Novick Reports: Joint Committee on Education Hearing

The Joint Committee on Education held a public hearing yesterday. The focus was on the ballot initiative questions (one on Common Core and one on the charter cap lift), though they also took public testimony on bills regarding summer learning, mental health, and a line item allocation for Wilmington. Read the full liveblog (of a hearing that lasted seven hours).

The summer learning item had a solid group of public testimony including several mayors and former Secretary of Education Paul Reville. There was much discussion of this as a way of equalizing student access to enrichment.

The mental health bill calls (essentially) for adding that to what is done as part of student health courses. Some of testimony was from the students at Leominster High who had designed the course there. The Common Core testimony reflected much of the testimony regarding PARCC and MCAS last summer, ‘though there were several attempts to clarify that one is not the other. There were struggles in testimony as Senator Chang-Diaz asked for differences between local control then and now (in that state standards have been decided by the Board of Ed since ed reform in 1993); there was also some conflicting testimony over use of resources (in that the change in standards was made in 2010, thus changes in curriculum that have been made since then were in alignment with the changed standards already; a few who were testified in favor of the ballot initiative seemed unclear that this change had already occurred). Commissioner Chester, as has been his wont recently, testified against the initiative. The charter cap lift brought out some interesting arrays of testimony in opposition, and a marked lack (going by past experiences) of testimony in support. Those in favor of cap lift were either parents (‘though not many this time) or allies; there were sharp words from Senator Chang-Diaz to the High Tech Council for their endorsement of the charter cap lift when they (as they revealed in responding to a question from Senator Jehlen) have no position on the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendation; she called it “extremely disappointing and frustrating.”

Mayor Walsh of Boston testified against the cap lift, because he is proposing a different cap lift proposal. Some of the Boston Public Schools students who walked out in protest of budget cuts came to the hearing and several testified when Senator Chang-Diaz took them in alternation with those who had signed up earlier. They offered some of the more eloquent testimony of the day, speaking of a dual system of schools, and asking why the Legislature would even be considering a cap lift when they don’t have the resources they need to fund the schools they have currently. This was echoed by Senator L’Italien.

This was also the first hearing at which I recall two members of the Board of Education (namely Ed Doherty and Mary Ann Stewart) offering testimony in opposition to the charter cap lift. MASC offered testimony jointly with MASS, pointing out that the bill, which would allow for up to 12 additional charters a year, would be equivalent to opening an entire Fall River School system each year and would cost the state $120 million (as the state fully funds the first year of charters at 100%). Salem School Committee member Brendan Walsh walked the committee through the local approval repeatedly recommended by MASC (and proposed in a bill from Senator Moore), closing with "if they think they (the Board of Ed) know best, they may still have their own way, but on their own dime.”