DiDomenico Delivers for Chelsea in FY19 Budget

DiDomenico Delivers for Chelsea in FY19 Budget

Sen. Sal DiDomenico and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate recently passed a $41.49 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019, including targeted investments to create opportunities and ensure access to the tools that individuals, children and families need to succeed in the economy and in their communities. This budget invests in key areas related to education, local aid, health and human services, housing, and tools for low income families.

“After careful deliberation, the Senate has passed a thoughtful budget that both reflects the shared priorities of our chamber and addresses the pressing needs of our communities,” said Sen. DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate. “This budget includes key investments in many of my top priority items that will have a positive and direct impact on Chelsea, and I am happy to report that all of my amendments providing additional resources for our community were adopted to the final Senate budget. I would like to thank Senate Ways & Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka and Senate President Harriette Chandler for all of their great work to craft a budget that will undoubtedly help to move our entire Commonwealth forward.”

The budget invests significantly in education for people of all ages and backgrounds and focuses particularly on elementary and secondary education, including $4.91B for the Chapter 70 education formula, its highest level ever. This funding allows for a minimum aid increase of $30 per pupil for every school district across the state and 100% effort reduction to bring all school districts to their target local contribution. Under the Senate budget, Chelsea would receive $77.4M in Chapter 70 funds- $4.3M more than they received in state funding last fiscal year.

Additionally, this budget takes much needed steps to offset the cost to some school districts-like Chelsea and Everett- of educating economically disadvantaged students and allows these districts to more accurately count their students. In recent years, many Gateway City school districts have faced dire budget gaps due to a 2015 change in the way the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) calculates low-income or “economically disadvantaged” students. This count plays a key role in the Chapter 70 formula that determines the amount of funding school districts receive from the state.

As a result of this change, only students who are registered for social welfare programs like SNAP and Medicaid are categorized as economically disadvantaged, missing thousands of additional low-income students who are not accessing social services. However, under the Senate budget, communities will be allowed to choose their preferred method of counting economically disadvantaged students, thereby ensuring that Chelsea is able to count all of their students.

“I am thrilled that this change has been included in the FY19 Senate budget,” said DiDomenico. “This is a solution that I have long been advocating for, and I am confident this will have a major impact on the amount of Chapter 70 funding schools in my district will receive and will go a long way towards remedying the fiscal challenges that our local schools have been facing.”

As Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate, Sen. DiDomenico was able to secure a number of amendments providing additional funding for his local communities. In total, the Senator secured an additional $100K for the Chelsea community:

  • $25,000 CONNECT, a financial opportunity center in the city of Chelsea
  • $75,000 for a youth social worker in the Chelsea Public Schools

This budget also invests in programs and advances policies to encourage self-sufficiency and economic mobility for low income families, providing them with the tools to secure their essential needs and develop skills to join the workforce. Policy changes include:

  • Sen. DiDomenico’s bill to eliminate the family cap- a failed and outdated policy that denies Department of Transitional Assistance benefits to children conceived while the family was receiving assistance.
  • An increase in the child clothing allowance to $350 per child- a $50 perchild increase over FY18- to help families secure their basic needs
  • An increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) state match to 30% of the federal credit

Other top priority items for Sen. DiDomenico that were included in the Fiscal Year 2019 Senate Budget and will benefit Chelsea residents are:

  • $3.8 million for the state’s pediatric palliative care network to ensure there is no wait list for these critical services so children and their families have the extra care and support that they need;
  • $319.3 million to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker;
  • $100 million to reimburse school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools;
  • $8.7 million for Childcare Resource and Referral Centers to boost salaries and decrease caseloads for caseworkers helping parents, childcare providers, employers and community groups navigate the state’s early education landscape;
  • $4 million for Youth-At-Risk Matching grants, including support for YWCAs, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs;
  • $33.4 million for adult basic education services to improve access to skills and tools necessary to join the workforce;
  • $10.3 million for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth;
  • $16 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support local arts, culture and creative economy initiatives;
  • $16.2 million for local Councils on Aging to strengthen programs and services in senior centers in communities across the state;
  • $142.9 million for a range of substance abuse treatment, intervention and recovery support services, including funding to open five new recovery centers; and
  • $18.5 million for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), including $3 million to expand eligibility to include persons with disabilities, seniors, unaccompanied youth and individuals.

