Friday, May 28, 2021

Federal guidance on the ESSER funding now out and found here

ESSER is the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funding, as this round we're in now is ESSER III, the largest yet.

You might also look at this from EdWeek, and this from K-12 Dive, and this from Future Ed, which has this: 

The frequently asked questions sheet clarifies the rules for states to review local plans for spending the money from the American Rescue Plan and other relief aid that will flow to school districts. It makes clear that state legislatures or departments of education cannot limit how localities use the money, as long as the uses are within the bounds of the federal law. And states and localities cannot use the relief aid to replenish "rainy day" funds.

And interesting point: 

 School construction is an allowable use for Covid relief funds--including new projects, renovations to ventilation systems, and purchasing trailers. But the guidance cautions against large capital projects that will require too much money and entail not only approval from the state but complex requirements for using federal money for such purposes. 

This piece in the THE Journal spells out the allowable uses rather well.  

You might also find this interview with the Acting Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Iam Rosenblum of interest.  

The following bar graph was shared at Tuesday's Board of Ed meeting, showing Massachusetts (state total) amounts and timelines for when the funding expires: 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

May 2021: Board of Ed on early college and innovation pathways

 which is discussed a bit here

May 2021: Student Advisory Council report

 Jasper Coughlin: medium through which student voices are amplified to the Board of Ed
144 RSAC delegates; 43 SSAC delegates; 69 schools represented

worked on three priorities this year: 

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

COVID-19 work group

health and wellness

student survey in November: 5000+ responses
high level of frustration and anxiety

key themes: lower levels of participation
new methods of interaction SAC communication
conducted extensive research into topics important to students today
enacted policies that will equip next generation

high dedication and exemplary leadership among students; increased number of meetings; greater ability to consult with DESE

Moriarity congratulates Coughlin on organizational leadership
how prepared are leaders coming
Coughlin: leaders well poised
policies on recruitment and communication, more established guideline on communication as a council

Morton: students provided useful and thoughtful input, as has he
recognized those who have supported him

May 2021: Amendment to time on learning regulations

 final vote on amendments to learning time regs (were passed on emergency basis in March)

and you can find the summary of public comment here

Not recommending any changes to language 

passes without comment 

May 2021 Board of Ed: Acceleration Roadmap

 except first Riley's talking a bit about this

May 2021 Board of Ed: opening remarks

 You can find the agenda here. The livestream will eventually appear here.

the video is picking up 16 minutes in, so I don't know if they already started or not: updating as we go

about the FY22 budget

Before the committee deliberates, the public has a chance to weigh in: don't miss it Tuesday! 

You can find the agenda and link here.

You can find the full budget here. I always recommend starting with the executive summary. Remember this is the budget that starts like this: 

You might also look over this nice infographic on what is in the budget:

The budget uses $40M in ESSER funding, of which $30M is beyond that which is filling in the gap in state aid from the drop in enrollment; the specifics of the gap filling are spelled out on page 145. You can find the overview of year by year plan for district ESSER funding on page 165:

In terms of that funding--which is most of the changes in there--you can also look at this chart on page 145, which is the "enrollment increase" on the second line in more detail:

And then today, we got this additional page of detail for the first line of that ESSER chart, of what administration is recommending we spend on that then would get picked up by SOA funding next year: 

Note that this means that the expectation is that both the $9.6M and the $13.1M would be picked up in the increase in our foundation budget next year...or else be cut. 

Without getting into pre-deliberation--because yes, I do have many thoughts--the question we have before us is: is this the budget that Worcester students need next year, and does it make the highest and best use of the funding that is available to us? 

Come tell us what you think tonight. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The ongoing bus saga

 I think I've probably missed a couple of chapters of updates here on the blog, but, as we had a fairly lengthy discussion Thursday night during what was otherwise a pretty short meeting, I thought I should add something here. 

