Thursday, January 24, 2019

Mass Power Forward Lobby Day

More than 100 members of Mass Power Forward prepped for lobby day

Environmental and Energy Justice advocates were in good company at the Massachusetts State House today for Mass Power Forward's (MPF) lobby day. Focus of the lobby day was threefold:
  • Share our vision
  • Get co-sponsorships, especially from House Reps
  • Show solidarity with Weymouth
You'll recall that the MPF coalition, of which PDM is a part, succeeded in advocating for powerful energy and environmental policy changes last legislative session. All were unanimously supported in the State Senate.

Those bills have been "refreshed" for a second round this legislative session, strengthened by a commitment to environmental justice and against racism.

Leaders of MPF note that many of our communities, especially those with a majority of people of color and low incomes, have had to bear the brunt of decades of fossil fuel pollution and are most at risk from climate change. MPF is urging state legislators to call for energy policy that leads by example to stop fossil fuel subsidies, support local renewable energy resources, keep energy dollars in our communities, create good green jobs, and protect our Commonwealth from climate change and life-threatening pollution.

Messaging MPF's legislative priorities, especially to members of the House, calls for bold, decisive action on:
  • Environmental Justice -- including communities impacted by climate change and fossil fuel pollution as participants in crafting new, equitable policy
  • 100% Renewable Energy -- set an ambitious goal to equitably reach 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and 100% renewable energy for heating and transportation by 2045
  • Equitable Investments and Green Infrastructure -- use mechanisms such as equitable carbon pricing or TCI (Transportation Climate Initiative) to invest today to create the future we want
After the briefing, members dispersed into the State House to meet with House Reps, asking that they co-sponsor these important bills* by Friday, February 1:
  1. S.D.1885/H.D.3878; S.D.1824/H.D.3523 -- An Act relative to Environmental Justice; Sen. DiDomenico/Rep.Madaro and Sen. Eldridge/Rep. Dubois & Rep. Miranda
  2. S.D.1625S.D.1625/H.D.3092 --  An Act Re-powering Massachusetts with 100% Renewable Energy; Sen. Eldridge/Rep. Decker & Rep. Garballey
  3. H.D.2370 -- An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions; Rep. Benson
  4. S.D.1541/H.D.3009 -- An Act to Advance Modern and Sustainable Solutions for Transportation; Sen. Lesser/Rep. Ehrlich
At 1:00, MPF members joined organizers from Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station
at Governor Baker's office to protest the Weymouth Compressor Station.

Check out #EnergyJusticeNow and #mapoli on twitter, as well as links to MPF and Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station facebook pages, for videos, pictures, comments, and more.

* As of this posting, House Docket numbers have been assigned but links to bill texts are not yet live on

Image credit, Mary Ann Stewart

Cross-posted to Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Another Charter School to Expand

With January's regular meeting, the Board begins closing out of this year's charter school season. Final votes remain to be taken, possibly at a special meeting on February 11 and, at the regular meeting on February 12.

Two votes taken yesterday, Tuesday, January 22, determine how a charter school may move forward in New Bedford (in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 89, and 603 CMR 1.00).

Alma del Mar Charter School in New Bedford requested an amendment to expand its enrollment from 594 to 1,044 seats. Commissioner Jeff Riley, Mayor Jon Mitchell, and Founder and Principal of Alma del Mar Charter School Will Gardner agreed on a proposal that would, instead and among other things, increase enrollment to 900 seats and transfer an unused school building from New Bedford Public Schools to Alma del Mar. Alma would be responsible for seeing the building (unused since 2015) is in good repair by its opening in August 2019. (The Department's announcement of the proposal is HERE; others have reported and/or responded, including HERE, HERE, and HERE). 