A Conference Committee will now work out the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal Year 2019 begins on July 1.

Read More

Sports 06-07-2018

Sports 06-07-2018

CHS Roundup

STEPHANIE SIMON MAKES MORE CHS TRACK HISTORY

Stephanie Simon became the first Chelsea High girl ever to compete in three events at the MIAA all-state meet this past Saturday at Fitchburg State University.

The sophomore turned in a strong performance, taking 11th in the high jump with a leap of 5’-4”; 15th in the 100 dash with a time of 12.65; and 17th in the triple jump with a distance of of 35’-3”.

“While none of the performances were personal bests for Stephanie, she performed well competing in multiple events,” said CHS coach Mark Martineau.

Senior Martine Simon also competed in the all-state meet, finishing in 18th place in the triple jump with a leap of 35’-2”.

Both of the Simon sisters and junior Jocelyn Poste will compete in the state heptathlon this Tuesday and Thursday at North Reading High School.

sports museum hosts 2018 stand strong graduation

The Sports Museum hosted its 2018 Stand Strong Graduation on June 4 at TD Garden in Legends.

Members of the Jordan Boys and Girls Club of Chelsea received framed certificates of completion at the ceremony that was led by Sports Museum Director of Education Michelle Gormley.

Sports Museum Executive Director Rusty Sullivan and Northeastern University basketball star Jeremy Miller held a question-and-answer session for the youths.

Miller responded to questions such as: How tall are you? (6-foot, 9 and three-quarter-inches); What is your favorite NBA team? (San Antonio Spurs; and When will you enter the NBA draft? (in 2019).

The youths appreciated Miller’s story about how he kept a positive attitude after sustaining a knee injury in his freshman season. Miller worked hard during the rehabilitation process and became a star player on a very good Northeastern team that will contend for an NCAA Tournament berth again next season.

Miller said that some of his outside-of-basketball interests are improvisational comedy, acting, and music.  Miller was a huge hit with the youths, graciously posing for photographs and signing autographs.

Stand Strong is a 12-week interactive character development program focusing on the core values of Teamwork, Courage, Fairness, Determination, and Responsibilty.

The Stand Strong curriculum includes a number of field trips where students engage in fun activities centered on the aspects of character.

FUN-DAMENTAL BASKETBALL CAMP TO START

The annual FUN-damental Basketball Camp, open to boys and girls in the local area, will be held July 16-July 20, at the Immaculate Conception Parish Center, located at 59 Summer Street in Everett.

The camp will be held between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. for boys and girls entering grades three thru nine as of September 2018.  The cost of the camp is $100.

Tony Ferullo, boys’ varsity basketball coach at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, will be the camp director.

Each camper, who will receive a t-shirt, certificate and medal, will participate in various drills, scrimmages and individual contests.  Special guests will speak and share their personal basketball tips.  An awards ceremony will take place on the last day of the camp, and parents and friends are welcome to attend.

For more information about the FUN-damental Basketball Camp, please contact  Camp Director Tony Ferullo: 857-312-7002 or tferullo@suffolk.edu.

Read More

The Big Deal:DiDomenico Shepherds Big School Funding Fix Through Senate Budget

The Big Deal:DiDomenico Shepherds Big School Funding Fix Through Senate Budget

If the world of education funding has been a massive break over the past three years, then Sen. Sal DiDomenico is the technician who showed up just in time this year with the parts to fix it.

DiDomenico reported this week that the Senate Budget proposal – which has now moved to the House and needs agreement there – contains a once-and-for-all fix to the education funding formula that has wreaked havoc on communities like Chelsea for the past three years.

