The House moved forward a version of the education reform bill last night. Technically, it was “passed to be engrossed,” which, in practical terms, sends it on to a conference committee that will resolve differences with the Senate bill (which is a very different bill). See my earlier post summarizing the house draft.
There is plenty of coverage of the issue in the newspapers, but here is a perspective from the floor. The foundation of the bill was a thoughtful draft from the education committee. The bill took its final form through negotiations among charter advocates and the teachers unions (and to a lesser extent, the administration and other reform advocates), carefully mediated through the speaker’s office. The charter advocates have a ballot question pending for next year which would remove all caps on charters. Polling indicates that — at least at this stage, before a campaign — the question would pass. While a campaign might change minds, the offer by the charter advocates to pull that question if they got a good compromise result in the legislature was a huge bargaining chip. The teachers unions have a number of well-like lobbyists on the hill and have good capacity to mobilize their members politically, so their views are also given heavy weight.
Through the holidays, a number of meetings occurred which shaped the house leadership version of the bill which balanced concerns of charter advocates and charter critics. When that version was released, a clear message was sent that the bill represented a delicate balance and little in the way of major change would be accepted. And, in fact, little of substance occurred on the floor yesterday. Through the formal session, most of us had a lot of time to catch up with our colleagues while negotiations continued behind closed doors, mostly about the few controversial amendments offered that had some support, notably the teachers union amendments calling for more collective bargaining before implementing changes in school turnaround situations.
Shortly after midnight, in a flurry of compromise amendments that most members had no opportunity to examine, the issues were resolved in a way that seemed to satisfy both charter advocates and teachers unions. We voted the bill on to the next stage and went home. While the education issue is a deep and broad one, this bill was really about management and administrative issues that pertain to very few school districts, most notably Boston. The key supporters and opponents were Boston organizations — the Boston Foundation, the Boston Teachers Union. Most members were content to support a compromise that seemed to have at least grudging acquiescence from the players most directly inolved.
Sometime early next week, most likely, a conference committee will report a final bill that has been negotiated between the House and Senate. Conferees have broad latitude to negotiate a rather different final bill. Although that bill will be subject only to an up or down vote, it will be in a form that is fully reviewable by the members before taking the final vote.
It saddens me to hear that a bill which is purportedly aimed at improving education for children should end up as a compromise over adult agendas. I wish the arguments had been focused on research-based education policies that might be the best solutions for our students.
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