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.
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.
After a long process, Sen. Sal DiDomenico allegedly fell a few votes short of gaining the Senate Presidency, a process that completed last week when State Sen. Karen Spilka corralled the 21 votes needed to secure the presidency.
It was announced publicly in a press conference on Thursday, March 22.
While no one was keeping score on the outside, and few on the inside were talking, it was believed by those watching closely that DiDomenico had as many as 19 votes just within the last month.
Sen. DiDomenico would not comment on the process within the Senate this week where he had tried to make a run for Senate President.
However, he did say publicly that he will still be the assistant majority leader in the Senate – a post he was recently promoted to and will keep under the new leadership.
He also said there is no bad blood between himself and Sen. President-elect Spilka after the long process.
“Before this process Speaker-elect Karen Spilka and I were close friends as we will continue to be,” he said. “We have worked well for some time as a result of me being the vice chair on her Ways and Means Committee. There is no bad blood or animosity between us. There comes a point in time when you have to bring the body together and move forward. I thought this was the right time to do that.
“Now that this process is over and we have a new senate president elect, I support Karen 100 percent and will do everything I can to support her as senate president,” he continued. “Our relationship is as strong as it always has been.”
Sen. DiDomenico did not want to comment any further on his role in the new leadership team, but affirmed the strong relationship between himself and Sen. Spilka.
“I look forward to serving under Senate President-elect Spilka and being an integral part of her team,” he said.
Observers had been worried that, as typically happens, the senator that comes out on the short end of the bargain gets relegated to the back of the room. Many thought that if Sen. DiDomenico lost, he might also lose all of the power and responsibilities he has worked towards since being elected and coming into leadership roles under former Sen. President Stan Rosenberg.
However, with DiDomenico affirming his positive relationship with Spilka this week, many believe that he will come out unharmed after the process finishes out.
As for the ascension, there is currently no consensus between Sen. President Harriet Chandler and Sen. President-elect Spilka about when she might take office.
Some postulated it could come on July 1 after the end of the current fiscal year.
Others thought it could come at the end of December.
During a press conference last week, Spilka indicated they had not yet ironed that out.
State Sen. Sal DiDomenico took yet another step up the leadership ladder last week, getting two major promotions within the legislative body.
First, DiDomenico (D-Everett) was elevated to the position of Assistant Majority Leader by Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). In addition to this new leadership post, Senator DiDomenico will also now serve as Chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, as well as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs.
Previously, Senator DiDomenico served as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways & Means, and with this new enhanced leadership role and committee assignments, the Senator will still remain a member of this important budget writing committee.
“It is an honor and privilege to be chosen by Senate President Harriette Chandler to serve as Assistant Majority Leader in the Massachusetts Senate,” DiDomenico said. “I look forward to continue serving on her leadership team in this expanded role and working with my colleagues to advance legislation that will have a positive impact on the people of the Commonwealth.”
The announcement of Senator DiDomenico’s promotion came along with the announcement of Senate President Chandler’s full leadership team for the remainder of the 2018 session. The new team is highlighted by the appointment of Senators, including DiDomenico, to Senate leadership positions and new committee assignments.
“As we continue to fight for the future of Massachusetts families, the Massachusetts Senate has never had more energy or purpose than it has today,” said Chandler. “This team is dynamic, experienced, diverse in viewpoints, and represents the best of our goals as Democrats and legislators. In making these decisions, it was critical to me to bring together a team of fresh, strong voices, as well as some of our most respected, long-serving members.”
These appointments follow a unanimous Senate vote earlier this month affirming Chandler as the Senate President for the remainder of the 2018 session. Chandler was initially appointed Acting Senate President in December.
Senator DiDomenico’s full legislatives titles and committee assignments are now as follows:
- Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate
- Chairman of Bill on the Third Reading
- Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs
- Senate Committee on Ways & Means
- Community Development and Small Business
- Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure
- Financial Services
- Labor and Workforce Development
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.
By Seth Daniel
The United States House of Representatives passed an immigration bill in June that includes harsh penalties for self-declared Sanctuary Cities like Chelsea, and even though it has a long way to go in passing the U.S. Senate to become law, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would be ready to go back to Federal Court to fight it.
“I’m hoping the Senate does not go ahead with that,” he said. “If the Senate does go ahead and it is signed by the president, I expect we’ll look at at filing another lawsuit for violation of the 10th Amendment. Hopefully, the Senate will be more reasonable. I’m going to worry about legislation that passes the House.”
The law that passed the House deals with many issues, but when it comes to Sanctuary Cities, it takes away all grant money from cities that self-declare as a Sanctuary City – as Chelsea does. That would likely mean steep losses for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), for public safety grants (police and fire) and for grants to the Public Schools.
Ambrosino said he doesn’t envision the law clearing the Senate and isn’t too worried about that happening, but did say if the Senate happened to approve the legislation, Chelsea would look at another lawsuit.
The City filed a lawsuit earlier this year with Lawrence when President Donald Trump issued his executive order penalizing Sanctuary Cities. That order was also challenged by several other municipalities, and a stay of the order was granted by a Federal Appeals Court in California. That stay also applied to Chelsea’s case, making the executive order moot.