“This is a big deal,” he said on Tuesday. “This is the fix that is going to solve all our problems that we’ve been dealing with over the last several years with school funding…This was the simple fix we’ve been hoping to get for a long time and there was hesitation to do it. I want to thank Senator Karen Spilka for doing this change. It’s a big deal for Everett and Chelsea and 14 other communities in the state. It’s a major policy shift and a major win for our communities.”

The fix in the budget is quite simple in that it restores the method of counting low-income – now known as economically disadvantaged – students through the use of free and reduced lunch applications. Three years ago, the federal government and the state government adopted a new way of counting such students using federal benefits as an indicator. However, many low-income and immigrant families do not qualify for federal benefits, and thus are not counted despite being impoverished.

That leaves the local communities on the hook, and it has been daunting. All the while, the state has been hesitant to restore the old counting method using free and reduced lunch forms. The first step to change that has now passed the Senate and could become law if the House and Gov. Charlie Baker also adopt it.

The matter is an outside section that passed in the Senate Budget last week.

DiDomenico said he has begun reaching out to allies in the house, including State Reps. Joe McGonagle (D-Everett), Dan Ryan (who represents Chelsea) and State Rep. RoseLee Vincent (who represents Revere and Chelsea) – as well as Speaker Bob DeLeo.

DiDomenico said he believes that the governor will be open to looking at the change if it makes it past the House and to his desk.

“I believe at the end of the day he’ll be receptive to it,” he said.

If approved, the change would begin in Fiscal Year 2020 – which would mean funding would roll in locally in September 2019. School Districts would begin counting in the new fashion, however, this fall – with a deadline of Oct. 1, 2018. That would secure the new funding allocation – which is the old funding method – by the 2019-2020 school term.

“We wouldn’t have to worry about how our students are being counted ever again,” he said. “I can’t underestimate how important this is. This is everything for the School Department right now…I want to thank all of the administrators and teachers for the hard work they’ve been doing while they’ve gotten less than their fair share of funding.”

DiDomenico said it is a major priority for the Senate, and he believed that would help get it into the final budget later this spring.

MORE GOOD NEWS IN EDUCATION FINANCE

Last week, Senator Sal DiDomenico and his Senate colleagues unanimously voted to pass a monumental education reform bill to update the state’s 25-year-old funding formula.

The bill was highly-touted by superintendents such as Chelsea’s Mary Bourque, and was sponsored by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, with DiDomenico as a co-sponsor.

Established by the 1993 Education Reform Act, the Foundation Budget formula was designed to ensure every Massachusetts student was provided a quality education. However, in the 25 years since, little has been done to update the formula, hampering districts’ efforts to provide every student with the quality education they deserve.

“Today, too many of our students are receiving their education in schools that face crushing fiscal challenges,” said DiDomenico. “Our teachers and administrators do everything they can to provide their students with the best possible education, to lift them up, and put them on a path to success.  Yet that job has become increasingly difficult, as year after year, schools have been forced to make difficult cuts as a result of state funding that fails to keep up with their needs. I am very proud to support this bill that will help to ensure that all of our students, regardless of their zip code, have access to the high quality education that they deserve.”

In 2015, a bipartisan commission was convened with the purpose of reviewing the Foundation Budget and making recommendation for potential changes to the formula. Consequently, the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) found that health care and special education costs have far surpassed assumptions built into the original education formula. It also found that the original formula drastically understated the resources necessary to close achievement gaps for low-income and English Language Learner students.

“While Senate Bill 2506 represents a seven-year fix to the Foundation Budget for school districts across our State it also represents far more,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “Senate Bill 2506 more importantly represents who we are as a Commonwealth and what we stand for and what we value. The passage of this bill says that children and their education, children and the opportunities we can provide, children and their future are important to us; we prioritize our children and their education. Senate Bill 2506 is about defining and supporting the future of our Commonwealth; but most of all, passage of Senate Bill 2506 is simply the right thing to do!”

