Wednesday, March 6, 2019

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.

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