

And the bill states that it will go into effect July 1.