The Joint Committee on Education released its draft education reform bill on Tuesday afternoon. Further below I have reproduced a committee summary of the legislation. Click here for the committee’s section-by-section analysis and here for the full text of the bill.
I will say now that I do expect to vote for the bill, but elements of it are still in flux, so input is still meaningful.
Here is my overall perspective: There are a lot of things that one could reform about education — goals, methods, funding, technology — but this legislation speaks to only dimension: Control. The bill’s major features make it easier for the state to intervene in low-performing districts by creating charter schools and/or by taking over school systems entirely.
I don’t feel that charter schools are a magic bullet. They tend to do roughly the same things that regular district schools do. But, I do feel that parents and kids in low performing districts deserve to have additional choices. Additional choices and flexibility seem like necessary things to introduce.
Some have made the point that if additional flexibility is a good thing for charters, it is probably good for every school. The legislation does create a new voluntary option for local districts called “innovation schools”. This offers districts with the consent of their teachers a way to create new models.
Some have felt that charters cream the most motivated families out of urban school systems. The bill imposes new burdens on charters that will require them to recruit in a more representative way.
The current draft does not make structural changes in the charter funding system, but there may be funding changes in the final version.
Education Reform Act of 2009
(Committee Summary distributed by Chair Marty Walz)
This bill creates Innovation Schools. These are district schools with increased autonomy and flexibility in all aspects of their operation. Any school in any district may take advantage of this new model, and the funding of these schools is the same as for any other school in the district.
- The school committee, superintendent and teachers union collaborate on the development of these schools.
- 2/3 of the affected faculty are required to approve the school’s innovation plan in the case of a school conversion. In the case of a new school, the teachers union will negotiate contract modifications.
- Schools adopting this model may have an advisory board of trustees and engage in private fundraising.
- These schools may be created by a wide variety of groups and individuals, including: parents, teachers, superintendents, school committees and non-profit organizations.
Underperforming and Chronically Underperforming Schools
This bill specifically addresses schools at Level 4 and Level 5 in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Accountability and Assistance System. In both of these types of schools, the planning process described below is open to the public and done in a collaborative manner with community participation. The goal is to encourage community collaboration and support for turnaround efforts in schools. The pool of schools eligible for Level 4 or Level 5 status consists of the lowest 20% of schools statewide as measured by the combined Composite Performance Index (CPI), which is the combined performance of students on English Language Arts and Math MCAS. At any given time, no more than 5% of the state’s schools can be designated as Level 4 or Level 5. This means that of the 1,849 schools in the commonwealth, no more than 92 can be designated at any one time.
- Underperforming Schools (Level 4)
- Superintendents are given the tools necessary to improve schools, before the state steps in at Level 5.
- Superintendents may reopen the contract with any union and renegotiate in good faith for a period of 40 days, after which time the affected employees have 10 days to ratify.
- If there is no agreement or ratification, a superintendent will be allowed to implement the last, best offer.
- Superintendents may also renegotiate the principal’s contract.
- When contracts are renegotiated, compensation and benefits cannot be reduced unless there is a proportionate reduction in hours.
- A superintendent may, in consultation with the union, require that all employees in the school reapply for their jobs. A person who is not rehired has 1 year on the payroll to obtain an open position in the district. The employee may also engage in professional development in that year. An employee is terminated if s/he has not been hired into an open position within that year.
- Superintendents may choose an external receiver to assist in the turnaround.
- The bill provides a process by which the commissioner will annually evaluate the superintendent’s progress. At the yearly evaluation, the commissioner may require changes to the innovation plan to increase the school’s pace of improvement.
- After 3 years, the commissioner may recommend Level 5 status, allow the superintendent to continue implementation of the plan, recommend an external receiver, or remove the school from Level 4 status.
- Chronically Underperforming Schools (Level 5)
- The commissioner develops the school’s innovation plan and sends in targeted assistance, gives the plan to the superintendent to implement, or appoints an external receiver to implement the plan.
- Implementation is for 3 years, after which time the school’s progress is reviewed.
- The innovation plan components are the same as at Level 4, with the exception of negotiations to reopen collective bargaining agreements. At Level 5, the commissioner can suspend provisions of a contract without a period of renegotiation.
- A school must go through Level 4 before being designated a Level 5 school.
- Possible Funding for Turnaround Efforts in Underperforming and Chronically Underperforming Schools
- There is currently a line item in the budget for targeted assistance for underperforming schools. The fiscal year 2010 appropriation is $6.9 million.
- Due to programmatic changes to Title 1, Massachusetts will receive $20 million annually to use for targeted assistance to underperforming schools. This is not tied to federal stimulus funding and is expected to be ongoing.
- Race to the Top funding, if Massachusetts receives a grant, may be targeted for the turnaround of underperforming schools.
Chronically Underperforming Districts
Districts that are chronically underperforming are at Level 5 in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Accountability and Assistance System. These districts have failed to address widespread deficiencies relating to one or more district standards.
