Educators, legislators urge larger share of state aid for education

Posted Apr 21, 2017 at 2:01 AM

By Katie Lannan, State House News Service

BOSTON — Educators, parents and lawmakers are urging support for a bill that would update the state’s school funding formula to send more money to districts, highlighting the bill’s backing from a variety of different groups from across the state.

“This is the largest, most diverse coalition of education reformers that I have ever seen gathered in one place representing as many organizations,” Massachusetts Association of School Committees executive director Glenn Koocher said earlier this month at a gathering.

The bill filed by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, would implement the 2015 recommendations of a state commission that found the current funding formula, known as the foundation budget, underestimates the cost of education by $1 billion to $2 billion per year.

“I think everyone agrees, like you can’t just flip a switch and turn on $2 billion,” Chang-Diaz told the News Service. “But if you spread it out over anywhere between five and 10 years, that is within the realm of the achievable for Massachusetts.”

The push for the bill came as House Democrats released a fiscal 2018 budget bill that calls for the type of limited increases in local aid that cities and towns have become accustomed to in recent years.

Paul Reville, who served as education secretary under Gov. Deval Patrick and was a member of the Foundation Review Commission, said Massachusetts has not delivered on all the promise of the 1993 law, including its financing provisions, when it “should really be talking about the next grand bargain here.”

“School districts have been forced to rob Peter to pay Paul, and the educational program has suffered as a result of it,” Reville said. “We find ourselves now a quarter of a century into education reform very proud of our achievements as a commonwealth — we lead the nation, lead the world in some categories — but still, we failed to fulfill the promise of education reform, which was to educate all of our children, and when we said all we meant all, all means all, to high levels of achievement.”

Local education aid, known as Chapter 70 money, has increased an average of $126 million per year from the 2011 fiscal year, including a $106 million hike recommended Monday in the new House Ways and Means budget bill.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s 2018 budget proposal included $4.72 billion in Chapter 70 aid, an increase of $91.4 million over this year’s appropriation.

Under one potential timeframe for implementing the changes called for in Chang-Diaz’s bill —the seven-year schedule used in education funding legislation that passed the Senate last year — schools would see an increase of approximately $200 million in state funding in the first year.

The Foundation Budget Review Commission called for updates to the funding formula to better account for rising fixed costs in health care and special education, and said the formula underestimates the cost of educating low-income students and English language learners.

The bill calls for a multi-year phasing in of the commission’s recommendations, charging the administration and finance secretary and House and Senate budget writers with meeting annually to determine an implementation schedule. It does not specify a timeframe or funding source.

Chang-Diaz, who joined the Legislature in 2009, said her bill could follow a similar path as the 1993 education reform law that established the funding formula.

“We made a decision on a values level, on a constitutional obligation level that we’re doing this, and then we exercised tremendous discipline and commitment over the ensuing seven to 10 years to elevate the on-ramp schedule,” she said. “But it was never a forgone conclusion that it was going to happen or that it was going to be easy, but we just did it because we believed in it.”

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat cosponsoring the bill, said implementing the commission’s recommendations would require more revenues.

“I think what’s interesting right now is that Governor Baker, in his budget, actually proposed about $600 million in new revenues through the employer assessment so, you know, are the House and Senate going to propose revenues given that the governor did that?” he said. “It might be a different form, it might be a form of taxes, but if we’re not going to increase revenue in our budgets, that means we’re not only not going to properly fund the beginning of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, but we’re not going to be able to properly fund regional school transportation, special education and Chapter 70 aid.

A total of 82 lawmakers are signed on to Chang-Diaz’s bill — 25 Senate Democrats, 47 House Democrats and 10 House Republicans.

The Senate has twice passed versions of the bill, once as part of legislation that tied major new investments in education to an increase in the cap on charter schools and once as an amendment to its fiscal 2017 budget.

The charter bill passed the Senate 22-13 and was never taken up by the House. The budget amendment, which Chang-Diaz said at the time had 22 cosponsors, did not survive after deliberations before a six-person House-Senate conference committee.

In the months since those Senate votes, Chang-Diaz said, several advocacy groups have adopted foundation budget reform as a priority and have been talking to their respective bases about the issue.

“This has been a long time coming, it’s been a long time building, and this consensus is unlike anything we’ve seen in a really long time,” she said.

Organizations whose support was touted at the press conference include the Boston Student Advisory Council, Educators for Excellence, EdVestors, Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network, the Suburban Coalition, the Boston Higher Ground Coalition, Phenomenal Moms Boston, the Worcester Education Collaborative, and associations representing superintendents, school business officials, vocational administrators, regional schools, secondary school administrators and elementary school principals.

