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.

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School Budget Cuts Starting to be Felt in the Community

School Budget Cuts Starting to be Felt in the Community

Closing a $3.1 million budget gap is never painless, but now in the weeks after those cuts were announced, many in the community are starting to take notice.

This week, one of the most notable cuts that is being discussed is the removal of the librarian from the Chelsea High  School (CHS) Library.

Supt. Mary Bourque said the cuts, including the librarian, were part of the School Committee’s attempt to deal with state funding discrepancies that have been dealt to the City over the last few years. She pointed out that last year, the Schools had to cut the elementary school librarian as well.

Now, the school system is left with only two librarians at the Middle School level.

Bourque said they had to prioritize teaching and learning, as well as their turnaround plan that is already in place. When making tough decisions, the librarian at CHS was a hard, but clear, choice.

“We needed to stay close, first and foremost, to the principles that would help meet the needs of our students,” she said. “We used data and we based the decision on the data. This is our third year of budget cuts. It’s illustrative of the broken state funding formula…This year we’re cutting the librarian at the high school because of the standards we stood on. We looked at the data and circulation numbers are down. Kids at the high schools are doing a lot of research online now. There were only about nine books a day being checked out for a 1,500-student body.”

Speaking up big for the CHS librarian was fellow librarian Martha Boksenbaum, who is the Children’s Librarian at the Chelsea Public Library. She said a school librarian shouldn’t be sacrificed, especially since the librarian at the elementary school was cut last year.

“One might argue that if there isn’t a School Librarian, students can just go to the Public Library instead,” she wrote in a letter to the Record this week. “In reality a School Librarian does things the Public Library cannot possibly do. School Librarians are part of the school; they know the teachers, the teachers know them and they work together on a daily basis so School Librarians can make sure students have what they need to complete their assignments.

“Students in Chelsea deserve more than this,” she continued. “While school funding is tight and hard decisions have to be made, this is a sacrifice Chelsea High students should not have to make.”

Bourque said she did a survey and found that most schools in the area were down to one librarian districtwide. That was true in Revere, Saugus and Malden. In Winthrop, there is no librarian in the schools.

In Chelsea, they left the two middle school librarians because they also teach classes, where the elementary and high school librarians did not teach.

“Librarians are the support services for students and are necessary, but when you have to decide whether to increase class sizes by keeping the librarian or keeping class sizes at 30 and cut support services like librarians, that the choice,” she said. “We can’t cut the teachers in the classrooms.”

The school librarian was only a small part of the cuts made to the School Budget.

Other cuts included:

  • Three administrative positions.
  • 10 instructor positions.
  • Two whole-class paraprofessionals.
  • 10 one-on-one paraprofessionals.
  • Discontinuation of the 5th to 8th grades Citizens Schools at the Brown Middle and Wright Middle Schools.
  • Mandatory Connect Digital Lead Teacher Platform.
  • Reduction in the extraordinary maintenance and technology budget.

Of all of those, Bourque said they needed to be careful about pushing off the maintenance and technology budget.

“You can only do that so many years in a row before it comes back to bite you,” she said. “We have to be careful in doing that.”

Meanwhile, Bourque said the cuts are a call for the community to unite in lobbying the entire legislature to support Senate Bill 2325, which was proposed by Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz. Bourque said that bill contains all of the fixes to make sure cuts like this wouldn’t have to happen for a fourth year in a row.

“It behooves us all to be on the same path with our advocacy,” she said.

House Budget contains pothole account to help schools like Chelsea

The House Budget passed last week by the state House of Representatives has some encouraging news regarding school financing – and word from Beacon Hill is that the funding changes will outlast any vetoes from Gov. Charlie Baker.

The House put in a $12.5 million “Pothole Account” to help districts hurt by the change in ‘Economically Disadvantaged’ definitions a few years ago. Last year, there was no such funding, but this year it looks like that money will make it through.

The money would be allocated to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and they would be charged with disbursing it to the affected district.

Supt. Mary Bourque said the pothole account in the House Budget is good news, but she hopes that there are some changes.

“First of all, $12.5 million will go fast,” she said. “I have asked Sen. Sal DiDomenico to petition that DESE isn’t in charge of disbursing that account…We need to get it passed first, but second I would like to see that DESE isn’t in charge of that money.”