The Motion was approved by the Board:
  • Location: New Bedford
  • Maximum enrollment: 900
  • Grades served: K-8
  • Effective school year: FY2020
  • Yes: Craven, West, McKenna, Fernandez, Peyser, Sagan, Morton, Mathews, Moriarty
  • No: Stewart
  • Abstain: Doherty
The Motion states that the increase in maximum enrollment is explicitly conditioned as follows:
  1. The school will participate in good-faith negotiations with New Bedford Public Schools that will result in a memorandum of understanding that supports effective implementation of the proposed collaboration and substantially aligns with the terms of the letter of intent agreed to by both parties and the Commissioner. The memorandum of understanding between Alma del Mar Charter School and New Bedford Public Schools is subject to Commissioner approval prior to execution.
  2. As soon as possible, the school shall submit a draft enrollment policy that reflects the negotiated integrated enrollment process with New Bedford Public Schools and the proposed growth plan to reach 900 students, for Commissioner approval.
  3. The school will promptly and effectively communicate with the Department regarding any and all significant matters relevant to the suitability and readiness of a second campus location for occupancy at the start of the 2019-2020 school year. These communications shall occur within a reasonable period of time but in any event no later than 96 hours after occurrence.
The Motion further states:
  • If the Commissioner determines that these conditions have not been met or that necessary legislation has not been enacted this enrollment increase of 450 seats is null and void. 
In the event that legislation conditioned in the above approval has not been enacted, a second Motion was also moved and approved:
  • Location: New Bedford
  • Maximum enrollment: 1,044
  • Grades served: K-8
  • Effective school year: FY2020
  • Yes: Craven, West, McKenna, Fernandez, Peyser, Sagan, Morton, Mathews, Moriarty
  • No: Stewart, Doherty
  • The Board grants this increase of 594 seats if the Commissioner determines that either good-faith negotiations on the memorandum of understanding between the school and New Bedford Public Schools have irretrievably broken down or the necessary legislation has not been enacted in sufficient time for planning and implementation of the model proposed in the letter of intent among the parties.
  • The Commissioner shall report to the Board if he determines that this enrollment increase of 594 will take effect.
New Bedford Public Schools Superintendent, Thomas Anderson, and Alma Del Mar's Charter Operator, Executive Director, and Founder, Will Gardner were seated together at yesterday's Board meeting. They commented enthusiastically on the proposed arrangement and also took some questions.

Negotiations are not typical in the charter school process. School Committee and teachers were not part of the new proposal, either. Parents have not had a chance to respond to details of the new proposal in the week since it was announced. The community as a whole has not had an opportunity to contribute to the process as newly proposed and -- based on my questions to the couple seated at the table -- were not likely to. There could be school-based conversations, though.

Had this new proposal had the benefit of a substantive process in New Bedford, and with key stakeholders weighing-in (School Committee members, parents in the neighborhood and across the city, etc.), it might have had my support.

We all have a stake in the solid education of all our people, least of which are countless situations where our personal interests depend on others' competence, empathy, and compassion. I continue to hold that no new charter schools should be approved or expanded until all of our schools are fully funded as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

Photo credit: New heating system, pipes/instruments, part of the renovation completed at Bowman Elementary School, Lexington in 2013.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

School and District Report Cards

A preamble to the post!

Which feels more parent-friendly? 
In accordance with the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), all states and districts receiving federal Title I funds must prepare and disseminate annual report cards. Report cards are critical tools for promoting accountability for schools, districts, and states by publicizing data about student performance and program effectiveness for parents, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Report cards help parents/guardians and the general public see where schools and districts are succeeding and where there is still work to do. [Intro to the 2016 Massachusetts State Report Card]

Or this:
Families and communities are critical partners to a school’s success. Just as a student’s report card shows how they are performing, the school report card shows how a school is performing in multiple areas. It shows the school’s strengths and the challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the school is meeting the needs of all students.
[Draft Intro on 2018 Massachusetts Report Card Prototype]

Second one. By a mile. I didn't copy down what was read to us the other night, but think it may have been edited further so that it is shorter now, too.

School and District Report Cards have been *required* since No Child Left Behind, but access to the information in them has been inconsistent, hard to find, and, for most of us (that is, those who do not speak "DESE"), hard to understand. 