However, the new legislation does take away one of the key arguments in Chelsea’s original case – that being the executive order actions weren’t authorized by legislation.
However, Ambrosino said he and the City’s lawyers still believe a 10th Amendment violation would be grounds for another suit if need be.
“Obviously, the fact that legislation exists would make that argument go away, but there are other arguments we made and one is that legislation would violate the separation of powers in the 10th Amendment.”
No new action has taken place on the House Bill since it passed in late June, but City officials are keeping close tabs on the Senate’s actions in relation to the Bill.
Senator Sal DiDomenico has been appointed by Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) to serve as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. This powerful Committee is responsible for putting together the Senate Fiscal Budget each year, and for vetting legislation concerning many key subjects. The position also gives Senator DiDomenico a seat on the Conference Committee that will negotiate the Legislature’s final budget.
“I am honored to have been appointed to this key leadership role,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico. “I look forward to working with Senate President Rosenberg, Chairwoman Spilka, and Committee members on many issues that are not only important to my constituents, but to the residents of the Commonwealth as a whole.”
His new leadership post represents a step up for the Senator from last session, when he served as Assistant Vice Chair of the Ways and Means Committee. He will also serve on the Joint Committee on Election Laws and on the Committee on Ethics.
Chelsea residents will go to the polls Tuesday (June 25) to cast their ballots in the U.S. Senate special election.
Two candidates, Congressman Edward J. Markey of Malden, who has served in the House of Representatives for 37 years and Garrett Gomez of Cohasset are vying for the Senate seat.
The winning candidate in Tuesday’s election will take over the Senate seat previously held by John Kerry, who left the position to become the Secretary of State. “Mo” Cowan has been serving as the interim U.S. Senator.
Elizabeth Warren is the Bay State’s other U.S. Senator, having been elected to the position last November. .
Members of the Markey for Senate campaign appeared to be
holding a campaign rally during the City’s Memorial Day ceremonies
in front of City Hall Monday. Overtly campaigning on
Memorial Day has long been an unwritten no-no in local politics
as it is a day reserved for more solemn activities.
The Markey for Senate campaign is facing questions this week over what appeared to be a sign holding event and campaign rally in front of City Hall during the start of the City’s Official Memorial Day Ceremony.
Largely considered to be a non-political day, Memorial Day has long been off-limits to overt campaigning by candidates and their supporters. In fact, for most candidates and incumbents, it has become Politics 101 to leave signs and rally cries at home and adopt a more subdued presence at Memorial Day ceremonies – which are considered sacred and solemn events to honor those who died in wars to preserve the country’s freedoms.
That’s why it came as a surprise to some – and infuriated a good number of Chelsea veterans organizations – when a group of about 30 or 40 sign holders began rallying on the sidewalk amidst the ceremonies with ‘Markey For Senate’ signs and ‘Markey For Senate’ buttons.
“That’s just not right,” said one City Official who wished to remain anonymous and said he was a Markey supporter. “That’s the kind of thing that brings down a campaign in the last days of an election run.”
It was equally surprising that such an event would be held at the Memorial Day Services considering Congressman Ed Markey (D-Malden) has been in Congress for decades and would likely know better than to break the unwritten rule of overtly campaigning at a Memorial Day service.
Markey Campaign Spokespersons told the Record that they had been invited by the Chelsea Girl Scouts to march in the Girl Scout Parade, and were only in front of City Hall to regroup and wrap things up after the parade.
However, no Markey supporters were observed marching in the parade, nor were any assembled at the parade’s starting point Monday morning.
“The Markey campaign was invited by parade organizers to participate in the parade, and so our volunteers marched in it, and then disbanded once it was over,” said Campaign Spokesman Andrew Zucker. “Ed Markey has the utmost respect and admiration for those who have served our country, and that’s why he’s fighting to fully fund the VA, cut down on unjustified wait times for veterans seeking assistance and ensure that our veterans can find good jobs when they’ve completed their service.”
A review of parade photographs did not immediately show any Markey for Senate entries marching.
City Manager Jay Ash said the campaigning was brought to his attention by some concerned citizens, but he did not consider it to be such a big deal.
“I’ve seen a number of similar standouts at parades and community celebrations over the years,” he said. “If we were at a graveside service, it would have been inappropriate, but we were in a public space, being City Hall, and we were celebrating the gift of freedom that our fallen heroes have given us. One of those gifts is campaigning; so, no, I wasn’t offended.”
Those who appeared to be in the campaign rally in front of City Hall stayed for about 30 minutes during the ceremony before leaving.
We congratulate U.S. Senate candidates, Congressman Edward J. Markey and Gabriel E. Gomez, on their impressive statewide victories in the Democratic and Republican primaries Tuesday. It was great to see our our former congressman, who has represented the district for 37 years, receive the highest vote total among all candidates in the city.
The attention of the electorate now turns to the Markey-Gomez final election scheduled for June 25. There should be some interesting debates along the way and we’re sure our residents – who take a backseat to no one when it comes to being in the know about state and national politics – will be closely following the developments on the campaign trail as Massachusetts fills the vacancy created by John Kerry’s appointment as Secretary of State.