In all, the bipartisan commission estimated that Massachusetts is currently undervaluing the cost of education by $1-2 billion every year. This has forced deep cuts to classrooms and critical programs, and resulted in one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation. In recent years, schools in the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities have been especially hit with crushing budget shortfalls, with two of the Senator’s communities— Everett and Chelsea— being some of the school districts that have been most severely impacted.

The bill would implement the recommendations of the FBRC and begin updating the Chapter 70 education formula to more accurately and equitably distribute state resources to the Commonwealth schools.

The vote follows months of advocacy by education stakeholders across Massachusetts. More than 50 school committees across the state have passed resolutions supporting the reforms, and Brockton Public Schools announced earlier this year that they are preparing to sue the Commonwealth for failing in its constitutional obligation to properly fulfill funding.

Read More

School Budget Shortfall Hits More than $3 Million, Called Today’s Civil Rights Struggle

School Budget Shortfall Hits More than $3 Million, Called Today’s Civil Rights Struggle

The Chelsea Public Schools has hit a major shortfall in its budgeting for next year, and reported at recent meeting that it is in deficit $3.1 million, and has been underfunded by as much as $17.2 million by the state funding formula.

It has now become a major call to action for the school community and for activists in Chelsea, including the Chelsea Collaborative – whose Director, Gladys Vega, called on the City Council to support joining a lawsuit against the state for underfunding schools.

That suit was filed by Brockton and Worcester last week due to what they believe is chronic underfunding of urban schools through the 1993 Education Reform School Budget Formula.

“This reimbursement problem in the formula needs to be solved and I think we need to address the formula and I urge the City and the City Council to join with Brockton on this lawsuit against the state,” said Vega at Monday’s Council meeting.

She was right on the same page with Supt. Mary Bourque, who on Monday morning said they are seriously considering making that move.

“We have not officially joined, but we are seriously exploring the need to join this lawsuit,” she said.

By the numbers, the state Chapter 70 School Budget has underfunded the Chelsea Schools in five categories, according to the schools. One of the key pieces comes from the new definition of economically disadvantaged students (formerly low-income), which has caused an underfunding of $1.077 million in the coming year. Other areas included things where full reimbursements are promised, but only partially delivered – such as with Charter School reimbursements.

Those numbers include:

  • Fringe Benefits, $5.78 million
  • Charter School Reimbursement, $2.014 million
  • Special Education Tuition, $7.98 million
  • Homeless Student Transportation, $373,059

This came on the heels of a very lively and contentious meeting at City Hall by the School Committee on March 15, where the School Budget process was rolled out to a standing-room only crowd.

Bourque led off the meeting saying it is time to stand up for public education, and pressure legislators to take up the cause – a cause she said was the Civil Rights struggle of our time.

“Sadly, we find ourselves in a time and place where we are not willing as a society to invest in public education,” she said. “Each year I come to you with a budget that is failing each year to meet the complex needs of our students. Each year I come to you with a budget that fails to provide an equitable education compared to public school children in wealthier communities. Each year these educators…are being asked to do more with less and less. Providing our schools with the funding that’s needed to educate the next generation is the Civil Rights struggle of our time. I ask you: Will you join me in this Civil Rights struggle and our quest for social justice? We need to have the courage to standup now and today for public education.”

The Chelsea Teacher’s Union called for the same kind of advocacy, but also called on the City and the City Council to use its $34 million in Free Cash to shore up the School Budget.

“For the short term, the City of Chelsea has made some significant investment in the schools and we appreciate that. However, we need more,” said Sam Baker, vice president of the union. “The City has $34 million in Free Cash and the City is seeing significant real estate development. What is the purpose of all this this development and progress if the proceeds aren’t going to support the education of the kids in Chelsea? The CTU welcomes the opportunity to advocate for changes at the state level. That’s a long term solution. I’m asking the School Committee and the school community to lobby the City Council to release more funds to the School Department here in order to prevent the cuts to this proposed budget.”

