Thursday, January 10, 2019

The PROMISE Act: SD. 101

So what else (besides this) is in the bill "An Act providing rightful opportunities and meaningful investment for successful and equitable education" (h/t to those writing the acronyms!) proposed yesterday?

I first want to point out that bills often start with definitions, and a lot of what I pointed out yesterday (both here and elsewhere) was through carefully parsing out what is said in those opening definitions. The concepts of a "district student aid floor," a "district student foundation budget," and a "district student aid increment" are not ones that currently exist; they would be created by this bill if it is passed as proposed.

The definitions also lay out a lot about the implementation:
  • health insurance is to be tied to the average rate of growth of all GIC plans over the prior three years
  • special education is included (as in FBRC) at 4% in district (5% for vocationals) 
  • out of district special education is three times the statewide foundation budget per pupil
  • low income--which, explained below, can be created via in-district form--is 185% of the federal poverty rate
  • the low income deciles go from 50% of per pupil to 100% of per pupil (I did a model of this for a class project; it's pretty impressive)
  • English language learner is an increment ($2537.49 proposed for FY20), with the portion that is employee benefits adjusted in line with GIC

Also, this is not a long bill! I know I wasn't the only one yesterday who expected something much longer. In some ways, this is because it is built on much that already exists.

The very first thing this does, which I think is really important but doesn't seem to get any attention (it was in S.2525, too) is set up implementation. This isn't set on a five year or seven year or what have you roll out. It sets up an annual meeting, to be held by January 15, at which there will be a joint decision by both branches of the Legislature and the Governor's office on how the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations will be implemented for the coming budget year. While this may sound strange, this is how revenue on which the next budget year will be decided works; there's an annual Joint Ways and Means hearing to which the Secretary of Administration and Finance also comes, and they hear from experts on what the next year's projections look like, and then they decide what the budget will be spending. This is also how the 1993 ed reform law's piece on funding was implemented; they decided each year how it would work. This is, I think, a conservative (note the small "c") way of rolling it out, which I would think would appeal to those most concerned about costs.
It does require that all pieces--and it is including the "district student aid increment" in this, which was of course not a commission recommendation--be phased in at the same pace. In other words, you don't get to peel off the poor kids and the English language learners and do the pieces where everyone gets a benefit.
However (speaking of everyone getting a benefit) it provides that "in any year prior" to the completion of implementation (which the bill requires a bill be passed to mark), minimum per pupil increases will be $50 times how implemented the bill is, as a percentage.

You'll remember we switched to economically disadvantaged in including poverty in the foundation budget when so many districts went to direct certification; this bill would bring back the term "low income" and provide for a form for districts to "certify family income level for the purpose of calculating low-income enrollment." Districts would have the option annually to choose direct certification or form collection as how their low income level was determined. This is a pretty big deal; there was a substantial change, as many remember, with the number of kids included in the category when this changed. Going back to a local process would include more kids in poverty, including that group, much spoken of, that may be concerned about a state or federal program under the current administration. (Note that this also kinda throws all models off, as going back to a local process means the poverty levels would be different.)

The bill sets up a foundation budget review commission to review and make changes every five years after holding at least four hearings "across the regions of the commonwealth"; the review is to "include, but not be limited to, the components of the foundation budget established under section 3 and subsequent changes made to the foundation budget by law." It also includes what the original commission was also charged with: effective resource use and allocation. Those who sit on the commission (which looks parallel to last time) are, it is noted, not in violation of the conflict of interest law if they work for a school district.

Oh, and the "commissioner of elementary and secondary education shall furnish reasonable staff and other support for the work of the commission." That's what happens when the Senator who writes the bill co-chaired the last commission!

And while they're setting up commissions, there is also the creation of the data advisory committee, as in the commission report, "to promote the improved use of school-level data to inform effective resource allocation at the local level." As I've said before, due to ESSA's requirement of school-level funding reporting, I think this may end up being a moot point. It has to report out annually.

And that, plus the "district student aid floor" about which I wrote yesterday, is it.

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