Public reporting efforts have been geared toward compliance with state and federal laws, rather than being intentionally designed to meet people's needs. As a consequence, most of the data have been unseen and unused, thus limiting their ability to promote and support improvement for students and systems. 

With the reauthorization of ESEA (from No Child Left Behind) to Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are once again mandating school and district reporting. This time, states are determined to communicate better -- and differently -- with parents and other stakeholders (see notes at end of this post).

States are required to annually report on "education indicators" at the state, district, and school levels, including data used in accountability systems (which are still very much under construction in MA), assessment, educator qualifications, and other measures of school quality. Report cards could answer questions and inform actions, such as: 
  • How are our schools doing (compared to others in the state, nationally)?
  • What are the bright spots?
  • Where are the gaps?
Since 2007, Massachusetts has prepared school and district report cards that contain all federally required elements, and has made them available via the Department's School and District Profiles website. (The site is in transition. This is the "general information" page for the state's profile; it mirrors the format of school and district report cards. Soon there will be a dedicated page for School and District Report Cards).

Beginning with the 2018-2019 report card, states must also include the per-pupil expenditures for the preceding year of federal, state, and local funds, including actual personnel and non-personnel, disaggregated by source of funds, for the state as a whole and for each public school district and public school in the state. (Oh hey! While we're at it, might we also want to see Net School Spending there? Hmmm?)

This past Monday's special meeting was an opportunity for the Board to hear an update about and see a demo of a new school and district report card that the Department will publish later this month.

In an effort to develop "parent-friendly" report cards, we learned that, wisely, the Department partnered with Learning Heroes beginning in Fall 2017. Present with Russell Johnston, Senior Associate Commissioner, and Rob Curtin, Associate Commissioner, were Bibb Hubbard, Founder and President, and Erica Gray, Strategic Advisor, from Learning Heroes. 

Learning Heroes was founded 4 years ago as a resource for parents. They have conducted impressive research in 25 states for the purpose of improving communication to parents via school and district report cards. In so doing, they have partnered with more than 25 national organizations, among them National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Flamboyan Foundation, National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and Common Sense Media

To understand what parents/guardians/families want to know and see in these reports, their partnerships enabled Learning Heroes to engage:
  • 100+ focus groups
  • In Depth Interviews (IDIs)
  • 10 national surveys
  • Dozens of ethnography sessions 
  • Dozens of tests of their tools
  • Focus on low-income parents/guardians and parents/guardians of color
The Massachusetts prototype was further built on information Learning Heroes gleaned from focus groups with Massachusetts parent groups, including Massachusetts PTA, Massachusetts Parents United, and Phenomenal Moms.

I was struck by the opportunity these report cards present for the state to put information into the hands of parents and families and other stakeholders. We have an opportunity to tell better stories, as a result. By sharing this data, we can go behind the numbers and statistics because that's where the stories are. Stories about our schools, students, and teachers, and the experiences they are having. It's an opportunity to (dare I say it!) decide how we want to feel about our schools as we tell stories that highlight and celebrate success and even identify areas for improvement.

National research revealed:
  • Parents have high expectations of public schools
  • They can have an over-inflated view of their child's progress, believing their child as at or above grade level in reading and math
Disaggregated data, presented flatly in text and table form, has had unintended consequences. Many times it has been perceived as discriminatory or inadvertently shaming of students who are falling short because families ultimately view the data through a personal lens. Families of color whose children are not in special education, for example, may have wondered why they were seeing data on children of color in special education. The same holds true on homelessness, English learners, foster care, and military. A clear summative rating is very important because it lets one know how a school is performing as a whole for all children.

Research of Massachusetts parents showed:
  • They are more likely to see their child at grade level
  • Parents are more likely to question their child's achievement when presented with data
  • When parents are shown that their child is not at or above grade level, they want to know what they can do to help their child improve or to get more involved
Parents primarily care about their own child and it makes sense that the data would focus on how their action will directly impact their child's progress. Context and information about why the policy or practice matters personally to the school and their child are key and should be included.

