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&Means@masenate.gov

Lewis recognizes the effort made local officials
"most difficult, most uncertain, most stressful period in their entire careers"
know that equity and opportunity gaps have been exacerbated
must do everything possible to address these
social emotional, learning loss, trauma "demand our urgent attention"

co-chaired by Rep. Paul Denato 
interested in stimulus funding to bring back children and move forward
mental health of young people "who have been isolated for the past year"

Secretary Peyser, Commissioner Santiago, Commissioner Riley, Commissioner Aigner-Treworgy
appreciate the framing
"recovery and return to some form of normalcy in the very near future"
"unusual and challenging year for all three sectors of education"
thanks for parents, for students
"shoutout to colleagues in state government...who have helped us keep our promises"
and then he made his argument about lower rates of transmission in schools which we all have heard a bazillion times before and is no better supported than it was last time he said it
need to bring "as many children as possible as soon as possible"
"the first priority is getting as many students back to school as soon as possible"
mobilizing federal, state, and local resources 
"will take years of" work to "get students back on track"
ensure we have infrastructure in place..."includes full funding for the Student Opportunity Act"
identify effective practices "and embed them into the new normal"
maintain momentum on equity
"much of this work is already underway"
"build out our capacity for fact based decision making" hahaha
SOA: reflects October 1 enrollment, updates on inflation and municipal revenue, includes 1/7 installment
as well as interim expanded count of low income
transportation in circuit breaker, charter school tuition reimbursement phased in
and THEN he talked about the federal aid which he has literally not a single thing to do with
thanks colleagues and educators across the Commonwealth

Commissioner Santiago: notes they have his testimony
will review what they did
"there was a spring break: we had a week! We had a week!"
Got technology to students and faculty, did intensive training of faculty, staff and students
concerns: saw significant decline across state in FAFSA completion
economic impact on students
was concerned about budget for higher ed: closure of residence halls led to a $50M hole in statewide budgets; negotiated stopgap off to future years
CARES act helped with increased costs
"never anticipated a flat budget at the time"
"has been very important in our recovery plans"
"affordability is a necessary condition for student success but not a sufficient one"
Homelessness, food insecurity, transportation, childcare, all issues for students
student loss: have to get them back into higher ed "and successfully through"

Commissioner Riley who has a powerpoint
"health and safety of our students and staff has been paramount"
225 pages of guidance, 10 days of training...masks, 
"I would argue" that no state has done more 
"data has gotten better"
medical community has argued that students need to be back in schools
"doesn't preclude the possibility of variants popping up"
"more recently, we've gotten Massachusetts specific data" 
"no difference" between 3 feet versus and 6 feet
"the doctors have been clear, the time is now"
"have opted for a phased-in model"
elementary April 5, middle school April 28, high school to be announced in April
"parents have that choice for the rest of this school year"
waiver process "in a limited number of circumstances"
"we certainly have put out a guidance document in the last two weeks"
"technical support teams...to surmount these challenges"
"really have to have an equity focus...continued focus on mental health issues"
working on FAFSA completion, get seniors who haven't gotten competency determination
"multi-year effort" to work on over the next several years
MCAS waiver isn't coming; testing is still required
ACCESS testing window extended
"looking at possibility of remote administration" more info to follow

Commissioner Aigner-Treworgy
notes early ed, plus school-aged support for out of school time
oversee childcare development block grant and child care development funds
complicated systems that families are navigating to get their needs met
exempt emergency childcare program during shutdown for essential workers
families stay in care and stay safe in group settings
urgent need for providers in FY22 budget
much of budget tied up in subsidies to families
sustain staffing and infrastructure that had been begun in earlier years
"responsible, agile" in sustained information gathering
"pretty significant pivot in how we support and fund the field"
increase credit-bearing programs for providers

Lewis: know pandemic has taken a heavy toll on Departments, so want to thank those in 

