Sunday, September 22, 2019

S. 2348: "An act relative to educational opportunity for students"

pushed out over Twitter Thursday


it earns the sticker
In terms of process, please note that the bill has come out of the Joint Committee on Education and goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Then it goes to the full Senate. Then it goes to the House Ways and Means Committee. Then it goes to full House.
Then to the Governor.
It is not, I will observe, accidental that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House jointly presented the bill with the Joint Committee chairs. That's a show of unity and support.

It is also important to note that this is NOT a money bill; there is NOT funding in the bill. This sets out a plan of how we will by 2027 get to fulfilling what is here. Should this pass, we then need to keep an eagle eye on this every budget cycle, to ensure the map is being followed.

So what's in the bill?
Let's start with the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations:
  • Health insurance: This sets the average rate of growth of employer share in GIC (the Group Insurance Commission, which is statewide system into which districts can opt) over prior 3 fiscal years as the foundation budget calculation for health insurance. That is a fulfillment of the FBRC recommendations.
  • Special education: This sets the in-district special education assumed enrollment at 4% for most districts, 5% for vocational districts. It boosts the out-of-district sped to $35,547 by 2027, so 78% of approved costs on $45,793 in FY20 (and it's tied to inflation). As a side note, I need t to understand how they got to that number.
  • English learners get boosted (FY20 to ending goal) preK-5 $2275 to $2537; 6-8 $2380 to $2721; 9-12 $1855 to $3755. Now, this IS NOT the recommendation from the Commission; it's better. The Commission recommended that EL be made an increment, which has already happened (remember, it used to be an enrollment category), and that it go to the middle school rate. My sense is that there's been a general sort of agreement that instead we should progressively be funded towards the high school end, which this has done generously. 
  • Low income was the one many of us were watching, and they did it. The call was for 100% of the foundation rate at the highest poverty districts. This sets it at 100% of something between the elementary and high school rates for the highest group. ALSO, this gets low income--and it is called low income--at 185% of the federal rate, rather than setting it through district certification. Two things on that: that is a larger group; however, I have had it pointed out several times by those in the know that getting those forms in when school lunches don't depend on it could be a challenge. DESE is to come out with a report on the best methods of calculating low income by next November. IN THE MEANTIME, the bill authorizes DESE to use the FY16 (the October 1, 2014 count) of low income as a percentage for next year's (FY21) budget. This is not yet decided; it is an option they have. Note, by the way, that the bill calls the low income divisions "groups," as they switch from ten divisions to twelve; they thus are no longer deciles but are duo-deciles!
If we count the fifth item as the data commission (which is also in here), they've fulfulled the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations. 
Glory be.

But wait! That's not all, even on school finance:
  • Some of you might remember that in Governor Baker's version of the school finance reform, he proposed boosting the guidance and psychological services line by the end of the implimentation of his bill. This adopts such a boost, phased in as the other pieces are. 
  • An acknowledgement that boosting the foundation budget doesn't help everyone: there's a minimum per pupil increase of $30 per year, starting above the prior year's chapter 70 aid (thus it's a hold harmless). This then puts right into the law that you don't lose state funding through this process. 
  • There is also a "minimum aid adjustment" which takes care of that issue we discussed around how some districts received LESS aid when the amount of aid across the state increased: this compares the amount to FY20. A district won't get less.
  • Districts at 175% of Combined Effort Yield or more are responsible for funding 82.5% of their foundation budget, thus setting them as 17.5% aid communities. CEY, remember, is a measurement of community wealth, so this builds in a bit more equity by requiring a particular level of funding from the communities that can most afford it. 
  • They're adding out-of-district transportation into the circuit breaker! Thus the high cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements due to special needs will be included as something the state reimburses at levels above four times the statewide foundation per pupil. The bill ALSO sets that limit at this year's (FY20) rate and then increases it ONLY by inflation, meaning it DOES NOT rise along with inflation (so you'll hit that reimbursement earlier). The fact sheet estimates that statewide, this is a $90M cost (and it's also the sort of thing that can really blow a hole in a smaller district budget). This will get phased in over the implementation (25% in FY21; 50% in FY22; 75% in FY23; 100% in FY24). This is a big deal! It's also more evidence of real listening happening at the state level.
  • Likewise, there is phased in full funding for charter school reimbursement (not less than 75% (FY21), 90% (FY22), 100% (FY23)). Note that they are not changing the rules on what gets reimbursed (it's still increases in charter costs), but there is a commitment to fund it. 
  • The Mass School Building Authority cap is lifted from $600M to $750M and then is tied to inflation. Because this limited the amount of funding that could go to MSBA as much as it did, it has limited how many schools could be built or repaired. 
A few things that don't have direct financial implications right away but could:
  • The bill creates a 21st Century Trust Fund (this also comes from the Governor's bill). There's no money in it now--budgets can allocate funds towards it--but once there is, it is under the Commissioner's control, though he has an advisory committee for it. Section 14 of the bill describes what it can be used for. One thing of interest: districts can apply for a waiver from state regs from the Commissioner in connection with the grant. 
  • There is a directive that DESE and the Department of Revenue together look at how municipal wealth is calculated:
    on the equity, predictability and accuracy of the method of determining each municipality’s ability to contribute toward education funding and the calculation of each municipality’s required local contribution
     I would argue that this then creates a smooth (if lengthy) handoff between the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which Chair Peisch kept within their purview by not allowing discussion to stray into municipal wealth. 
  • There is a Rural Schools Commission to file a report by next December (2020) on:
    The commission shall study and report on: (i) long-term economic, demographic, and student enrollment trends and projections in rural communities; (ii) long-term fiscal trends in rural school districts experiencing declining enrollment; (iii) an analysis of the fiscal health of regional school districts and the impact of regionalization on each contributing municipality, especially in low-income and middle-income areas, including funding impacts on each contributing municipality; and (iv) recommendations for: (A) reorganizing schools and school districts; (B) consolidating administrative, transportation and governance functions; (C) expanding the use of technology to deliver instruction and enable operating efficiencies; and (D) encouraging ways to reduce costs and improve educational outcomes. 
For those who had been wondering, there are a few more things on the reporting front (this is getting pushed out as accountability...):
Districts are required to report on spending at the foundation budget category. This used to be included in the End of Year reports, but it is not now; it might come back through that.
The Secretary (which is odd) is to collect and publish data on student preparedness and high school post-graduate success (but not college completion, for one).
The Commissioner is to set statewide targets for address persistent disparities in achievement; then each district has to establish targets; then the districts have to submit three year plans.The plans have to include how Ch.70 funding will be used in support of the plan, particularly connected to EL and low income students, what they're doing, how they're measuring it, and "how the district will effectuate and measure increased parent engagement."
The first ones will be due in April. The districts then annually have to submit the data, then update the plans every three years.
To me, this sounds like a lot of what is already mostly being done in district improvement plans; maybe just add a section? Also, by April?

Finally, they do actually update a bunch of the the language around Chapter 70, so we don't have the annual bit where they have to stuff things into the budget because we haven't actually done it the way the original bit says in a decade or more (that's where we get things like charter schools being mentioned in net school spending; they already were, but it wasn't clear in the language).

And that is the bill. The Senate is, we are told, to take it up in two weeks.

In sum? They hit the requirements of the Foundation Budget Review Commission and better; they incorporate other pieces of things that make it clear they've been listening; they set up commissions (with deadlines) on other pieces that need more attention. They put in a nod or two towards "fair" while pushing hard on equity.
Now to get it passed and funded.

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