With the continued shortage of Durham buses, or, more specifically, drivers, and with the high schools back five days a week, the district has had to insert a double first run on a number of route like so:

Most buses do two or three runs already: they'll do a high school route, drop those students off, go back out and do an elementary route, drop those students off, and go back out and do a later elementary route. This has some of our--and I do mean Worcester Public School-run buses--doing a high school run, then doing a second high school run before they go do the second tier. In order for this to work (and I use that word reluctantly), the pick up for those students is really (as you can see) early, and the students are being dropped off at school as early as a half hour before school starts. As we said on Thursday, if that's a family's choice, that's one thing, but when we are doing it--and then, in some cases, leaving students outside--that's not okay.

This is the continued impact of having fewer than our contracted number of buses through Durham, as also shown in the memo we received for Thursday's meeting: 
I went through and added another row to the chart: on 3/39 we were short 37 contracted buses; on 5/3 we were short 29 contracted buses; on 5/17; we're short 21 contracted buses.
Note that as of Thursday, we were a month out from our vote to send a letter of breech of contract. We were told Thursday that the letter had not yet been sent. We passed an item that it be done so and that we receive the letter, signed by the Mayor as our chair.

21 contracted buses times two or three tiers is a lot of students impacted. And that in turn is a lot of families impacted, and a lot of schools impacted.

This isn't just about the frustration that this creates for everyone (including the rest of our staff!) involved. We run buses so students can get to and from school without that being a responsibility of families exclusively. When we push this back onto families, we increase inequity, as the families who lack resources--of time, of private cars, of additional help--are those whose students are then not able to get to school on time or at all. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

What is the Senate doing differently?

 If you'd like to see the line-by-line look at the Senate Ways and Means budget that was released today, you can find it on Twitter. I have also updated the spreadsheet on which I am keeping track of the accounts over the budget process. The line-by-line information is in the Appropriations section; the information about how they're describing local contribution is in the local aid section.

There are many lines that are parallel to the House--as expected, they're sticking by the aid agreement, so Chapter 70 is the same--so I am going to focus here on what is not the same.

First, and most importantly from a local operating level perspective, the use of ESSER funds for local aid increases is back. You might (faintly) remember this from my write-up of Governor Baker's budget (scroll way down), but the language allows for cities and towns to count up to 75% of the district's ESSER II funding (that's the federal aid that came through late last year) towards (or as) their increased local contribution. Every district increases their funding to schools each year; this gives them a pass by using federal aid allocated to the school department as part (or even all) of it.
The House took this language out. The Senate put it back in. Assuming the Senate doesn't amend it back out (which seems unlikely), this kicks the whole mess to conference committee in June.
Why do we care? Towns have been and are passing their budgets for next year daily. How much actual town revenue they need to send to their schools depends on this language. How much actual revenue schools are getting from their towns depends on this language. 
Thus effectively, the budgets of both towns and schools (for any that were planning on using this option) are now entirely up in the air.
Not where we want to be in May.

The Senate Ways and Means proposal adds $300K to DESE's line (7010-0005 and yes, I do have that memorized...): $100K is for support for social-emotional learning, and $200K is for support for the use of the federal funding. That last sounds like someone noted that there's a whole lot of money coming through DESE and requiring reporting; this is a question that should be asked locally, too!

The EL/literacy line of 7010-0033 is at $5.9M, which is up from all earlier budgets. They keep combining accounts into this one, and how each iteration does it is different, so I'm not entirely clear how much this is a real increase and how much this is combinations of things.

The earmark account, which the House Ways and Means started at zero, already here has $300K for Partnership for Youth; $250K for Old Colony; $100K for English at Large; $350K for Metrowest mental health. Yes, that last is a line for "the city of Framingham and the towns of Ashland, Franklin, Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway and Natick to address mental health needs in schools" and you are invited to consider where the Senate President is from.

The lines for civics education, financial literacy, and computer science are zeroed out in the Senate.

Institutional schools are cut from $8,430,007 to $7,973,837, which was Governor Baker's number.