Senator Gobi: to Santiago: possible closure of Becker College?
Santiago: on our radar as result of legislation
screened in about a year ago, have kept in correspondence with institutions
confidentiality allows those conversations
"in general" not surprising that some institutions are in financial difficulty
plan for an orderly closure process "in the case of Becker we have no information on what might transpire"
students should have options to move within their major to complete their degree
"we need time...very important to do this"
"will do this as long as it takes"
Gobi: what would be next major date or sequence?
Santiago: "Becker College needs to make a decision if it's going close, when it's going to close"
major details: students completing degrees, who keeps the records, disposal of property
"informed decisions and not lose time or money"
Gobi: many concerned about health of own institutions; what do you see for fall?
Santiago: "hard to say"
enrollment has been trending down especially in public higher ed
difficult way to move
demography changing rapidly "particularly on tuition-driven institutions"
Gobi: concerns about number of furloughs
Santiago: have been fortunate to get support from federal government "but it has not address some of the fundamental difficulties" 
conversations going forward; presidents want to do this appropriately 
"but have to plan for our future where unfortunately many of our institutions will have to be smaller than they are now"
"unfortunate that these are the conversations we have to have"
Gobi: "more on the reopening"
"outside of all the calls and emails I had about the vaccines...most of the angry emails I have been receiving about the reopening"
"the Legislature didn't get any advance notice on this, either; it's a little disconcerting to hear about it from WBZ"
"after months and months and months to say to our locals "good luck to you"
"to set this line in the sand of April...with no notice"
"I get the pressure that you may have got especially for urban districts"
"it's been horrendous for districts that have been planning for months and months and months"
"it just seems that this April 5 date came out of nowhere, this is what you're going to do"
why did you do this this way
Riley: "I would gently suggest that us giving ten days off in the school year" for planning
"we certainly think that districts have had the blueprint to go back all along"
"gave people over a month to plan"
"this was going to happen at some point...in some ways it's good that it's happening this year"
"we're getting an outpouring of parents...follow the science"
Gobi: what are you assessing?
Riley: waiver on things for accountability; important to know how students are doing
Gobi: regional school transportation: artificially low numbers
Bell: based on this year's claims would be funded
Gobi: appreciate innovation programs; go visit Spencer-East Brookfield

Donato: asked a question I didn't follow about higher ed
How to bring more students of color back to campus?
Santiago: all have adopted equity agenda
"the culture on the campuses has to change if we are going to welcome those students and get them through"
"it's very important that this work start before they come to our campuses"
"full focus on these students that are those most disadvantaged are provided the resources to succeed"
has said that this is how we should recognize the success of our campuses
COVID-19 has disproportionally impacted those students and their communities
partnership with K-12 important in that

Senator O'Connor: want to echo statements on career technical initiative
money from federal government "is going to help a lot"
anything specific right now that any have identified for children who have had a really difficult time in remote learning or not prepared for next step in advancement
Riley: recognize kids will be coming back with gaps
support summer learning, vacation learning, increased mental health supports
multi-year process
"research is pretty clear that students shouldn't be retained...should for the most part be promoted"
O'Connor: funding to increase people in early ed field?
Aigner-Treworgy: compensation challenges that the whole country is facing
operational reserve; caseload accounts which pay per child amount
80-85% of program's budget could be in salaries
Holds true as we look across the country
look at program financing to ensure compensation for workforce
providers are suffering the same trauma that many of our families are

Lewis: help students to recover from the pandemic
learning loss, social emotional and mental health toll
"there is an interesting flip side"
parents and students albeit a minority "who actually have thrived in remote learning"
"My question is...do you envision trying to provide greater opportunity for students and families who do want to continue in remote model to do so after the pandemic"
ask as an innovative model
two remote schools already, cannot handle them all
greater access for remote learning: specifically for high school "to increase the number and variety of courses particularly in smaller high schools"
Peyser: "learning pod...remote learning programs": community involvement
"I think they tell us something about ability to make schooling comfortable...more impactful for students"
"this doesn't mean that all of those or much of those are going to continue in the fall"

which was not his question at all

"more partnerships including inside of school buildings themselves"
more flexible starts, more remote learning opportunities, more out of school internships
Riley: have really focused on parent choice for the rest of the school year
fall is to "return to prepandemic schooling"
have opened up additional virtual school seats
"there are some districts that have opened up" more virtual options at the local level
Lewis: another way to think about it is Biden's "Build Back Better"
"I think I want to encourage all of us to think about this idea of "Build Back Better""
to serve families

