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.

Friday, March 5, 2021

March meeting of the Board of Ed

 ...which they moved to this week so that the Commissioner could ask that they pass authority for him to push districts back into buildings full time. 

The agenda is here. The livestream is here

a much neater version of the below is the MASC report here

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Commissioner is moving on regulation request: Board meets Friday

 DESE has posted a Board of Ed meeting Friday afternoon. At it, the Commissioner is requesting the Board to add the following language to the time on learning regulations:

(d) Where the Commissioner has required districts to include alternative education models in their plans, the Commissioner shall, from time to time, consult with medical experts and state health officials, to determine whether students can safely attend classes in an in-person setting with health and safety requirements. If the Commissioner concludes that students may safely attend classes in an in-person setting with health and safety requirements issued by the Commissioner pursuant to this section, then he may, with prior written notice to the Board, notify districts that they may no longer use one or more of the alternative education models, in whole or in part, to meet the minimum school year and structured learning time requirements set forth in 603 CMR 27.03 and 27.04. Notwithstanding the foregoing, districts and schools may provide remote learning pursuant to a remote learning model for the remainder of the 2020- 2021 school year to those students whose parent or guardian selects remote learning for their student.

You can write to the Board of Ed here.  I'll post what I send them later today.


As President Biden said distribution would be via the federal pharmacy program, this makes sense.

Governor Baker has a 9 am COVID-19 announcement at a Gloucester elementary school.