School & District Management

Massachusetts Governor Unveils Education Overhaul Plan

By Christina A. Samuels — June 07, 2007 4 min read
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Gov. Deval L. Patrick of Massachusetts has spelled out what he is calling “the next era of education reform” for the Bay State, an ambitious set of goals for the coming decade that has education interest groups supporting his vision, while acknowledging the challenges of enacting the sweeping changes.

The first-term Democrat is calling on lawmakers to enact a universal pre-kindergarten program, expand the kindergarten program to full day across the state, make community college tuition-free, and extend the school day and school year. Other changes would include strengthening the high school curriculum and streamlining the teacher licensure and certification process.

His goal is to have these programs in place by 2015—even though he has yet to define a funding source for his proposals.

“I am committing this administration for the next 10 years to a statewide and sustained effort to change fundamentally the way we think about and deliver public education, to get ready for our future,” Mr. Patrick said in a June 1 graduation speech to 2,600 students at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “Being ready means public education that is about the whole child, not just success on a single standardized test.”

Funding Questions

Educators say the governor’s plan has grabbed the attention of the education community in Massachusetts, which has more than 972,000 K-12 students. But it includes no price tags, and rough estimates suggest that putting the entire plan into effect could cost $1 billion a year. The state education budget for fiscal 2007 is $3.5 billion.

In a state struggling to pay for current education needs, much work remains to be done before these plans could be put into action, some say.

“He’s done a great job of painting the grand design,” said Thomas A. Scott, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “It’s a vision of where the state needs to go, but it’s not going to happen in short order. How do we fund it, and how do we deal with the more immediate problems that we have?”

Mr. Scott said Massachusetts’ funding formula for schools, known as Chapter 70, which relies heavily on property taxes, is inadequate to meet current needs. Some districts have had to cut programs and services. However, Mr. Scott says he believes the governor plans to address funding as a part of his education vision.

“We see that as a positive,” he said.

Christopher R. Anderson, the chairman of the state board of education and president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, said the governor’s identified priorities match well with the goals of high-tech firms in the state.

But the plan won’t be able to take off without a comprehensive funding plan that goes beyond just increasing taxes to pay for the proposals, Mr. Anderson said. “We’ve got to work on continuing to grow our state economy,” he said. “Simply to raise a tax would tend to destabilize our economic footing.”

Michael J. Widmer, the president of the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation, said he sees Gov. Patrick’s proposals as “a set of ideas, rather than a program.”

But, he added, “it’s not premature to say the expense is going to be a critical part.” The commission that the governor plans to form “is going to have to have some hard-headed discussions about what is reasonable.”

However, Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, an umbrella group for school boards throughout the state, said some items in the plan could be started without a high cost.

For instance, Gov. Patrick spoke of reforming and streamlining the state’s teacher certification process. And, Massachusetts last fall began experimenting with extended-day programs in 10 schools, and plans to extend the program to 10 more schools for the 2007-08 school year. (“Mass. Schools Experiment With Extra Time,” Sept. 6, 2006.)

The extended-day program has not yet been formally evaluated, but there are some positive anecdotal reports, said Chris Gabrieli, the co-founder and chairman of Massachusetts 2020, a nonprofit educational organization that has been behind the extended-day effort. With the expansion, the extended-day program would be available to 9,000 students.

“He’s made it clear that [extended-day] is one of his three or four main priorities, so we’re very excited about it,” Mr. Gabrieli said of the governor. “People involved in education here in the state see this as a green light to think boldly, think aggressively, and get going.”

Anne Wass, the president of the Masachusetts Teachers Association said she would welcome any changes to the teacher licensure program. That program “is complicated and cumbersome and off-putting,” said Ms. Wass, whose group is an affiliate of the National Education Association. “We’d welcome anything that makes it smoother and easier to manipulate your way through the process.”

The proposal to make community colleges tuition-free would be unique to Massachusetts if enacted, said David Baime, the vice president for government relations for the Washington-based American Association of Community Colleges. Full-time students at Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges now pay an average of $3,586 in tuition, compared with $2,272 on average nationwide. About 200,000 students are served each year.

Other states are working on ways to strengthen the connection between K-12 schools and colleges, but “nothing as dramatic as this,” Mr. Baime said.

A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2007 edition of Education Week as Massachusetts Governor Unveils Education Overhaul Plan

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