Catherine Ellison, a special education teacher at the Browne Middle School, said many of her students have suffered because of budgets last year. She said last year the middle school Special Education budget was slashed, and after hearing of the impacts, the budget still wasn’t restored.

“Caseloads have soared while resources have severely declined,” she said. “Children have been forced to struggle in mainstream classes while funds were cut…Our staff and our students have been aggressive in addressing the increasing and complex needs of our brilliant, resilient and magnificent children. It’s time for the school district to do the same.”

Chelsea is not alone in the struggles, which is why the lawsuit is such a tempting option for urban schools like Chelsea.

Already, in Everett, mid-year cuts to the tune of $6 million were avoided by an infusion of cash by the City, and it is expected that the Everett Schools could need as much as $8 million to plug holes next year.

Revere has a similar circumstance and isn’t as far in its budgeting process as Chelsea and Everett, but it is expected they will have a sharp deficit as well.

Read More

DiDomenico Supports and Promotes Civics Education Curriculum

DiDomenico Supports and Promotes Civics Education Curriculum

Last week, Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate voted to pass, S.2355, An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement.  The legislation enacts a hands-on and experiential approach to fostering civic engagement by incorporating project-based learning components, encouraging the instruction of civic competencies – including news and media literacy – and providing extracurricular civic-participation opportunities.

 The curriculum is made possible by the Civics Project Trust Fund, which will provide funding for professional development and for the further development of curriculum frameworks.

 “Now more than ever, civics education is of the highest importance to teach and prepare our next generation of leaders,” said Sen. DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate. “I am confident that this legislation will empower youth with the tools and knowledge they need to be well-versed in our electoral system and legislative process, and will ensure that they are ready to be active participants in our democracy.”

 “I am incredibly proud of the bill that we passed today,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “This civics curriculum is a long-term investment in the future of our Commonwealth. When we begin to educate our children about civic responsibility at a young age, we foster the growth and development of our nation’s future leaders.”

 “One of the primary purposes of our education system is to have an informed and engaged citizenry; this bill will aid in students understanding of rights, our laws and electoral system, and the value of their participation in our democracy,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester).

 “Civics education is crucial to mending the perilous state of our country’s politics and governance. Equally important, it will increase access to governance and civic learning for students from communities that have been historically disenfranchised. This bill is an important step toward fulfilling our responsibility to pass the torch of democracy to the next generation of voters and problem-solvers,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education.

  The bill has been referred to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Read More

Almost Immoral:Supt Bourque, Urban Educators Disappointed with “Fix” to Funding Flaw

Almost Immoral:Supt Bourque, Urban Educators Disappointed with “Fix” to Funding Flaw

Chelsea Supt. Mary Bourque said just when urban educators plagued with a flawed funding formula thought they made some progress, the state yanked all that progress from under them recently.

Bourque, the past president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents and the co-chair of the Urban Superintendents Network, has been working with the state for more than two years to fix a problem for Chelsea and many surrounding districts involving low income students – now called economically disadvantaged. The change has cost the Chelsea Schools millions of dollars per year in funding that they expected, but no longer qualified for.

“In the urban districts, we’re all on fragile ice right now,” she said. “Everything is coming at us at one time. It really begs the question about whether the allocation for education of students of poverty going to be the place where the state goes to make cuts and balance the budget every year. That’s not what the Foundation Formula budget is meant to do. It’s really almost immoral.”

Schools like Chelsea, Revere, Everett and Brockton – among others – have been hamstrung for the last two years due to major reductions in state funding due to the change in the formula. That change entailed making economically disadvantaged students qualify for that title only if their families were on some sort of public welfare benefit. Unfortunately, in communities like Chelsea, many families don’t qualify for those benefits due to their immigration status or because they haven’t been in the country legally for five years. Without that, the schools don’t receive nearly as much money to educate a very difficult and needy population.

