Important education reforms pass state Senate

December 18, 2009
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Like CORI reform, the education reform bill passed last month will change our education system in Massachusetts for decades to come. As a former public school teacher, improving public education has been among my core motivators for running for public office. As a member of the Joint Committee on Education, I set out the priorities that would guide me throughout this Senate debate. Below is an accounting of how the bill we passed, S. 2205, addresses those core goals:

• Maintaining a sense of urgency for fixing failing schools and closing the achievement gap. The bill puts in place serious timelines for turning around failing schools and provides new tools and potential resources for school administrators to use in our underperforming schools—such as expanding the school day. By lifting the charter school cap in the 10 percent lowest-performing districts in the state, the bill also ensures that more children have additional school options.

• Closing disparities in service delivered by district and charter schools to high-need populations, such as special education students, English-language learners, and students with less engaged parents. The bill establishes new requirements for charter schools to commit to recruitment and retention plans for high-need populations.

• Fairness in the funding mechanisms used to apportion money to district and charter schools. To assist districts in budget planning, the bill allows tuition payments from districts to charter schools to be based on prior year enrollment and refines the formula the state uses to reimburse districts for students who enroll in charter schools.

• Teacher participation in the development of standards by which we measure schools’ success. The bill includes teachers in the stakeholder groups charged with developing turnaround plans for underperforming schools. I also successfully pushed for an amendment that allows for more measures of student achievement than MCAS scores alone, recognizing year-to-year growth in student and teacher achievement as well. This combination of measures more accurately reflects the value added to a student’s education each year.

Additionally, the bill recognizes something we have known for a long time: that schools don’t operate in a vacuum. In creating turnaround plans, superintendents and the state education commissioner must include steps to address the social, health, welfare, safety and employment needs of students and their families in order to help students arrive and remain at school ready to learn.

Finally, if passed by the House in January, this bill will better position Massachusetts to access $150 million to $250 million in new federal stimulus grants to help fund these reforms and continue the improvement many schools have begun in recent years.

S. 2205 is one step toward providing a high-quality education for all our children. Both the education and CORI bills now go to the House of Representatives for a vote, and I’m encouraged that Speaker Robert DeLeo has committed to debating these bills in the House in early January. These two pieces of legislation will bring greater socioeconomic justice for thousands of residents in Boston.

For more in depth information on both bills, please visit www.statehouse.soniachangdiaz.com.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz
Jamaica Plain
The writer is the state senator for the Second Suffolk District.