Regional transportation reimbursement back down to $78,631,818 from $82.1M in the House; it was $75.8M in Governor Baker's budget. I have no idea what the thought here is, unless they're aiming for actual reimbursement levels?

The Senate puts in $250K for non-resident transportation; this was at zero in earlier versions.

The $40M enrollment pothole account is included, as in the House, though the language is a bit different; the House included a decline in transportation spending, which the Senate does not. The language requires a report for November 1 on enrollment changes, plus "no funding from this item shall be distributed until 1 month from the date of the department’s report or December 1, 2021, whichever is later" which is going to mean no one is getting funding from this until December, at the earliest.

The circuit breaker account is up by $5M over the House, BUT it now includes "not less than $10,500,000 to the department of developmental services for the voluntary residential placement prevention program" which means that the actual circuit breaker is cut by about $5M. 

The $15M one time COVID grant for districts is zeroed out.

There's a new line 7061-0028 with $6M for a one time grant "to respond to the social emotional and behavioral health needs of students, families and educators" with preference going to districts that can match the funds AND districts that didn't get a lot of ESSER funding, so...not for poor kids, I guess?

School and district accountability is back down to $925,214 as in Governor's budget (was $1M in House).

Military mitigation is back up to $1.3M (as it was in the Governor's budget; it was $650K in the House).

And I have no idea what's going on with charter reimbursement: the Senate has it as $149,138,383. It was $154,604,742 in House; it was $143,500,000 in Governor Baker's budget in January. The change between House and Governor makes sense, as they changed how the foundation budget is being calculated (remember, that impacts charter school funding), but why the lower number in the Senate?

MCIAE is here at $200,000.

Targeted intervention back down to $12,555,706 which was the Governor's level; the House put it to $15M.

Extended learning time gets a $2M boost, but funding can only go to districts that were approved in FY21.

Recovery high schools match the Governor's $2.6M; the House had $2.7M.

I am likewise confused about what's going on with after and out of school time: the Senate has $6,577,017. The House had $10,577,017; the Governor had $2,577,017. Do we think this is important or not?

The House's $2M in wellness support is zeroed out.

AND RURAL AID is here at $3M!

The House added a $400K bias and hate prevention line, which the Senate keeps.

And while the civics and STEM trust funds are funded (at $1.5M each), the 21st Century trust fund (which was in SOA) is NOT included (it's $5M in the House).

And that is what I have! Amendments are due on Friday! 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A quick note on the city budget

The City of Worcester posted their FY22 budget yesterday. The three pages that cover the Worcester Public Schools start on page 150 of the PDF.

The most important things to remember about the City Council's role here is that they can only pass a bottom line budget for us--they have no oversight on internal appropriation of the school department--and they, under our city charter, cannot add funds.

Compare this from the City budget:

To this from our first FY22 presentation in January:

You might remember that the problem with getting to the $386M was revenue: this was why the district needed hold harmless enrollment funding. 
So how are we getting there? Read the final line on the second paragraph on the second page of text:

In total, the district will utilize $40 million of federal stimulus funds in FY22 to support these initiatives that align with the district’s Strategic Plan.

That would be ESSER funds. 
So, the way we're going to avoid cutting (and the way we're going to be sure that we have enough staff for the students we'll have) is by using federal funds.

What we aren't doing, I feel honor bound to note, is being funded above net school spending. The February presentation assumed the minimum required spending from the city, and it appears that is what the city is giving us.

What this means, as always, is that one needs to remember that all of the green in this chart: in the blue in this chart: 

And it's most of it.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Teacher Appreciation Week

It has been quite a week, and so observance of Teacher Appreciation week was put off 'til today. 

I am of the strong opinion that the most meaningful way one can appreciate teachers is not to do so during a single week. 

We appreciate teachers when we vote for budgets that support schools as needed.

We support teachers when we vote for (yes) politicians who *actually* support public education and don't just give it lip service at election time.