This year, Bourque said, they added several new “qualifiers” for the economically disadvantaged tag – such as programs that students in Chelsea might qualify for despite immigration status.

However, as soon as that battle was won, Bourque said the state turned around and lowered the amount of money given for each student – making the gain a complete wash.

“We worked hard with the state to come up with solutions and they did add more students to qualify,” she said. “But as soon as we got more students, they reduced the amount of money given for each student.”

Bourque said the Chelsea Schools are likely going to be down another $1 million from where they feel they should be in the coming budget year. She said they will keep working on it, though.

It has been a real learning experience for the long-time administrator, though maybe not a positive one.

“To ignore systemic injustice and failure while children’s futures are compromised is morally and ethically, wrong,” she said. “It is not who we are as a Commonwealth nor is it who we want to be. The Grand Bargain of 1993 (for Education Reform) is not more and hasn’t been for many years. It is time for courage and time for action; our children and their futures are far too important.”

Read More

Governor’s Councillor Kennedy Endorses Calvin T. Brown for District 8 Chelsea City Councilor

Governor’s Councillor Kennedy Endorses Calvin T. Brown for District 8 Chelsea City Councilor

It is my great privilege to endorse Calvin T. Brown for election to the Chelsea City Council.  Calvin, a former Councilor and current Democratic State Committee Member, knows what it will take for Chelsea to continue on a path to be a truly great community.  He has been an advocate for the children of Chelsea as he has fought to fully fund the education of a great diverse population.

At the same time he recognizes that a thriving business community  is important to the economic growth of the city.  I encourage the voters of Chelsea to get out and vote November 7 for Calvin T. Brown.

Terrence W. Kennedy

Governors Council, Sixth District

Read More

A Comfortable Fit:Former School Committeewoman Lineweaver Brings a Wealth of Experiences to Kelly School

A Comfortable Fit:Former School Committeewoman Lineweaver Brings a Wealth of Experiences to Kelly School

By Seth Daniel

After having worked in Boston schools, and having also served on the Chelsea School Committee, Lisa Lineweaver is bringing her talents this year to the very school where her own kids go – the Kelly School.

Joining Principal Maggie Sanchez, Lineweaver came on earlier this summer as the new assistant principal at the school – coming over after having worked in the same role at the Blackstone Elementary School in Boston’s South End for seven years.

Now, she’s back on this side of the Mystic/Tobin Bridge, and enjoying the idea of working where she lives – ready to welcome students back to school this coming Tuesday, Aug. 29.

“There were some changes coming at the Blackstone and I had worked there for seven years and saw this opportunity to come home to Chelsea,” she said. “It was a fantastic opportunity…There is so much I’ve learned in Boston that is a great compliment to what Chelsea and the Kelly School are doing. There are things I saw at the Kelly I borrowed for the Blackstone and things at the Blackstone that I have brought to the Kelly. I bring a few missing pieces of the puzzle.”

One interesting new experience for Lineweaver, whose husband is former Councillor Brian Hatleberg, is that she has also been a parent at the Kelly. Both of her daughters have attended the Kelly, with Holly moving on to the Browne Middle School this year. However, Hazel is still at the Kelly and going into the third grade.

“She keeps saying how cool it’s going to be to go to school with mom,” she said. “But it also means I bring a parent perspective to the job. We have this long, complicated school supply list. Do we need it to be that complicated? Do parents find it frustrating? It’s not a transformative change, but it can help parents. If someone is having trouble with something at the school, I have that connection. I live here. My kids are here too. We’re going to make this work for you.”

Beyond that, Lineweaver also brings the experience of having served on the Chelsea School Committee for eight years – just a few years ago leaving the seat.

She said that is an experience that helps her see beyond the four walls of the school building, and to bring a birds-eye view of the district and all of its moving pieces to the building.