Chelsea Superintendent Mary Bourque, the president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said her district each year must cut “more and more of what makes us a successful school system,” such as after-school programs and tutoring. This year, the Chelsea schools had to close a budget gap of more than $5 million, she said.

Bourque said the bill “shows that we have the courage to not just acknowledge the severe underfunding of public education, but finally we have the courage to take action.”

Original Story Here:

Mitchell believes an innovation district would bring the best, brightest to SMAST

NEW BEDFORD — A plot extending roughly 300 feet along Rodney French Boulevard in the South End will be the site of the “innovation district” that Mayor Jon Mitchell announced last week during his State of the City address.

The land extends south toward the wastewater treatment plant for about 200 feet. While it’s not an overly large piece of land, the city believes it’s vital to the future of New Bedford.

“The idea would be to utilize city-owned land to create an environment in which people can live and and be close to research as well as business innovation opportunity,” Mitchell said.

Similar projects also labeled as “innovation districts” have popped up and are being constructed around the world. Mitchell and City Council President Joseph Lopes traveled to Pittsburgh last November to analyze its districts. They’ll travel to St. Louis in April.

“You can learn so much more by having the discussion with those who have gone through it,” Lopes said.

The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization that conducts research on new ideas for solving problems facing society, has provided Mitchell with research on innovation districts. The organization defines an “innovation districts” as “geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators.”

In this case, UMass Dartmouth’s SMAST facilities would anchor the district. Mitchell said the project won’t affect taxpayers, but instead will focus on private projects.

“By creating something that has these different elements you create that the whole idea of the innovative district,” dean of SMAST Steven Lohrenz said. “Its creating this multipurpose site with a lot of different elements and there is synergy that develops and makes it more attractive to people.”

Mitchell said the district is still years away, but the research and planning underway allowed him to announce it in last week’s State of the City.

No official plans exist for what the district could contain, but Mitchell suggested, like most around the world, it might include housing, business incubators and retail and dining opportunities.

“We want to be seen as a place where ideas can be generated and commercialized,” Mitchell said. “Those ideas are key in having an urban environment in which entrepreneurs can thrive.”

Mitchell pointed to the success of Christopher Rezendes and his Internet connectivity company, IoT Impact LABS, as past examples of innovation within the city.

This project is different in that includes SMAST, which already houses an a core of potential innovators students and professors.

“It’s a way for the city and university to expand on an already good partnership,” said Derek Santos, the executive director of New Bedford’s Economic Development Council.

Mitchell said one of the issues surrounding SMAST is that many of the dwellings in the area of the two facilities are single-family homes, which limit the number of students and professors that can live near campus.

Mitchell, Lopes and Lohrenz agreed, though, any and all projects within the district would only be approved after consideration of the neighborhood.

“This is going have to be sized right,” Lohrenz said. “We’re not building the next strip mall. It has to be something that compliments the surroundings.”

According to the Brookings Institution, innovation districts can increase economic activity and help raise property values. The group states the increased revenue can be used to invest in infrastructure, public safety, affordable housing and schools.

Santos called Cambridge’s Kendall Square, the mother of all “innovation districts.” It combines growth around MIT and along with nearby institutions like Massachusetts General Hospital.

New Bedford’s district would be on a much smaller scale but contain the same ideas.

“You take academics and mix that with private sector,” Santos said. “And you create an environment that can be dynamic.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonner.

Original Story here:

Your View: Workforce skills and education needed to match strong local work ethic

By Posted Feb 5, 2017

As we begin 2017, our city is continuing a 10-year trend of solid economic progress. Leading indicators such as labor force, business start-ups, average wages, nation-leading fishing port activity, and dropping unemployment rates all reflect steady improvement with particular acceleration over the past three years. While these numbers make for good headlines, they don’t tell the whole story.

Even with our recent successes, one painful reality remains – until the education and professional skill level of the community improves, the strong and durable economy we want for all New Bedford families will continue to be frustratingly out of reach. New Bedford is not alone in this regard; many cities and states across America are becoming increasingly concerned about not having enough skilled workers to fulfill the needs of companies ready for growth. While this is a national issue, we can, and should, take on the responsibility of making our change, for our own benefit.

