State lawmakers hear public education advocacy group’s legislative agenda 

  • State Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, an early co-sponsor of the PROMISE Act and chairman of the Joint Committee on Education, speaking at a legislative breakfast held with Citizens for Public Schools at the Statehouse on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.  FOR THE GAZETTE/LILLIAN ILSLEY-GREENE

  • State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 3/7/2019 11:23:30 AM

BOSTON – Advocates and legislators gathered Wednesday morning at the Statehouse to discuss Citizens for Public Schools’ legislative priorities in the coming session.

The non-profit, public education advocacy group has asked for support on a series of seven bills, covering three priority areas in education: the state’s public education funding formula, charter school reform, and MCAS testing. These bills include the PROMISE Act, an education funding reform petition that has gained traction since its re-filing last month.

All legislators from western Massachusetts have signed on as a co-sponsors of the PROMISE Act and state Reps. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, have endorsed several other bills supported by Citizens for Public Schools (CPS). 

Estimates for the deficits in the school funding formula range from $1 billion to $2 billion, Sabadosa said at the breakfast, a number supported by the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s 2015 findings. Sabadosa said her biggest concern lies in questions of revenue.

“I'm a big supporter of the PROMISE Act,” Sabadosa said, “But I'm also going to be pushing for a lot of revenue bills this session to make sure that we can fund all of these things.”

State Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, an early co-sponsor of the PROMISE Act and now the chairman of the Joint Committee on Education, spoke about the necessity of reform to the state’s public education funding formula.

Lewis stressed, in particular, the need to reform public schools, calling them a “great equalizer” of students. When funds from public schools are diverted to public charter schools, it is low-income students that suffer the most, he said.

Education funding reform has often been a CPS concern in its more than 30-year history, according to Executive Director Lisa Guisbond, beginning with the 1993 McDuffy v. Secretary of Education decision. That Supreme Judicial Court ruling established state jurisdiction over school finance questions. 

The issues of school privatization and testing are not distinct from the funding issues, Guisbond said.

“It's just so clear that we urgently need to update the funding formula,” Guisbond said.

Guisbond criticized the current formula, pointing to its apparent failings in serving minority interests.

“It doesn't meet the needs, it doesn't take into consideration the real cost of health care and special education and giving English-language learners and low-income students what they need,” Guisbond said.

Towards the end of the event, state Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, gave an impassioned speech against the use of standardized testing as a determinant of school funding. The stress MCAS testing places on students, she said, is enormous.

Sabadosa echoed this sentiment. Parents in Northampton, including herself, have been implored by educators to keep their students in school for testing days after the popularization of testing boycotts by parents, Sabadosa said.

“People are afraid of low test scores, the school doesn't do as well, they lose funding, and it just kind of spirals,” Sabadosa said, “And once a school is losing funding, they tend to do worse and worse. We do need to move away from that.”

Lillian Ilsley-Greene writes for the Gazette from the Boston University Statehouse Program.

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