We support teachers when we create and sustain conditions that make it a career that can be entered and continued by people of all backgrounds, not just those who can afford it, or those who look like most of the field now.

We support teachers when we fund support for families, such that teachers are not scrambling to also find sneakers and winter coats and snacks and the myriad of other things that kids need.

We support teachers when we build and maintain the buildings in which they work. 

We support teachers when we speak of it as a profession, that people study to enter, in which people develop skills over time.

We support teachers when we don't stand idly by when teachers, or the education profession in general, is denigrated online. 

So while I may be late in this week in saying thank you, please know that the above is how I try to appreciate teachers all the time. 

Thank you for your work. Please know how much I value it and you.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

My comments on tonight's vote on sex ed

more or less; I'll add links later, but you can find my sources pretty easily

 I think it important to note that we are deliberating this question now, in 2021, because a clear Open Meeting Law violation took place last term in the spring of 2019. A quorum of the Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports subcommittee deliberated on a matter under their purview—the health curriculum—outside of a posted public meeting, and the process ended.

We know this, of course, because of the public records of this deliberation.

When a public body violates the Open Meeting Law, as happened last term, and the matter goes to the Attorney General, she can impose a number of penalties, which generally are designed to make up for the lack of public process: committees can be required to revote, or they can release minutes. They can even be fined. 

No such penalties were imposed on Worcester, Mr. Chair, as the matter was never reported to the Attorney General. 

But even if it were, nothing can make up for the consequences of the members of this public body denying students of the Worcester Public Schools two years of comprehensive health education. We do not know, Mr. Chair, how many of our students were harmed by not having what can in fact be life-saving information. 

I don’t want to let this evening pass without noting where the responsibility for this lies.

We cannot make up for that lost time, but we can ensure no more time is lost.

In terms of process, I want to thank you, Mr. Chair, for not letting up on this, as well as Ms. McCullough for ensuring that there was a public process with clear evaluation and parameters with public comment. 

I have noticed that there has been some confusion during, so let me observe: the Committee asked for our staff to conduct a curriculum review. I appreciate the work our health department staff, as well as that of the HOPE Coalition and the Department of Public Health, in a thorough, professional curriculum review as requested.
Both “conflict of interest” and “ethics violations” are legal terms of art, which have specific definitions; the vote this evening is neither.
I’d also note that curricular materials usually are protected by copyright, and thus aren’t available, in my experience, via a public records request. The curriculum we are actually discussing, however, is entirely publicly available. 

Regarding public comment, I do think it incumbent to note that some of what we received, particularly at the last meeting, was no less than hate speech, and in some cases directed at our students. That may be legal in this public forum, but it is unacceptable. It has been also been quite clear how much motivation is based on fear and concern over loss of control rather than care for our students. It was, in many ways, a potent illustration of just why we need the comprehensive curriculum before us this evening. 

All of our students, all of our staff, all of the members of the Worcester community deserve to have their human dignity and bodily integrity valued and respected. 

Our trans students and community members are valued, as they are, for who they are.

All members of the LGBTQIA community deserve respect, justice, and equity. 

All of us here have taken an oath to the Massachusetts Constitution, which lays out in its very first lines a recognition that the purpose of democratic government is “to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying in safety and tranquility their natural rights, and the blessings of life.” 

To shirk our work this evening is to shirk our oath of office. 

Yes, Mr. Chair, Massachusetts General Law says parents may choose not to have their children take such coursework as that under discussion. 

However, those under the impression that students who do not receive comprehensive sex education in school will not have any exposure to sex are badly mistaken; they’ll simply be subject to whatever turns up on a Google search.

To the question of whose job this is, allow me to cite two quotations:

Parents/caregivers are the primary sexuality educators of their children. 
School districts and community-based organizations should function 
as partners with parents/caregivers in providing sexuality education. 
Together, these institutions have the responsibility to provide young 
people with honest, age-appropriate sexuality education.