Lineweaver completed her graduate degree from the Harvard School of Education in 2001 and worked for the Boston Plan for Excellence eight years before taking the job at the Blackstone.

Now, being home feels rather comfortable after so many years working elsewhere, she said.

“It feels like joining a community I have one or two feet in already,” she said.

Classes start for schools throughout the district on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

Read More

Senate Passes Bill to Expand Language Opportunities for Students

Senate Passes Bill to Expand Language Opportunities for Students

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation that updates the existing statute relative to English language education in public schools to encompass the latest and best practices serving English language learners (ELLs) and to recognize the value of bilingualism as a skill essential to improving career and college readiness and competiveness in the global economy.

An Act for Language Opportunity for Our Kids (S.2125), also known as the LOOK Bill, removes the current mandate requiring schools to use Sheltered English Immersion (SEI), or English-only programs, as the default ELL program model, thereby giving schools the flexibility to establish programs based on the unique needs of their students.

“By allowing parents and local school districts the flexibility to choose the most effective programs to cater to the specific needs of their students is not only good public policy, but also what is best for our students to be successful,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst).  “We live in a global community, and we must be able to adapt to the changing needs of our communities in a thoughtful and constructive way.  This bill achieves that purpose.”

“To ensure that every child in the Commonwealth receives the high quality education that he or she deserves, we must rethink the way we approach educating our English language learners,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), the lead sponsor of the bill. “By allowing for flexibility to implement new English learning programs, increasing parental involvement, and recognizing that multilingualism is a valuable asset in today’s global economy, this bill takes crucial strides to guarantee that every student receives a fair opportunity at educational success.”

“Language should never be a barrier to a student’s academic success,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill empowers parents and schools to develop high quality educational opportunities for our English Language Learner students. It also encourages biliteracy, recognizing that knowledge of other languages and cultures is a true asset in our global economy.”

“The current one-size-fits-all model has proven a failure over the past decade plus at teaching education – period,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Jamaica Plain), the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “For the sake of our ELL students, our school budgets, and our workforce, we need to do something different. S.2125 will empower parents and trust educators to make informed decisions about appropriate tactics for a 6-year-old with some English exposure versus a 12-year-old who has received little formal schooling. And in this precarious moment for our country, the bill recognizes that bilingualism is a strength—not a problem to be cured.”

For some children, moving into an English-only program too soon has proven to stunt academic growth and major implications on future educational success. This has become a growing problem as the number of ELL students in Massachusetts continues to rise. Since the year 2000, the number of ELL students in Massachusetts has doubled to over 90,204 students, or 9.5% of the student population. Last year, 90% of school districts had at least one ELL student and 19% of districts had 100 or more ELLs.

While overall graduation rates for students have risen in the past 10 years, the achievement gap between ELL students and their peers has not significantly changed. In 2016, the dropout rate for ELL students was 6.6 percent, the highest rate of any subgroup of students and three times higher than the rate for all students. Additionally, only 64% of ELL students graduated from high school, as compared to 87% of all Massachusetts students.

In an effort to reverse these trends, the LOOK bill removes the current mandate requiring Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) as the one-size-fits-all default ELL program model in order to better accommodate the diverse needs of the Commonwealth’s students. Under the bill, school districts may choose from any comprehensive, research-based instructional program that includes subject matter content and an English language acquisition component.

The bill also encourages a high level parental choice and involvement in selecting, advocating, and participating in English learner programs, and requires greater tracking of ELL students’ progress to better identify and assist English learners who do not meet benchmarks.

This legislation also seeks to recognize the value of bilingualism and biliteracy as a skill essential to improving career and college readiness and competitiveness in today’s global economy by permitting school districts to adopt the state seal of biliteracy to recognize high school graduates who have met academic benchmarks, as determined by DESE, in one or more languages in addition to English.

The bill will now move to a conference committee, where negotiators will reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills.