Parents are problem-solvers. By sharing information, schools and communities can match students with additional supports they need, including, high-quality afterschool and summer programs, college mentors, summer job programs. Doing so helps students thrive.

Different people need different data to meet their information needs, including school committee members, superintendents, principals, and teachers. As someone who sat on a school committee, I see them benefiting from clearly communicated data about their schools and districts. Having access to the same information creates opportunities for telling dynamic stories.

DESE walked us through a demo of the new site. It was uncluttered, with lots of white space, good visual information, and noticeably fewer blocks of text and data tables. There were clear directions to "click" for more information or detail about the data.

As the Parent Representative on the Board, not an education expert or corporate CEO, what I saw I understood to be something of a game-changer. Rarely have report cards of this type treated parents as the customer. It remains to be seen just how personal the information will be or how clear the context will be for doable action steps. It strikes me that, up to now, too few families and other stakeholders have been unable to find the information they were looking for.

Too many times, school information comes at parents and families in a language we don't understand. I mean this both literally and figuratively. I'll admit that understanding "Edu-speak" has been a kind of badge of honor for me, but it is truly a barrier. It matters that MA's new report cards will be written in everyday language and offered in English, plus nine others.

Since we are talking about sharing data better with everyone, we should also have a clear understanding of how student data is being used and protected. And, because data doesn't always speak for itself, families deserve training and support to understand what they can do to help their children once they have this information.

Done well, parents/guardians/families and all stakeholders could inspire action in local communities and provide a conduit for shared successes with the public-at-large. With so many working from the same set of information, they could also form a baseline for authentic conversations with stakeholders. If we do, our communities, our schools, and, most importantly, our students will benefit.
- - -
Header image credit: Screenshot,

Monday, January 7, 2019

Board's Budget Committee

We'll be following development of the State's FY20 Budget until it is finally approved later this year. Funding for public ed in the Commonwealth is the purview of the State Legislature; policy and regulation belong within the Board.

Each September the Board's Chair appoints members to a Budget Committee. A preliminary discussion of the next year's budget ensues, including budget framework and timelines. The Committee works with the Commissioner and senior staff to develop budgetary areas of focus for the October Board meeting.

Secretary of Education reviews and approves DESE's current fiscal year spending plans and Administration and Finance (ANF) gives final approval in early October. ANF also determines funding estimate based on the analysis of spending plan submissions.

The Budget Committee brings forward recommendations to the full Board, then members discuss before a vote is taken on the areas of priority. A letter, or statement of values, is drafted (the Board's FY20 Budget Priority letter is here) and accompanies DESE's budget request that is sent to the Secretary of Education for consideration in the development of the Governor's House 1 (or 2) budget proposal. In 2019, it's House 1.

Budget Committee met in September following the regular Board Meeting. The focus of that discussion was on the Holyoke Public Schools budget, specifically, their budget challenges. You'll recall that Holyoke is one of three districts held in receivership by the DESE. Steve Zrike, Receiver, Holyoke Public Schools, and Anthony Soto, Business Manager, Holyoke Public Schools, joined the meeting by phone. They provided a high-level overview of the HPS budget and the challenges -- specific budget challenges that are common to at least 32 similar districts across the Commonwealth. Districts are forced to make reductions every year as revenue and enrollment remains relatively flat while other drivers in the budget continue to grow at a much greater pace than revenue, including:
    • Employee Salaries
    • Health Insurance
    • Charter School Tuition
    • SPED Out of District Tuition
    • Change in funding for economically disadvantaged students
The Committee also reviewed a summary of HPS 5-year financial forecast (on page 76 of their report), which  included anticipated revenues and expenses from FY2018-FY2023.