We need to have sex education for children. The ideal is to start from home, with the parents. It is not always possible because there are so many differentsituations in families, and because they do not know how to do it. And so the school makes up for this, because otherwise it will remain a void thatwill then be filled by any ideology.

The first quote, Mr. Chair, is the first principle of the curriculum being considered tonight from the teacher’s manual of Rights, Respect, and Responsibility.

The second, Mr. Chair, is from a translation from an interview in 2019 with Pope Francis,.

It is not a scandal for public schools to teach comprehensive sex education. It is, in fact, a responsibility we have, and it is one that we here in Worcester have been shirking for far too long. Sex education is covered in the Massachusetts state frameworks for health education—long overdue for updating—and are anticipated by the state laws—thus the ability for parents to choose to have their children not participate. The list of which districts have comprehensive sex education, have had comprehensive sex education, and continue to have comprehensive sex education is lengthy, and ironically includes many of the districts from which we had callers over the past weeks. They would deny our students something students in their own communities already have.

It is also not something that can be or should be isolated to high school or even middle school. We received painful personal testimony from callers who noted their own experiences of sexual assault at young ages. One out of every NINE girls and one out of every 53 boys is a victim of childhood sexual abuse. That means on average at least one girl in every one of our classrooms and several boys in every one of our schools have been victims of childhood sexual abuse. 93% of those reporting such abuse know the perpetrator, and in fully of third of reported cases, the perpetrator is a member of the victim’s family. 

Again, Mr. Chair, we as a district have a responsibility to our students; this clearly cannot be left only to family. While sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, having conversations about bodily autonomy as developmentally appropriate make it that much more likely those who need it will get help by the mandated reporters under our employ.

As one of our callers noted last week, an adult deciding that they are uncomfortable with something does not make it developmentally inappropriate. Child development is a field of study; we educate children in line with that, not in line with various degrees of adult discomfort. Best practice on teaching children about health in all fields is that one does so gradually and consistently over time starting, yes, when they are young. 

And this remains true, Mr. Chair, regardless of the culture or even the religion of the families. We could do a world tour and find the need for sex ed in any country that does not have it. We could easily start with my own cultural heritage, where a country run as very close to a theocracy for much of a century is still uncovering decades of sex abuse in religious schools, not to mention the horrific legacy of the Magdalene laundries. Don’t tell a great-granddaughter of Ireland that religion and culture should be allowed to block comprehensive sex education. 

We are instructed, after all, to remove the log from our own eye before attempted to remove the speck of sawdust in another’s.

Likewise, a parent saying that they could never teach something to their child does not mean that no one ever should. Many could never teach basic principles of mathematics or of science; students still need to know them. I know we have many gifted health teachers in the Worcester Public Schools. 

I will also echo that we have at least a few that have no business teaching health, which is why we must have a single curriculum that is implemented with strict fidelity. We would not have someone who insisted the Earth is flat teaching geography; we must not have health educators that deny basic scientific principles of the field. 

And make no mistake: this is a scientific field of study. It is thus infuriating, Mr. Chair, to hear the vast array of misinformation and outright lies that have been conveyed in this discussion, including by leadership that should know better, and which has a responsibility to tell the truth to people under their care. It is deeply troubling to me how much of the testimony comes from fear and a perceived loss of control. Yet we are told that it is the truth that sets us free.

The reason that we have such solid research on the need for comprehensive sex education is that the U.S. federal government ran the equivalent of a large scale experiment from 1998 to 2016 on the youth of the country by funding abstinence only until marriage education under Title V, Section 510. Review after review after review (compiled by both Mathematica and by Guttmacher) of such programs in the states that accepted the funding over those years came to the same conclusion: there was no evidence that such programs increased the rates of sexual abstinence, and students had similar numbers of partners and rates of unprotected sex as students without any access to any sort of sex ed at all. 

The only positive--and I meant that in a statistical sense--correlation from a 2019 review in Reuters was that students in such programs in politically conservative districts had a teen birth rate that went up. 