Read More

Why I’m Fighting on Beacon Hill for Our Schools

Why I’m Fighting on Beacon Hill for Our Schools

By Senator Sal DiDomenico

Residents of Gateway Cities throughout the Commonwealth have probably heard quite a bit about how their schools are facing dire budget gaps due to a change in the way the state counts low-income students. This has been an ongoing issue for over two years now, and I have received many questions from concerned parents and constituents who are confused as to how this problem began and what we can do to remedy the situation.

In 2015, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) began the process of changing how it calculated low-income or “economically disadvantaged” students. The number of economically disadvantaged students plays a key role in the Chapter 70 formula that determines the amount of funding school districts receive from the state.

Previously, parents completed a form to determine whether their child was eligible for free or reduced lunch, and DESE used that information to calculate how many students were considered economically disadvantaged. Now, only students who are registered for social welfare programs like SNAP and Medicaid are categorized as economically disadvantaged. This new methodology from the Baker Administration misses thousands of additional low-income students, because it fails to take into account the economically disadvantaged students who are not accessing social services. These students are often immigrants, homeless children, or students who are simply not enrolled in social programs.

As a result, many of the communities who need the most help from the state are faced with significant financial gaps. My communities of Everett and Chelsea are two of the school districts that have been hit the hardest, and this issue has been at the forefront of my priorities since the counting change was first proposed over two years ago.

As soon as my office was made aware of the situation, we began working directly with DESE to reach a solution. Long before the Governor submitted last year’s budget proposal, my office was leading the charge in the Legislature to reach a compromise with DESE to ensure that all low-income students would be counted by the state. I met personally with administration officials and convened a meeting with several superintendents and DESE at the State House to stress this serious issue.  Despite the many assurances we received from them, the promises made by the Administration went unfulfilled, and DESE chose to move forward with their formula change.

In response, as Vice Chair of Senate Ways & Means, I brought the Joint Committee on Ways & Means Education Hearing to Everett High School last year, where I made it clear to Administration officials that their methodology change was crushing our most financially challenged school districts with massive budget cuts and was harming the education of thousands of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable students. I worked tirelessly last budget cycle to secure additional funding that would hold the negatively impacted municipalities harmless and helped to reach a one-year stopgap that allowed school districts to choose whichever method of counting low-income students worked best for their community.

As a result of this temporary solution, many schools districts were saved from imminent teacher layoffs and cuts to major programs, and we were able to buy ourselves additional time to reach a permanent solution. Over the course of the past year, I have continued to be a staunch advocate for not just Everett and Chelsea, but all of the negatively impacted communities, and I have been fighting to reach a long-term solution that benefits every school district in the Commonwealth.  However, even with this additional time, DESE still has not been able to reach a long-term solution.

During this year’s budget process, I have worked with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S.) and the Administration to find another temporary fix to our problem.  Ultimately, a compromise was reached with the support of M.A.S.S. and DESE which provided for an additional $12.5 million for the school districts who were harmed by the Administration’s formula change.  This will allow us to mitigate some of the damage, but it is by no means a long-term solution.  Both the State Senate and House of Representatives included the $12.5 million in our budgets this year.  I will be very disappointed if we are once again in this position next fiscal year, and I call on DESE to provide a permanent solution to this problem that their formula change created.

I continue to believe that the answer to this problem is very simple.  We should allow communities to choose their preferred method of counting low income students – either by using the original method of self-reporting or by adopting the Administration’s new formula. This is the solution I have been fighting for since the very beginning, and it is the solution that I will continue pursuing until a long-term resolution that adequately funds all of our schools is reached.

This is not a fight that I am willing to give up on. Our teachers and school officials do an incredible job at educating all of their students, regardless of income or background, and it is up to the state to ensure they have the necessary funding to continue doing so. As the father of two boys in the Everett Public Schools, I am not just advocating as a State Senator, but also as a concerned parent. This issue is deeply personal for me, and it is my hope that my constituents and city officials know that I hear their concerns, and I am working every day to ensure that our schools receive the funding they are entitled to and deserve.

Read More