- The lowest 5% of districts as measured by combined CPI are eligible for Level 5 status, and no more than 2% of districts at any given time can be designated as such. Consequently, of the 299 districts in the Commonwealth, no more than 6 can be designated as chronically underperforming at any one time.
- For chronically underperforming districts, this bill requires the board of elementary and secondary education to appoint a receiver to address the areas which caused the chronic underperformance.
- The bill specifies that the efforts are targeted on the school(s) and policies that caused the district’s chronic underperformance.
Charter School Caps
The current charter school law contains the following caps: no more than 72 Commonwealth Charter Schools; no more than 48 Horace Mann Charter Schools; no more than 4% of the total statewide school population may be enrolled in charter schools; and no more than 9% of a district’s net school spending can be sent to a Commonwealth Charter School. There are currently 7 Horace Mann Charter Schools and 53 Commonwealth Charter Schools.
- This bill removes the cap on the statewide population that can be enrolled in a charter school.
- This bill eliminates the caps on the number of Horace Mann and Commonwealth Charters that may exist.
- This bill lifts the spending cap on Commonwealth Charter Schools to 18% of net school spending in the lowest 10% performing districts, as measured by 2 years of combined CPI. This cap is phased in over time, increasing to 12% in fiscal year 2011 and increasing 1% each year thereafter until reaching 18%.
- Districts currently approaching their cap which are in lowest 10%: Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Malden, Springfield, Worcester.
- In Boston, a 3% increase will allow for an additional 2,600 seats in fiscal year 2011.
- The bill includes language for a district moving out of the lowest 10%: charter schools in existence are grandfathered and the net school spending cap remains at the level in place when the district is no longer scoring in the lowest 10% for two consecutive years.
Commonwealth Charter School Accountability
This bill addresses many of the concerns regarding Commonwealth Charter Schools with respect to the populations of students served, the application process and requirements imposed by Commonwealth Charter Schools that are seen as a way to “weed out” students.
- This bill requires charter schools to develop recruitment and retention plans which include annual benchmarks for recruitment activities, populations of students seeking to enroll in the school, and retention activities. Recruitment and retention activities are focused on limited English proficient students, low-income students, special education students, students at risk of dropping out, students who have dropped out, other at-risk students, and low achieving students. Progress on recruitment and retention efforts will be a factor for the board of elementary and secondary education to consider at the time of charter renewal.
- Currently, some charter schools take children off an existing waitlist as a vacancy occurs in the school. However, some schools do not fill vacancies, with the result being that children never get off the waitlist to attend the school. This bill requires charter schools to fill vacant seats as they occur, other than in grade 12, if they occur before February 15. If the vacancy occurs after February 15, the school must fill it the following September in the same cohort of students.
- In addition to current law which prohibits pre-lottery interviews for the purposes of screening children, this bill prohibits parental contracts, mandatory volunteer time by parents and mandatory attendance at meetings from being conditions of enrollment at charter schools.
- This bill imposes stricter reporting requirements around student and teacher attrition and retention and demographic information.
Commonwealth Charter School Funding and Facilities
Currently, charter school tuition is paid for by the sending district. Tuition is made up of 3 components: per pupil foundation component, per pupil above foundation spending and facilities aid. A district is reimbursed for its increased costs at the rate of 100% in the first year the cost is incurred; 60% in the second year and 40% in the third year. Districts currently provide or pay for the transportation of charter school students.
- The reimbursement language has not been changed from current law. There is an urgency to reporting this bill out of committee favorably, and these complicated issues are being worked on by the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means. The reimbursement mechanism is pending further analysis.
- The tuition components for charter schools have not been changed from current law.
- This bill requires charter schools that transport their students on their own to collaborate with the district on cost effective transportation measures.
- This bill ensures that charter networks cannot transfer money between schools in different districts but allows for transfers between schools in the same district.
- The legislation imposes a cap on the amount of tuition that can be kept from one year to the next. Any public money over 20% of a charter school’s operating budget and planned capital budget for the following school year is returned to the state and the district in proportion to the Chapter 70/local aid share. Excluded from the 20% calculation are the following: money used to save for a capital purchase, the 4th quarter tuition payment, and money necessary to guarantee a bank loan.
- Language in the bill provides that when chapter 70 aid is cut, the charter school foundation budget tuition component is cut proportionately.
- In order to achieve efficiencies in providing services or making purchases, charter schools may become members of educational collaborative and access bulk purchasing arrangements.
- This bill allows charter schools to be able to access some of the benefits provided by the School Building Authority.
- At the request of and upon payment by the Commonwealth Charter School, the SBA shall make available its needs assessment tool, so charter schools with capital needs can have a greater understanding of their costs.
- When a charter school files an application with the department of elementary and secondary education, it may request from the School Building Authority a list of vacant facilities in the district in which the charter is being sought.
- If a district has an SBA-assisted facility that has excess capacity, before it is sold or leased, the district must make a good faith offer to a charter school in the district for the market price of the facility. If a charter school does occupy the facility, the SBA will consider that use to remain in the definition of assisted facility, and will not seek to recoup payments from the district. This gives the district a financial incentive to collaborate with the charter school on excess space.