Helping to bring about that kind of change is what the Regeneration Project is all about. It began in the spring of 2014 when Mayor Jon Mitchell asked many of Greater New Bedford’s business and community leaders to serve as members of the New Bedford Regeneration Committee. The task the mayor put before this diverse group was to articulate a strategy for the city’s economic regeneration that builds on the committee’s collective experience in leading successful enterprises.

The committee’s final report, Uniting in Pursuit of Growth and Opportunity, is a statement intended to attract broad popular buy-in, shape economic development strategy, and signal to both private investors and government officials outside the region that New Bedford has a clear set of objectives.

The report highlights four main strategies:

  • Bolstering local capacity to promote economic development;
  • Fostering the development of Downtown New Bedford;
  • Enhancing workforce development in advanced manufacturing; and
  • Modernizing and growing our greatest asset – the Port of New Bedford.

To continue this work, in 2015 many of the leaders from the original group agreed to form the standing committee of the New Bedford Economic Development Council’s Regeneration Project. Since then, many of the committee’s original recommendations have been acted on, resulting in tangible progress in port development, driving new downtown investment and vibrancy, and in the ways that economic and workforce development services are delivered. A good start to be sure, but not yet game changing.

To help create systematic change to our too familiar pattern of an up and down economy, we wanted to take a closer look at one area of focus from our original report – the workforce readiness of our community. During this past six months, we engaged with the local stakeholders and agencies tasked with this mission; the Workforce Investment Board, New Directions, Bristol Community College, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Center for Policy Analysis, New Bedford Public Schools, Greater New Bedford Regional Voc-Tech, and the region’s largest employer, Southcoast Health.

All of these conversations and interactions lead to the overarching conclusion that this is not something city government can just fix like a pothole: All partners must do their share to be sure every tool is ready and accessible to those who are most in need. The citizens of New Bedford must also be committed to the hard work that lies ahead. Our workforce can no longer get by on a strong back and solid work ethic. Those attributes will continue to be of great value, but it is no longer enough, and we must adapt if we wish to thrive.

While there are big things that need to be done by all, we would offer that there are several early actions that can be started by the stakeholder agencies and organizations to help build momentum for larger tasks:

 

  • Co-locate the workforce training programs with administration functions to assure the greatest possible delivery of services;
  • Focus efforts on sectors with immediate growth potential, such as advanced manufacturing, health care services, trade skills (specifically waterfront related), and hospitality;
  • Advocate for policy changes that remove unnecessarily burdensome hurdles to job training or placement;
  • Emphasize job readiness skills for all – regardless of educational level or background;
  • Boost local investment in education – both in the New Bedford school system and for those students seeking a vocational style education – to provide the necessary tools to maximize student engagement and the ever increasing demands and requirements for workforce and higher education;
  • Work in regional partnerships to the greatest extent possible, since the labor market is not generally concerned with local municipal borders.

Building a highly skilled and well-educated workforce is a hard thing for any community to do and it will not happen overnight. However, taking some important first steps is critical to our future success. Education and workforce training levels are tied to crime, physical health, and so much more. More than any other determining factor in the well being of a community is its level of educational attainment.

We will continue to do our part to engage the public and private sector leadership of the community and advocate for this and other strategies that will increase the growth and prosperity of our city and region. As we first reported in 2014, the collaborative spirit of the community is alive and well. Our city will not only need that spirit, but the action and commitment of its citizens.

The best way for us to take greatest advantage of the good times and lessen the impacts of slower periods is to have a well balanced and diverse local economy built on the foundation of a skilled, well trained workforce in a community that is as committed to education as much as it values hard work.

Gerry Kavanaugh, Co-Chair: senior vice chancellor for strategic management, UMass Dartmouth

Anthony Sapienza, Co-Chair: president JA Apparel Corp., President New Bedford EDC

Rick Kidder: President & CEO, New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce

David Wechsler: President and CEO, Maritime International

Maureen Sylvia Armstrong: President, CEO and owner, Sylvia Group Insurance

Keith Hovan: President and CEO, SouthCoast Health System

Nicholas Christ: President and CEO, BayCoast Bank

David Slutz: Managing Director, Potentia Business Solutions

Elizabeth Isherwood: Chair, Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation

Patrick Murray: President and CEO, Bristol County Savings Bank

Dr. John Sbrega: President, Bristol Community College

Helena DaSilva Hughes: Executive Director, Immigrants’ Assistance Center

James Russell: President and CEO New Bedford Whaling Museum

Bob Unger: Chair, Leadership SouthCoast

James Lopes: Law Offices of James J. Lopes; New Bedford Historical Commission