This brings us to Chapter 70* aid and Net School Spending (NSS). HPS is but one District needing 100% of NSS, in addition to $3M in one-time revenue streams to balance the initial projected budget deficit and avoid deeper cuts. Holyoke is one of ten cities with the lowest local contribution in Massachusetts. In fact, Holyoke is one of 32 communities across the Commonwealth who are within 5% of NSS.
The Budget Committee met again Monday, October 22 and DESE updated on several items, including:
  • DESE FY19 Spending Update: State supplemental funds were applied to close government business for the year, including $5M in Targeted Assistance; $7.5M for Behavioral Health and Mental Health; and $7.5M for School Safety
  • DESE FY20 Development Update: Maintenance Budget (funding the FY19 Budget items in FY20, aka, no new initiatives) was filed with ANF on October 19
Open Discussion with Committee members (Katherine Craven, Chair, Margaret McKenna, and Mary Ann Stewart; Michael Moriarty, by phone; and Ed Doherty, not present). Initial Committee discussion on areas of priority (in non priority order) for FY20 Budget:
    • Foundation Budget: DESE working with Governor and Legislative Leaders to implement FBRC recommendations
    • Targeted Assistance: all acknowledge the STRUCTURAL PROBLEM with Foundation Budget Formula, Budget members seek to annualize the targeted amount
    • DESE looking to fund STEM Learning Initiative ~$1.4M
    • DESE looking for ability to accept revenue for Educational Licensure Fee Increase (otherwise it goes to the General Fund), from $100 to $150 for the 5-year license; from $25 to $50 for each additional edu license (for an additional estimated $1.5M) to better fund and improve better response time from the Office of Professional Practice Investigations (for educator ethics and misconduct issues)
    • MCAS Academic Support
  • Compilation of successes, including: 
    • Breakfast in the Classroom, Civics Education, LOOK Act, Early Literacy, Summer learning, Dyslexia Bill recently signed
Subsequent to the meeting, I forwarded MassBudget's updated "Cutting Class" report (of 2011) with updated numbers. Interesting to read their projected scenarios of Chapter 70 aid distribution. What the MB report does not discuss is the need for new revenue, which is where true meaningful reform lives. But, I digress.

This brings us to today. All agencies have submitted their requests to the governor who will submit his House 1 budget request no later than February 27th. Governor Baker hinted there was more to come, but we'd have to wait for his budget to be submitted. During January, House and Senate Ways and Means Committees request subsequent fiscal year maintenance budget data from all state agencies. As of this writing, Committee membership has yet to be assigned.

Going forward, Mid-Year Review of Department spending by ANF in February, to identify any projected deficiencies or any projected surpluses. Joint House and Senate Ways and Means Committee conducts budget hearings, generally held across the Commonwealth in late February.

Big challenges lie ahead, particularly for House Legislators, who must work together to challenge leadership, and for activists, who must hold House members' feet to the fire. Activists must articulate what we stand for at a gut level and Legislators have a responsibility to respond. Politics in 2019 demands proactive engagement from all of us, elected and non. It insists that we not play small, that we drive urgency on the critical issues before us:
  • Short- and long-term revenue
  • Adequate funding for K-12 education, including improving vocational education, expanding early childhood education, and providing debt-free college options
  • Safe communities for immigrant and undocumented people
  • Stronger environmental protections
  • Healthcare for all
  • Affordable housing
  • Ballot access, i.e., same day registration and ranked choice voting
  • Campaign finance reform
While ambitious, this list is far from exhaustive. For legislative action to be truly effective, issues would be prioritized and informed by the needs of the citizenry.

A progressive government will operate with transparency and the highest ethical standards. It will ensure fair debate of issues and accountability to constituents, provide a decent standard of living, affordable housing as a human right, and fair work schedules for all, as institutional racism is also addressed, working, ultimately, for freedom, equality, and justice for all.