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Soldiers’ Home Secures Federal Funding for Center

Soldiers’ Home Secures Federal Funding for Center

Gov. Charlie Baker announced last Friday that the state has secured approximately $70 million in federal funding for the new 154-bed Community Living Center at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home – federal funding that pretty much gives the green light to proceed on the project.

State leaders have made a priority of designing and funding the $199 million project, but getting the federal funding was always a crucial piece of the puzzle that had to come through.

On Friday, the Veteran’s Administration State Home Construction Grant Program announced it would provide a 65 percent reimbursement of approved construction projects, including the Soldiers’ Home.

“Our veterans have sacrificed greatly to protect our freedoms and we are proud to see this project move forward as we continue to provide them with great care and dignity,” said Baker. “We are grateful to the VA for their support of Massachusetts’ veterans and this funding allows us to construct a state of the art facility that will be a model for future veteran homes across the country.”

The Community Living Center at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home will provide 154 “home-like” rooms for veterans in accordance with VA standards of design, which promotes greater accessibility, mobility, and enhanced quality of life. Services will include physical and occupational therapy, recreational activities and greater access to the outdoors. The current facility, the Quigley Memorial Long Term Care Center, will continue to be fully operational during the construction process with an anticipated project completion date in 2021.

“We appreciate the Department of Veterans Affairs’ approval to replace the existing long-term care facility at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home Campus,” said Secretary of Veterans’ Services Francisco A. Ureña. “In addition to approving our replacement project, the VA granted the Commonwealth $129 million in matching funds.”

In May 2017, the Baker-Polito Administration announced state funding for the new long-term care facility as part of the Fiscal Year 2018 capital budget plan, and in November, Governor Baker  signed legislation to fund the project.

“I am thrilled that the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home will be receiving federal funding for its new Community Living Center,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “The House has been a longtime supporter of this project and, as a neighbor of the Soldiers’ Home, I have been proud to support the residents and their needs throughout my tenure in the House. This financing will allow the Soldiers’ Home to further improve and enhance the vital care that they provide our veterans.”

Governor Baker was joined at his 2018 State of the Commonwealth Address by U.S. Navy Veteran Tom Miller, who lives at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, Director of Nursing Debbie Antonelli and Superintendent Cheryl Poppe to celebrate the Administration’s commitment to this necessary funding.

“This funding will allow us to provide our veterans with a long-awaited updated home that will enhance their quality of life with increased privacy and greater access to services,” said Chelsea Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Cheryl Lussier Poppe. “Our veterans deserve the very best, and this home will complement the quality care our veterans receive here at the Soldiers’ Home. We are grateful for the support of the Baker-Polito Administration for this opportunity.”

The Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea first opened its doors to Massachusetts veterans in 1882. The first residents were Civil War veterans who were wounded or unable to care for themselves, many of whom had previously resided in the Commonwealth’s “alms houses.” Today, Chelsea carries on Massachusetts’ proud tradition of helping all veterans in need of both long term care and domiciliary / supportive services. Chelsea is surveyed annually by the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”). It is also fully accredited by The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (“Joint Commission”). Chelsea has a Board of Trustees appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The trustees and DVS share responsibility for the management of the home.

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The Estates on Admiral’s Hill to Celebrate Spring with Open House

The Estates on Admiral’s Hill to Celebrate Spring with Open House

The Estates on Admiral’s Hill, part of Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, will hold a Spring Open House for its two assisted living residences in Chelsea on Thursday, April 26 from 2-5 p.m. This event is the perfect opportunity to see what life at an assisted living is all about.

There will be one-on-one consultations with Executive Director Yari Velez and Director of Admissions Kristen Donnelly; they will provide tours as well as answer any questions about senior living.

Located on scenic Admiral’s Hill at 201 Captains Row in Chelsea, The Estates is comprised of a traditional assisted living residence, Cohen Florence Levine Estates, and a specialized and memory care residence, Florence & Chafetz Home for Specialized Care. Amenities include fresh, delicious meals, cozy café with home-made baked goods, hair and nail salon, library, living room, great room for concerts and shows, welcoming dining room with private chef and outdoor courtyard area for seasonal recreational activities.

“We are thrilled to open our doors and invite the public to this special spring time celebration,” states Yari Velez, Executive Director of the Estates. “Our staff and our residents are looking forward to meeting area seniors and their families. Spring is a time of new beginnings and moving to an assisted living can be a wonderful change. You’ll meet new friends, have access to first class amenities and, most importantly, enjoy a worry-free lifestyle.”  Velez added, “Our residents are so important to us – they really are like family.”