Lewis: technical question
30,000 students enrolled this year; many if not most of these students will come back in the fall
comment on thinking of not holding harmless in enrollment
Peyser: 1000's of students not on rolls, expect that some will come back
no one loses actual dollars
also federal aid
"for most districts they will never notice that their Chapter 70 aid would have been bigger because of the hold harmless as well as the federal dollars"
there are some districts that wouldn't be getting a lot of money through SOA or federal funds
but have flipped from foundation aid to only minimum aid
"may come out a little on the short end"
count of low income formula: one time use of FY16
matching with databases "I think SNAP in particular" (I think it's MassHealth in particular)
Lewis: discussions get fairly technical, but tens of thousands of dollars are on the line
are already a year behind in low income count; "want to urge us to complete that work"
matters not only for Ch. 70 but also for school building program

Lewis: on general student enrollment 
by not holding districts harmless, we're reducing the increase that districts otherwise would be receiving
$120M in total Ch. 70 statewide that we would be providing if we held all districts harmless
also use of federal dollars
Peyser: vast majority of $120M would be going to high need districts that are going to get a lot of federal money "would be more than made up for in federal funds"

taking a break: this is the higher ed panel: UMass, the state universities, community colleges

towards the end of that Gobi took another swing at MCAS, saying that she didn't see what the use for the elementary assessments were going to be this year
Lewis notes appreciation for wraparound services, and issue of it being a need
decline in FAFSA completion rates
Q on enrollment of students of color and persistence
Meehan: as chancellor of UMass Lowell went out and recruited students; had a dramatic increase in diverse students
working on recruitment of staff of color, students need teachers "who look like they do"
think it's important for students to know that they can be successful
Marbry (president Middlesex Community College): hiring students: this year, to be Blackboard ambassadors, tutors
early college is a driver for students enrolling; now starts with 9th graders
working on FAFSA outreach; joint social media campaign
focus on having faculty and staff look like students
Pedone: state universities working with office of state financial aid
starting receiving data from office of student financial aid; zip codes where not filled out
enrollment managers and their VPs to encourage more FAFSAs filings
Meehan: looking for pilot to get students on campus early on, get them acclimated 
think that would be an innovative program

Merrie Najimy, MTA president, would appreciate a chance to talk about full re-entry, learning loss, testing, from questions earlier
recognize that your work like ours has been to provide social service and support 
appreciate your support in a more localized process in return to full in-person learning
historic inequities in colleges have only been greater
long-term commitment for public education needed
PreK-12 schools: full phase in of SOA 'over next six years, not seven'
first year of SOA was not funded last year, Governor's budget does not get us on track
"our students simply cannot wait another year for the Commonwealth to fulfill its promise"
enrollment dropped by 30,000 students; 54% grades 1 and below; we believe it's a temporary drop
$122M less in funding then there would be otherwise
"technically follows the law, but law does not take into account a pandemic"
urge additional $15M in charter; $7.5M in circuit breaker to get on track 
"clear and urgent need for state to provide additional" support for higher ed in this budget
"the one thing that was not really mentioned was the debt"
one year ago together that all schools were closed in response to the pandemic
"but I actually want to bring us all back to a more joyful moment" chanting "sign that bill" on the signing of SOA
"now that you've signed that bill, I want to ask you to fully fund its obligations"

Mary Bourque, MASS
begin with gratitude to you to guide our state through a pandemic
focusing on 'return reopening and acceleration'
starting with our core values and how they are reflected in the FY22 budget
include the responsibility of districts to provide a high quality education for each and every student
superintendent focusing on health, housing, food, academic needs
concerns and vision from our superintendents
"after all, when we start from core values, our decisions are easy"
foundation budget should be calculated using October 2019 or October 2020 enrollment "whichever is higher"
if it isn't adjusted, districts cannot address enrollment in the fall
increase in class sizes (without hiring) will happen at the same time as meeting needs for social emotional health, making up for loss in learning, possible still need for distancing
"hold harmless provision in the budget is a misnomer" 
Included chart of 25 urban districts: have lost 11,000 of 30,000
ask that SOA be funded at 1/6th
"what was the right priority to fund last year" is right to fund this year
the identical false reduction then impacts ELL and low income students
"effectively cancelling any benefit of SOA"
would be an additional $152M
smooths out over two years; otherwise will be an enormous increase in FY23
address non-Title I districts
fully fund circuit breaker ($392.3M), charter reimbursement in three year timeline
regional and homeless transportation; notes losses over FY21
ask for working group on low income count; ask that intended solution have input from stakeholders
otherwise will need hold harmless again for FY23
convene rural school study (I thought they did that)
ask to envision 365 day 24-7 access to learning 
make internet access broadband a utility
"history also records how we recover"
I'm going to catch up with her moving ending later

