Wednesday, April 14, 2021

FY22 House Ways and Means

 The House Ways and Means budget was posted today at noon. 

Amendments are due by the end of the day on Friday.

I tweeted out a thread last night with some perspective on the main questions for Chapter 70, and then today, I tweeted out a thread of the K-12 accounts. I have been updating this spreadsheet as we move through the budget cycle. 
Cherry sheets are not yet updated, as of this posting.

The major news today, of course, is that the Ways and Means budget, while it does implement a 1/6th step toward the Student Opportunity Act goals--the Governor's House 1 budget in January implemented a 1/7th step--but it did not, despite calls starting in January, use a hold harmless methodology for counting students.

Worcester, of course, has been talking about this all year, but this is actually a national issue; just today, we had new research advising districts to prepare for the kindergarten bubble coming. 

Here's what it looks like for us in Worcester: 

The enrollment drop is a $9.5M drop in the foundation budget.

If we instead don't lose that, it makes a significant difference in the bottom line.
Brian Allen's slides, of course, from our February presentation.

Without the cherry sheets being posted, we don't completely know what this works out to for Worcester--or any--district, as we need to know how much comes out in charter tuition and what that that reimbursement is.
What I can say is that the difference between the Governor's January budget and the House Ways and Means budget for Chapter 70 is $22M.
Of that, Worcester (as a whole) gets $2M. So tell me how that works out across the state?

Now the House Ways and Means proposed solution to this issue is a $40M grant line (7061-0011) for districts: 
which have experienced pandemic-related disruptions in their enrollment that negatively affect their chapter 70 aid for fiscal year 2022, or which have significantly increased their transportation needs in fiscal year 2022;

BUT the districts have to: 

 demonstrate a significant reduction in student enrollment on October 1, 2020, followed by a significant increase in enrollment on October 1, 2021, and which can further demonstrate that said enrollment volatility has materially and significantly impacted their chapter 70 aid distribution, and/or increased their required transportation costs for fiscal year 2022

And as a result, the state can't even start considering this until every district has their October 1 enrollment in, which, believe me, doesn't happen the first week of October. 
And THEN they have to go through the enrollments and THEN they have to distribute the grants and THEN it's Thanksgiving and some handful of districts have gotten a little money.

You're not going to hire a teacher then; you're not going to split your overcrowded kindergarten then; you're not going rent or create new space in your building for your preschool then. That isn't when the funding is needed.

And how far is $40M going to go across the state? That isn't nearly enough.

This really is a gesture to show something was done without something materially being done. 

I'm going to post this much tonight; I'll come back to add the account by account with some commentary later. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

of cosponsorship and the Open Meeting Law

 Among the odd little items on this week's Worcester City Council agenda is this, coming back from the Law Department: 

Transmitting informational communication relative to a proposed Home Rule Petition to provide the city of Worcester an exception to the Open Meeting Law to authorize the city clerk to publish, prior to the start of a city council meeting, the names of city councilors who have signed onto items as co-sponsors

 It is accompanied by, no lie, the actual text of an actual home rule petition that the Council would file with the Legislature to grant the Worcester City Council an exception to the Open Meeting Law. 

It is hard to describe how silly this is.

The Open Meeting Law is a requirement, in brief, that public business be discussed in public session; that if a government body is going to make a decision about how things work or how money is spend, then the public has the right to hear about it.

This led, back in 2013, to a finding from the Attorney General, barring the City Council from posting an agenda in which the items already had a list of co-sponsors. The Council was reminded of this, in response to their inquiry, in February.

Let's be clear about something: the whole system of co-sponsorship is a weird Worcester thing. In many places, an elected official puts an item on the agenda, and the agenda is then worked through at the meeting as posted. Each item must then receive a second from a member, and the item, after discussion, is then either voted up or down by the body. Thus each member by virtue of the action of the body stands for or against each item.

In Worcester, someone submits an item to an agenda, and, historically, that list then goes out to all members, who let the clerk know if they wish to add their names as co-sponsors. 
If the agenda is posted prior to the meeting with that list of co-sponsors, however, an item can (and frequently does) have a quorum in support prior to any discussion, thus entirely circumventing the reason for having a meeting at all. 

The Worcester School Committee last week changed its rules: we now get the list of items, let the clerk know what we wish to co-sponsor, but the agenda comes out with only the initial sponsor. Co-sponsors are added to an agenda that is shared only as the meeting begins. 

Co-sponsorship being posted prior to the meeting adds literally nothing to public process. It serves only to get a little extra portion of credit from something accrued to an individual. 
And having it posted ahead certainly is a violation of the open meeting law. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

School start times


If you're looking to do some reading ahead of tomorrow's review of the research on school start times in our School and Student Performance subcommittee here in Worcester, you might take a look at today's Washington Post for this piece on how remote learning has opened the discussion with new insight of how well some students have done with that shift in schedule.

Here are the pieces we are reviewing tomorrow:

Saturday, March 27, 2021

What do we know about the federal funding for schools?

There was this big national splash when the bill was signed, and a smaller one when it was announced the money was being released to states, but I am still seeing confusion over the latest round of federal funding for schools, signed by President Biden in March.
Let me see if I can clear a bit of that up.

Very topical meme via Jess Gartner's Twitter

First, always read Matt Barnum in Chalkbeat

You can get a general outline of how much is being spent at the national level here. There's a state by state tracker (which you may find paywalled) here. There is a district by district estimate here.