Those involved in studies of children’s health concluded that such programs were unethical because of the actual outcomes of the programs. To persist to giving incomplete information when it has been shown to do actual harm is unethical. 

So to those who asked why it was we have the rates we do of teen pregnancy in the country, there’s your answer. 

To those who have raised the issue of birth rates in other cities with comprehensive sex education: the test is impact. Those cities had rates significantly higher than ours to begin with; it is, at least in part, their use of a comprehensive sex education curriculum that pushed those rates down. Facile comparisons that simply note which city is higher than which without accounting for those other factors tell us little. 

As a number of the callers endorsing such programs also, a review of their associated sites show,  discourage COVID restrictions, question vaccinations for COVID for young people, and take other perspectives contrary to public health, I would suggest we should not take their advice on public health matters.

Meanwhile, as has been widely noted, and is easily Googleable, and has been demonstrated over and again by actual peer reviewed scientific research conducted by legitimate research organizations, comprehensive sex education, like the program before us tonight, is actually effective. We have known this for decades at this point. It is past time we acted on it.

In my consideration of this important matter, Mr. Chair, I have continued to come back to an image from my own high school years. Created by ACT-UP New York, it was three stark lines printed under a pink triangle.




Because of the activism of ACT-UP and others, as well as the work of researchers, the death sentence at that time due to AIDS is no longer the fate of those who are HIV positive who have access to treatment.

 But the silence that meant death, and the fear and in some cases the bigotry motivating that silence remains with us still. To remain silent when we have the rates of STDs among our students that we do—to remain silent when we know the huge rates of suicide and other harms to trans youth when they are not supported by family or community—to remain silent when our children lack for basic education that would give them, we know, healthier and happier lives—to remain silent under such circumstances is, Mr. Chair, death.

I will support the recommendations of the subcommittee as amended. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Silence is golden, but eyes still see. 

From here and yes, I was raised by Baby Boomers.

The thing about writing a blog for thirteen (missed an anniversary back in March, sorry!) years on school finance in your city is that you can feel like you're repeating yourself.

I am absolutely certain without even looking that I have written numerous other blog posts on this same thing, and we are.

The Worcester City Council Education Subcommittee had one of their periodic meetings with the Worcester School Committee's Finance and Operations Standing Committee on Thursday evening. The meeting lasted for three hours, and among the items on the agendas (there were two; one from each committee) was one on the FY22 budget.

And the massive underfunding of the Worcester Public Schools wasn't discussed.

Now when I talk here about underfunding, there's actually two things that I mean at once:

1. The state, straightforwardly, owes us about $100M more a year. Period, no question. The phase in of the Student Opportunity Act (if/when fully funded) will get us there, but we're coming out of a year when it wasn't, out of a spring when the state ignored our most pressing need on enrollment acknowledgement, and heading into a year when we could well be hit by a whole bunch of kids the state didn't think was coming.
This is, no question, the bigger of the two issues.

2. As I have been saying literally for thirteen years, the city funds the schools at little more than minimum net school spending. They meet their legal requirement, and that is it. It popped up a bit last year, only because we transferred money out of transportation, and it will pop up a bit more for this year, for the same reason, but they aren't committing more actual resources to the schools at all. I have heard nothing that indicates that this is changing.
And while, yes, Worcester is a low resource district, we commit fewer of those resources than most other cities that look like us (I should probably make a chart of this again). Most other cities have been scandalized by how little they spend on their schools, and, recognizing that SOA phase in will take awhile, they've been endeavoring to do what they can for schools in the meantime. 

Despite a presentation that made both of those things clear, this topic literally did not come up. Councilors closely questioned the administration on their spending--as always, well out of their purview--while never even acknowledging the giant dancing elephant in the room.

I genuinely don't know what the deal is with this. We've had councilors in the past that genuinely didn't know this, but I'm not sure how it could be missed that this is the biggest issue now, as we were planning to sue the state to reverse it. And on the local spending, is it just that no one has made a fuss about it in awhile?