(Overview and details of Chapter 70 funding may be found online at MassBudget or DESE's website). In a nutshell, Chapter 70, Foundation Budget, and Net School Spending goes like this:
  • Chapter 70 is the Massachusetts General Law that establishes funding requirements for public school districts within the State. 
  • The law establishes a minimum funding requirement (or “foundation budget") for each district that seeks to ensure an adequate education consistent with the Education Reform Act of 1993.
  • The law also defines the payments that make up the foundation budget.
    • The State uses a complex formula to calculate an adequate funding level, which is based on many factors including each district’s student demographics. 
    • Then, taking into account the community’s wealth, the formula calculates the required “local contribution” (the amount the municipality can afford). 
    • The State then funds the remaining amount with Chapter 70 Aid.
  • In 2015 the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommended updating the formula substantially to more accurately reflect changes since enacted more than 25 years ago. The Legislature has come close but has not made any changes to date.
Image credit: Sheila Pepe's "Women Are Bricks", 1983, remade 2017. Handmade bricks, rug, cement. Currently on exhibit at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum through March 10, 2019. Photo by yours truly.

Members of the 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may be found HERE.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

We The People

All 200 duly elected members of the 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are sworn in at once, for two years, on the first Wednesday in January following an election. Today being that day, 30 new legislators took their places, 25 of them in the House. 

Big challenges lie ahead, particularly for those House Legislators, who must work together to challenge leadership, and for activists, who must hold House members' feet to the fire.

Activists must articulate what we stand for at a gut level and Legislators have a responsibility to respond. Voters want to know how legislation will help us and we need to be listening for policies that explicitly say, "This is what this legislation does".

This isn't the time for *the common good*. This isn't the time for *we're all in this together*. Legislation needs to be specific: This bridge. This road. This community.

Politics in 2019 demands proactive engagement from all of us, elected and non, insist ing that we not play small, and that we drive urgency on the critical issues before us:
  • Revenue, for the short- and long-term
  • Adequate funding for K-12 education, including improving vocational education, expanding early childhood education, and providing debt-free college options
  • Safe communities for immigrants and the undocumented
  • Stronger protections for the environment
  • Healthcare for all
  • Affordable housing
  • Ballot access, i.e., same day registration and ranked choice voting
  • Campaign finance reform
A progressive government will operate with transparency and the highest ethical standards. It will ensure fair debate of issues and accountability to constituents, provide a decent standard of living, affordable housing as a human right, and fair work schedules for all, as institutional racism is also addressed.

Freedom. Justice. Equity for all.

It's an ambitious list and by no means exhaustive. For legislative action to be truly effective, issues would be prioritized and informed by the needs of the citizenry.

Image credit: Screenshot, I ♥️ HUE

Members of the 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may be found HERE. As of this writing, membership of House, Senate, and Joint Committees have yet to be determined. New House and Senate Legislators are listed below.

1st Franklin, Natalie Blais (D)
1st Hampshire, Lindsay Sabadosa (D)
2nd Hampshire, Daniel Carey (D)
3rd Hampshire, Mindy Domb (D)
4th Plymouth, Patrick Joseph Kearney (D)
4th Suffolk, David Biele (D)
5th Suffolk, Liz Miranda (D)
6th Middlesex, Maria Robinson (D)
7th Plymouth, Alyson Sullivan (R)
8th Worcester, Michael Soter (R)
9th Suffolk, Jon Santiago (D)
11th Bristol, Christopher Hendricks (D)
11th Essex, Peter Capano (D)
12th Bristol, Norman Orrall (R)
12th Plymouth, Kathleen LaNatra (D)
14th Essex, Christina Minicucci (D)
14th Middlesex, Tami Gouveia (D)
15th Middlesex, Michelle Ciccolo (D)
15th Norfolk, Tommy Vitolo (D)
15th Suffolk, Nika Elugardo (D)
16th Essex, Marcos Devers (D)
17th Worcester, David LeBoeuf (D)
18th Essex, Tram Nguyen (D)
19th Middlesex, David Robertson (D)
30th Middlesex, Rich Haggerty (D)

1st Essex, Diana DiZoglio (D)
1st Middlesex, Edward Kennedy (D)
2nd Essex/Middlesex, Barry Finegold (D)
Norfolk/Bristol/Middlesex, Becca Rausch (D)
Hampshire/Franklin/Worcester, Jo Comerford (D)