Public Policy Updates: November 2018 Board of Education

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met on Tuesday, November 20 for a short agenda, largely regarding the FY20 budget. A recording of the meeting can be found online here


Commissioner Riley updated the Board on a recent meeting on the early college high school effort; there will be a full update at the joint meeting with the Board of Higher Education next year. He said that the committee to review the health standards has been created, reviewing standards that have not been updated in twenty years. The plan is for the new standards to be released for public comment by summer. He noted that the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy charter school, recently in the Boston Globe due to audit findings, has already been put on probation by the Board and will be back before the Board next year.

During public comment, Superintendent Bob Sandborn of the Cape Cod Regional Technical School, spoke on two topics. First, he expressed his opposition to the elimination of the physics and technology and engineering MCAS tests for science; districts like his own chose to revamp to emphasize technology and engineering, and now will be forced to do so again if the tests besides biology are dropped, as has been suggested. 

Sandborn also spoke of his concern, as the superintendent of Cape Cod Tech, of the recent approval of a Chapter 74 program at Barnstable High School, a program his school does not offer. He spoke of the shrinking levels of student enrollment on the Cape and of the recent approval of a new building for Cape Cod Tech, noting that the school does not have a waiting list. His understanding is that Barnstable intends to apply for all Chapter 74 programs his school does not have; he said this is "nothing more than a blatant attempt to keep students in the Barnstable district." He asked that the Department consider "a more nuanced process" for the Cape on such approvals.

Member Katherine Craven, who chairs the Board's budget committee, opened the discussion regarding the Board's request, to be made via Secretary James Peyser, for fiscal year 2020; the request, she said, highlights "items the Board has consistently stood up for" like STEM, English learners, next generation assessment, and civics. She said that more targeted assistance was deserving of discussion, as was how that related to the larger issues with Chapter 70 funding.

 Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson then was asked to update the Board on Departmental work on updating the foundation budget. Wulfson noted the interest in the field in moving forward on the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, saying the Legislature's conference committee had done "a lot of great work, but they ran out of time." The Department is "having a lot of internal discussions with a goal to presenting a number of ideas for the Governor to consider with his House 1 budget proposal." Wulfson agreed with Craven's comment of the interrelationship with other accounts; the greatest urgency, he said, is for "significant new education dollars" targeted for those districts where the educational gap is the greatest. 

Member Craven said that a recent meeting with Holyoke, for which the Board has a particular responsibility, as it is under state receivership, called this issue to their attention. Wulfson said that it is the districts they are most concerned about with the most challenged student population, being supported by cities that are barely funding them at net school spending requirements that are like Holyoke in this way; many districts fund in excess of requirements, thus how much additional aid they should get is a question, as well. Wulfson also called the Board's attention to rural districts with shrinking enrollment, a solution for which is not found in the Commission's findings; "every school district has a different set of needs." Wulfson said, "We understand the Board's imperative that closing the achievement gap has to be the first and foremost goal if we're going to be talking about literally hundreds of millions of dollars in new education aid over the next decade...[we need to] make sure the investment pays off in student performance in closing the achievement gap."

Asked by Chair Paul Sagan for his views, Commissioner Riley said that he had obviously seen from his time in Lawrence that the funding system is broken; while many districts are well over foundation, it is "a group of struggling districts, often with our most needy kids, not getting the funds they need." Member Michael Moriarty said it felt as though we were back to where we had been in 1993 in terms of funding. 

Secretary Peyser said that it was not just about the funding, but "about how the funding is being used." He said, "as much as there has been attention paid to the formula itself...we also need to think about how those funds are being used in a strategic way." Districts, he said, "are being given resources to..." invest in things that are successful "as opposed to thinking this is just about a funding thing." Craven remarked that this could give the Department tools it hadn't had since 1993, as the bargain then was increased funds for the education reform oversight; "now it's time for something new," she said. 

The Board also voted to send out for public comment an interim standard for high school competency in the science MCAS, as was done in math and ELA, as that shifts to the new assessment. At this time, the Commissioner is not prepared to make a recommendation regarding the suggested dropping of physics and technology/engineering.

The Board next meets December 18.