Public Policy Updates: March 2023 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. The agenda is here; the livestream can be found here.

Public comment was entirely people associated with  TEC Connections Academy requesting that their students be able to take the MCAS remotely. They cited the cost, the turmoil it causes the school, the disruption to students, and the difficulty it provides parents. They also questioned the accuracy of the MCAS results, as the tests are conducted in locations and circumstances different than those students are accustomed to learning in.

Chair Katherine Craven said that the Board will be having an upcoming retreat, and that the Board will be meeting in April at Westford Academy, as one of the spring meetings is hosted by the home school of the student representative.

Craven gave the floor to Member Michael Moriarty to speak of the reading/recovery committee he is chairing, which had met since the last meeting.

Secretary Patrick Tutwiler spoke of his and the Commissioner’s public testimony before the Joint Ways & Means Committee. He also applauded the work on the IEP as focused on “equity at the core,” as well as looking at varied students and their needs.

Commissioner Jeffrey Riley thanked Governor Maura Healey for her support for universal school meals, sharing that he and the Secretary had visited Billerica with her last week. He also said that the Boston Public Schools were putting together a “systemic improvement plan” which the Boston School Committee and the Board will be receiving later this spring.

The Board then welcomed Counselor of the Year Andrea Encarnacao of Boston Latin School. She was introduced by Nyal Fuentes of the Department. By way of introduction, Bob Bardwell of the Massachusetts School Counselors Association reviewed statistics demonstrating the stark need for counselors in our schools.
Encarnacao said “education and service is in my blood,” outlining her own background and education which brought her to counseling. She said,”I love being able to talk with young people about their futures” in her work. She said she has worried the “most about our most marginalized students,” and “I’ve learned that we need justice in counseling…we owe our students more than talk.” She asked what, of the pandemic, we have kept: the time for meeting with teachers and other staff, the time for lunch, even time to get outside. She said, and Student Representative Eric Plankey agreed from speaking with students across the state, that the flexibility of time, slowing the pace down, was needed and the key to building relationships.

The Board then received an update on the work on the revision of the Individual Education Plan. The renewed focus on the student, on assets, and on parent clarity were highlighted in the meeting. There is a meeting with software vendors coming up this week, with upcoming professional development and technical assistance. The state will also be offering grants for implementation, not only for districts, but also for collaboratives and for special education schools. The form online is intended to be accessible, with districts that wish to further operationalize with their own IT.

Finally, the Board received a budget update from CFO Bill Bell. Bell said that the third year of the implementation of the Student Opportunity Act brought chapter 70 aid to $6.6B in the Governor’s proposed FY24 budget. While the state has based state education funding on a 41/59% split between local and state, the state currently is funding 47%. Even so, the increases in the foundation budget have necessarily resulted in increases in local required contribution; the proposed budget requests $10M for such increases. The proposal also includes over half a billion dollars for circuit breaker reimbursement. Bell also explained that the phasing out of the state’s two year commitment of federal ARPA funding to special education schools to provide staffing hiring and retention led to the 14% increase in such schools’ tuition for FY24. The proposed budget includes a $20M reserve for such increases, with an additional $75M recommendation in a supplemental budget. The proposed budget also includes a projected 90% reimbursement for regional transportation, 90% reimbursement for out of district vocational transportation, and 100% reimbursement for homeless student transportation.
Bell also outlined where the state stands with ESSER funding. With ESSER I now expired, districts did expend all funds. ESSER II, expiring in September of this year, is 71% claimed. ESSER III, with an end date of September of 2024, is 25% committed. Bell said the last includes maintenance and facilities work, so there is an expected lag there. In all, Bell said, “We feel that districts are properly paying attention” to their spending and timelines.

The meeting then adjourned. The Board next meets on April 28 in Westford.