Individuals who RSVP to the open house ahead of time will receive a beautiful floral plant. Please call Kristen Donnelly at 617-887-0826 or email kdonnelly@chelseajewish.org to confirm attendance.

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DiDomenico Supports Animal Welfare and Safety Legislation

DiDomenico Supports Animal Welfare and Safety Legislation

Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate unanimously adopted a bill designed to protect the health, safety and well-being of animals. S.2332, “An Act to protect animal welfare and safety in cities and towns” (PAWS II), expands on gains first secured in the original PAWS law which was filed in response to the Puppy Doe animal abuse case of 2014.

 “I was proud to support this important piece of legislation that strengthens and adds to the animal safety and welfare protections created under the original PAWS bill,” said Sen. DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate. “This bill sends a strong message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated, and we will continue working to ensure that all animals are treated humanely here in the Commonwealth.”

 “The Puppy Doe animal torture case inspired strong legislative action designed to increase protections for animals and prevent animal cruelty and neglect.  PAWS II builds on the foundations of our original law and will ensure that abuse is reported and enforced, that animal drownings are outlawed, and that our animal control laws reflect the seriousness of animal torture and abuse,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Minority Leader of the Massachusetts and the original sponsor of the bill.

 “Our commitment towards ending the cruel and inhumane treatment of innocent animals is steadfast, and today we have taken significant action to protect their safety and welfare,” said Chairman Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), a longtime champion of animal welfare legislation.  “There is zero tolerance for such despicable brutality and today’s action by the Senate sends a clear message.”

 “We do not tolerate animal cruelty in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “This legislation ensures that animals are treated humanely and that those who engage in animal cruelty are punished. One animal that dies of mistreatment is one animal too many.”

 PAWS II will enhance humane treatment of animals, expand the role of mandated reporters, and punish those who engage in animal cruelty. Key components of the bill include provisions to:

  • ensure abuse is reported;
  • ensure efficient enforcement of animal control laws;
  • prohibit the drowning of wild and domestic animals;
  • prohibit engaging in sexual contact with an animal;
  • remove automatic killing of animals involved in animal fighting;
  • add animal crimes to the list of offenses that serve as the basis for a request for a determination of detention and or release upon conditions;
  • prohibit discrimination against specific dog breeds; and
  • require abandoned animal checks in vacant properties.

 The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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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.

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Treasurer Deb Goldberg Kicks Off Re-Election Campaign for State Treasurer

Treasurer Deb Goldberg Kicks Off Re-Election Campaign for State Treasurer

With the crowd overflowing from the room, State Treasurer Deb Goldberg kicked off her re-election campaign last night.  Goldberg, who was introduced by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, spoke of how her principles and values have guided her tenure as State Treasurer.

“Economic stability, economic opportunity, and economic empowerment are the values I was raised with and what guides my work as your State Treasurer,” Goldberg told the crowd. “I am proud of what we have accomplished and am excited to continue to work for the people of Massachusetts as your Treasurer.”

In introducing Goldberg, DeLeo said, “Deb understands that the role of the Treasurer’s office is not just about dollars and cents; it is about making people’s lives better.  The programs she has created have had a positive impact for our children, our families, our veterans and seniors across this Commonwealth. Deb Goldberg has made good on all the promises she made when she ran, and she has truly made a difference in people’s lives.”

DeLeo continued, “Massachusetts is lucky to have Deb Goldberg as our Treasurer. I know she can and she will do even more for our Commonwealth and our residents in the future.”

Since taking office in January of 2015, Deb Goldberg has brought a commonsense business approach to the management of the treasury’s various offices.  Leading on initiatives that include wage equality, increasing diversity, and expanding access to financial education, she has also helped families save for college, protected the state’s pension fund and developed programs for veterans and seniors.  For more information, contact Treasurer Goldberg’s campaign at info@debgoldberg.com.

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Rep Ryan Praised for Commitment to Veterans

Rep Ryan Praised for Commitment to Veterans

State Rep. Dan Ryan is being lauded after having received the Legislator of the Year award from the state’s Veterans’ Services Officer organization.