Ellen Holmes, MASC President
"I will also save more time to simply say we are in full agreement with the superintendents on matters of Chapter 70 and the elements of the formula for funding."
Circuit breaker, regional transportation funding, reimbursement for charter school mitigation, and continued advocacy for the METCO program
"We hope the new stimulus funding jump-starts that timetable by funding years one and two of the SOA with an additional $152M added to the Governor’s proposal."
children's services safety net
"the Administration’s disingenuous use of the October 1, 2020 enrollment numbers to determine Chapter 70 and SOA funding for FY22...To use the October 1, 2020 figures deliberately constructs a structural deficit for public school districts across our Commonwealth."

The second matter is the Department’s threat to reduce a district’s Chapter 70 receipt if they fail to secure a waiver and continue with hybrid or remote instruction after April 5th.  

Is the Legislature aware that a Department regulation can now usurp Chapter 70? Nowhere in MGL does it state remote instruction is prohibited. In fact, we have two virtual schools that have been in existence prior to and during the pandemic. If not checked, the precedent of silencing the legislature by using a BESE-approved power grab is disturbing. Are the Board and the Department really accountable only to themselves?  

We ask you to exercise your fiduciary responsibilities, as we school committee members do, to direct the federal stimulus dollars appropriately to the local public school districts.

"That is why, in conclusion, we urge the legislature to include all of us in strategizing for the sound use of our resources by creative, sustainable, and thoughtful deployment of our federal funds."

Lewis notes one of the most stressful and difficult jobs being on a local school committee

Gobi: would be interested in how much collaboration there was with individual school committees and superintendents
Holmes: did not receive even a heads up other than the media
"I think it was very difficult"
ten days at beginning of the school year
Over the course of the summer: the three levels were designed for thoughtful movement from one level to the next
my community was moving forward, depending on how vaccinations were released, might be able to move to full in person learning
"had a trust process" with community
"catching many off guard and was stepping away from conversations we had moved so strongly towards"
Gobi: "I imagine it eroded a great deal of trust...I think it's going to be difficult to regain a great deal of trust"
penalizing districts if they don't seek out a waiver, "I'm sure it's something my colleagues will be taking a hard look at as well"
Donato: agree teachers should be at the forefront of the vaccine
Najimy "still woefully short"
"and now it's disarray" 
amazing acts of solidarity of teachers, PTOS; "those with means" in getting educators signed up
collaboration with local boards of health, school committees, administrators
"all while the only data we have is the actual local is collecting"
teachers were notified ten minutes before the Board of Ed meeting of the state mandate
"constant turmoil is because there isn't a process"
in high 80's and 90's, teachers are saying will feel more secure and confident if they go back with the vaccine
advocating for after April vacation to get teachers vaccinated, renegotiate contracts, set up bus schedules
"kids need stability...to bring them in for two weeks before the break and then to leave for April vacation only to come back to start MCAS, it's incredibly disruptive and it flies in the face of all of this wisdom about taking care of our students' emotional wellness"
We "need you to push the Governor to make a better and different decision"
Donato: mental health of students
Holmes: resources to get services, but also have human resource shortage
"we need to have more beds...the human resources of the providers...there are certain areas of the Commonwealth where they just don't have those people available"
"money handles one part of the equation" but you have to have the providers and you have to have the beds
Bourque: lack of beds especially the Cape and the Islands
"needs a balcony view on how to build this infrastructure that do wraparound all aspects of the family and all aspects of the student"