Crucial points to know: 

  • There is both local aid to municipalities and school district aid in this bill. They are not coming from the same pot of money. Thus if you have seen estimates of how much your city or town is getting, the district funding is separate from that. 

  • This comes out in parallel with Title I funding, which means higher amounts for higher poverty districts. This is parallel with the previous rounds of federal funding that have come out during the pandemic. Estimate about 2.3 or 2.2 of the December ESSER funding. 

  • 10% of each state total stays with the state. Of that, the state needs to spend 5% of that to create resources to help schools address learning loss, 1% help create summer school programs, and 1% to help create after-school programs. In Massachusetts, the Commissioner has said he'll use some of the remaining to ensure that districts that wouldn't otherwise get some of this funding--as they don't serve enough students in poverty to qualify for Title I--get something.

  • Districts must use 20% of the funding to address learning loss. Beyond that, districts can use the funding for much of what they've been scrambling to provide during the pandemic--from supplies to technology to building improvements--to the very broad “Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services...and continuing to employ existing staff.”

  • Districts have until October of 2024 to spend this money.

A few additional things to consider:

  • This is a lot of money, but it is one time money. It is going to go away. It is not always going to be coming in. Thus:
  • Districts have to avoid a fiscal cliff. One time uses--repairing HVAC systems, running a program this summer--are straightforward. Reoccurring expenses--hiring staff for that learning loss, technology that will need replacing, even HVAC work that will continue to need filters or other ongoing spending--needs to be at least planned for if not avoided. Thus:
  • Think long-term on this money. There's going to be a BIG push to show results NOW--and there's no doubt going to be some major sales pitches coming on how we could spend this!--but this is about students and the districts that serve them recovering and moving forward from this pandemic. That isn't a short term issue. Tapering off on spending is one thing; considering if the pick-up (in Massachusetts) from SOA will managing operational increases is another. But above all:

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Liveblog of FY22 Joint Ways and Means hearing

 ...which you can watch over here...

Cafeteria at Forest Grove Middle School,
set up for student lunch

Testimony at these, incidentally, is by invitation only, but you can email: SenateCommittee.Ways&

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Letter 2 to the Worcester delegation

Dear Senators and Representatives,

I write to you again from my seat on the Worcester School Committee, because I genuinely don't know what else to do. 

We appear to have taken the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts and made it a state receivership district over the course of a week, as the Commissioner has now claimed authority well in excess of that granted him by the laws you have passed. 

The Commissioner does not have the authority to overrule guidance from the federal government regarding the health and safety of our schools. Yet this week, he has done so, declaring that schools must go back full-time, regardless of community contagion level--in direct violation of CDC guidance--at no more than three feet--in direct violation of CDC guidance--without hybrid available to provide for spacing--in direct violation of CDC guidance--with no reference to ventilation--in direct violation of CDC guidance.

The Commissioner does not have the authority to contravene collective bargaining agreements across the state. Yet this week, he has done so, declaring that districts must go back full time in building learning five days a week, regardless of what provisions are in their negotiated agreements with their local unions.

The Commissioner does not have the authority to make a  Schrödinger's cat of time of learning, where remote education does not count for student learning if the district has chosen it, but it does count if the family has chosen it, or if the school delivering it happens to be one of the two virtual schools the state has chartered. Yet this week, he has done so, making this contradiction the state policy of Massachusetts.

The Commissioner does not have the authority to reverse the state funding law based on his capricious definitions of time on learning, where days until the first week of April can be funded for elementary students, however delivered, but cannot be funded after the first week of April, if delivered other than he dictates. Yet, as you know, this is just what he has explicitly threatened.

It will not, I hope, escape your notice that the final consequence once again most hits the districts that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, that were hit hardest by underfunding of education, and historically have been underserved in every way. Those are the very districts most dependent on state funding, by design. 

It will shock none of you that these districts have many more students who are Black or Latino, many more students who are learning English, and many more students who are poor. 

Those students more frequently attend school in older buildings, more often have bigger classes, and more frequently are hit by every manner of inequity our education and larger societal systems deliver.

I am sure that you have been assured that the Commissioner is considering waivers. I also know that such waivers will be few and will come only after the Department has checked, condescending tape measure in hand, that we meet his lesser standards of safety, rather than the higher ones of the federal government.

Since when do we have lesser standards than the federal government? And since when do we tolerate that for our most vulnerable children?

If the state is making policy that requires waivers for the largest, brownest, poorest, districts, then the state is making inequitable policies, and the Department should clearly be told that it needs to start over. 

If it does not do so, it should have the authorities it has granted itself removed until such requirements for them are in place. 

It is absolutely outrageous that, during this disrupted, tragic year, with vaccinations ever so slowly making their way into people, with the potential impacts of the new variants still largely unknown, and with this country in a race of one against the other, the state would put the health of our students, our staff, and our larger communities at massive risk in this way. 

I would ask you to stop this. I would suggest you begin by suspending or amending for this year MGL Ch. 71, sec. 4a, which is what the Commissioner is citing as his authority to garnish state aid to districts. You might also consider his authorities under earlier sections of Ch. 71 in defining learning time, as well. 

As you know, I take seriously our responsibilities to our students. I also believe the state has a role to play in ensuring that we meet those. That is not what is happening now. 

As always, I am happy to discuss this further with any of you.

Thank you for your attention,

Tracy Novick

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Letters sent to the Board of Ed ahead of yesterday's meeting

 I tailored my letters to the recipients, so there are more than one; these were sent in my capacity as a Worcester School Committee member.