Public Policy Updates: February Board of Ed

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met on February 12, largely on charter matters. The agenda is found here
Upon opening, Commissioner Jeffrey Riley invited the Board to the upcoming statewide convening on March 14 at UMass Amherst. Specifics regarding the event will be forthcoming.
Public comment largely pertained to and was in support of the charter matters before the Board. Public testimony from MassCreative in support of the draft arts standards also was taken. 


Commissioner Riley walked the Board through this year's process for new charter schools: three initial applications were received, of which two were invited to apply and did. Equity Lab in Haverhill withdrew their application prior to the Commissioner making a decision. The Commissioner declined to recommend the application from Wildflower Montessori in Haverhill, citing concerns regarding special education and school governance. There followed discussion of this decision, in which Senior Associate Commissioner Cliff Chuang reconfirmed the Department's commitment to the standards for consideration, including that the applicants, rather than a management company like that partnering with the Wildflower Montessori, being what was considered when governance was concerned.

The Board next took up the Commissioner's recommendation of 56 additional seats for Excel Academy in Chelsea, citing their long successful track record. Member Ed Doherty spoke in opposition, reading a portion of a letter received by Board members from Chelsea Superintendent Mary Bourque: "I close with this plea that now is not the time to expand Excel Academy. It will only hurt our students more than they have been hurt these past few difficult diverting additional funds." Member Margaret McKenna, while noting the drop in suspensions, was also concerned by the disciplinary practices of the school, including that of students being required to wear a shirt of a particular color while being disciplined; she said this spoke to her of the need for professional development.
Vice Chair James Morton said he finds himself troubled each time such a decision comes before the Board, as they are asked to divert funding a district system to another opportunity without ever being able to address the underlying funding issues. He commented that the time was approaching when he would vote in opposition to any such expansion until the funding issue was dealt with, and "I think is that moment is today."
His argument was vigorously disputed by Chair Paul Sagan and Secretary James Peyser, with Sagan speaking of possible Excel students being "held hostage" and of "false narratives" regarding charter reimbursement, and Peyser commenting that he felt that families in Chelsea were taxpayers "who have a right to those funds" going to fund schools. Member Michael Moriarty in his argument in favor of expansion went back to Chelsea being under state receivership nearly thirty years ago. Member Mary Ann Stewart noted the $14 million a year already going to Chelsea charter schools, saying "twenty years on, it is time to take on the funding." Sagan argued that it was not the mission of the Board to make a decision on such a basis, to which Doherty replied that if the decision of the Board would possibly help 56 students but would hurt 6000 students, it would be within the mission of the Board to make that decision.
The Board voted 7-4 in favor of the 56 additional seats, with Doherty, McKenna, Morton, and Stewart voting in opposition. More coverage of this can be found here

 The Board quickly moved to accept the Commissioner's recommendation for a renewed charter with new conditions for Paulo Freire Charter on a 10-1 vote.

The Commissioner also noted the meetings in New Bedford around plans for the Alma del Mar charter expansion, saying he was "hopeful" the deadline for an agreed-upon MOU would be met. 

 The Board next took up the draft arts standards, voting to release them for public comment. McKenna spoke of the need for professional development supporting implementation, with Stewart agreeing it was a critical point on the need for funding.

The Board agreed to the interim competency standard for the science MCAS for the classes of 2023 and 2024.

Finally, the Board received an update on the Governor's FY20 proposed budget and school funding bill, as discussed in previous MASC updates, including a revised funding formula, a different charter reimbursement model, regional transportation at 76%, circuit breaker at 70%, and homeless transportation reimbursement at 37%.