Lewis: enrollment hold harmless, as well as implementing 1/6th as well as 1/7th
Peyser had said that the federal funds are going to highest need districts; respond to that?
Najimy: need to look at data beyond one year
families of color, immigrant families "largely the voices that are going unheard by DESE" dnn't trust that buildings are safe
using federal funds to make districts whole "distorts" the reason for the funding
federal funding are to make up for differences needed in pandemic
"we need a thorough analysis of the building conditions"
pool testing is limping along
school committees and superintendents are saying that we don't believe we have funds enough to make this program permanent
Bourque: "all of that plus we have to keep in mind the federal funds are two to three year...funding stream"
"be careful how you use it that you do not fall off a funding cliff two or three years down the road"
sustaining salaries and positions
SOA is the vision
Holmes: "disingenuous" to take funding that the federal government to communities for services that were absolutely necessary
30,000 students don't disappear from the rolls in a single year
one of the ideas in the SOA was that we needed to be finding students who were not counted already
"I don't think reflects a reality...that everyone realizes"
SOA "was so many years of work because the problem was so extensive"
"it's just wrong to say 'it's a small number, it's in effect inconsequential, it can be addressed another way'"

early ed panel: Amy O'Leary
statement on equity and race 
need to think differently about labor, housing, and health
Issue now "made real and seen" with babies on Zooms and women needing to quit jobs to care for children
"it's time for systemic change"
we "have delayed action for far too long"
Bill Eddy: was a field already stressed before the pandemic
"our folks have been there on the front lines" from the beginning
"if we were stressed pre-pandemic; we're very stressed"
put rate reserve in the move minimum wage workers up; continued movement on our salaries
maintain operational account, work with provider community

O'Leary needs vary locally
local leader thinking holistically; how do we maximize opportunity?
"have had an aging workforce...people are making health decisions"
"something we need to continue to monitor" and continue to work on

Lewis: every child should have access to high quality early ed
should treat our early educators with dignity and they should be compensated accordingly

Jeff Beckwith, MMA 
doubling down on investment and continuity to our cities and towns allows them to deliver essential services
allowed cities and towns to do a budget before you were able to do a budget at the state level
cities and towns facing many challenges
will amplify agreement with much of previous testimony on education 
loss of local revenues: acute short-term impact; we hope will recover shortly
property tax will be suppressed for any years to come; dramatic loss in new growth and development
no new growth takes a long time for property tax to spring back
fiscal stress as property tax is going to grow more slowly than it has in some time
thus importance of unrestricted local aid
direct aid
American Recovery Act: 37 metropolitan communities will be get a significant amount
all other communities get a per capita amount
some county aid that is coming in
economic recovery and stabilization
help individuals, businesses, be rescued and recover
unrestricted government aid at same rate of growth as state tax dollars
SOA: truly lift up students from across the state
"pushing off for another year would be a year too long"; ask you to fulfill obligation as year one of six years or year two of seven
support removing "this artificial reduction" in using the communities to use the higher of the two enrollment numbers
ask for $100/pupil minimum aid increase
ask charter school reimbursement be also fulfilled at year two of seven years
rural school finance" rapidly declining enrollment means their hold harmless keeps them level funding; ask that look at funding schedule for SOA and provide additional aid for them as needed
ask to restore funding for regional school transportation
ask for full funding for McKinney-Vento reimbursement
full funding for transportation for out-of-district vocational placement
Payment of lieu of taxes: has been level funded for a long time
"so many touchpoints for state and local government; your decisions make a real difference"

Gobi: can be spread all the way to 2024
Beckwith: through December 2024
Gobi: when talking to towns, what is the narrative you are having?
Beckwith: outstanding question, as it's very early on
Venn diagram: large circle is allowable uses (for local aid; not schools) which is non-operational costs
second circle is "leveraging"; what other parts of the federal aid is coming into Massachusetts
additive rather than replacing funds that might be more restrictive
are there other parts of this funds that can only be used in some ways?
Highest and best use to provide for the immediate needs of pandemic
"we don't see it as operational funds"
Lewis: taking on Biden's Build Back Better, any lessons learned?
Beckwith: collaborated with UMass Amherst, survey of municipalities and early lessons learned
to work remotely, to engage with public meetings remotely
expanded public access: "invites people to be able to participate more"
shorter permitting process, change fees more quickly to be more responsive
procurement, allow flexibility for access to PPE
don't support a mandated public health department funding, but do support look at municipal public health systems, encourage regional collaboration, "don't have those systems be built on the fly during a pandemic"

And Senator Jason Lewis closes the hearing by quoting Rep. Nika Elugardo's tweet: 

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