State Rep. Dan Ryan is pictured on Jan. 24 receiving the Legislator of the Year award from the Massachusetts Veterans’ Services Officers Association at a State House ceremony. House Speaker Bob DeLeo (left) remarked that Ryan’s dedication to veterans is outstanding, especially considering his family’s record of service.

State Rep. Dan Ryan is pictured on Jan. 24 receiving the Legislator of the Year award from the Massachusetts Veterans’ Services Officers Association at a State House ceremony. House Speaker Bob DeLeo (left) remarked that Ryan’s dedication to veterans is outstanding, especially considering his family’s record of service.

Ryan received the award on Jan. 24 at a luncheon in the State House attended by family, friend, Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Bob DeLeo.

In particular, DeLeo told the Record he was touched by the remarks given by Rep. Ryan upon receiving the award.

Ryan told the audience of his family’s service, including in World War II, and how that guides how he handles things on Beacon Hill – which likely led to his designation.

“Danny is acutely aware of the distinct challenges facing veterans and military personnel in Charlestown and Chelsea and has been a fierce advocate for his district,” said DeLeo. “I was particularly touched to learn about the legacy of service and heroism in the Ryan family. Danny’s father and many of his uncles served in World War II. He is named after two of his uncles – one of whom was wounded in the Pacific and one of whom died fighting in France. In his remarks at the Veterans’ Service event, Rep. Ryan spoke eloquently of how this legacy guides his work on Beacon Hill.”

Speaker DeLeo also praised Ryan for his tenure in the House working on the Joint Committee on Veterans and as vice-chair of the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Use

District 1 City Councilor Lydia Edwards said she appreciated Ryan’s dedication to the district and the veterans in the district.

“Rep. Ryan has proven himself to be a strong advocate for veterans and their families in his district,” she said. “His exemplary dedication is regarded in the State House and beyond as he is a reliable presence at all veteran sponsored events, including the Memorial Mass at St. Francis de Sales every year since becoming an elected official.”

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House,Senate Pass Legislation to Help Open Up Casino Jobs

House,Senate Pass Legislation to Help Open Up Casino Jobs

By Seth Daniel

The State Legislature has approved a major change aimed at helping those with minor criminal records from the past not be barred from getting casino jobs statewide, and particularly at the Wynn Boston Harbor resort.

Earlier this year, it became apparent that the Expanding Gaming Law was very stringent, and was likely going to bar people with minor offenses from the past from getting jobs at the casino – including jobs in restaurants or housekeeping.

Many spoke out in an effort to reform the statute, and Speaker Bob DeLeo took up the cause – including it in the Supplemental Budget last week that passed both the House and Senate.

“At its heart, the gaming law is about providing jobs and improving the economy,” said DeLeo. “I wouldn’t want to see people – particularly those who are underemployed or unemployed – barred from working in a hotel or a restaurant, for example. I’m pleased that we made the change and look forward to seeing the Gaming Commission’s work on this time-sensitive matter.”

Mayor Carlo DeMaria

“My top priority is to ensure that Everett residents have the opportunity to succeed, have a career and raise a family right here in Everett,” said DeMaria. “We all know people who have made some mistakes in their past, but now deserve the opportunity to lead productive lives. The best way to do that is to provide them with a job. I commend the legislature for passing criminal justice reform for service employees and the gaming commission for supporting this measure. Otherwise restaurant workers, hotel housekeepers, and parking lot attendants would be barred from working in a hotel because of a minor conviction.”

The Gaming Law currently has the “automatic disqualifier” provision that prevents a non-gaming employee from working in a casino – even in hotel work, restaurant work and physical plant work – if they have a felony conviction in the past 10 years. In Massachusetts now, it takes 10 years before a person can seal such a felony record and not have it count against them for things like employment in the casinos. Additionally, in Massachusetts, many felonies have a very low threshold – such as larceny over $250.

The changed language is not as specific and puts more power in the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s (MGC) hands to vet potential employees. The language puts it at the MGC’s “discretion.”

“the Massachusetts Gaming Commission established pursuant to section 3 of said chapter 23K, may exempt certain gaming service employees by job position from the registration requirement at its discretion,” read the new language.

The language will have to be vetted by several agencies and then will go to the MGC for potential implementation.

The MGC has been in favor of such changes in letters sent to the Legislature this year, but chose not to comment for this story.

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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.

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