MBAE sent the following letter to state lawmakers this week as a conference committee debates a final school funding reform bill.
The Student Opportunity Act, a bill intended to address funding inequities identified by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, has the potential to be looked upon, in the future, as one of the most impactful pieces of legislation in a generation. To ensure that potential, the final version the legislature adopts must couple dramatic increases in education funding with measures that ensure the money is used strategically and purposefully to close persistent racial and socio-economic achievement gaps that are a stain on our state’s educational record. As the Conference Committee deliberates on the differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill, we write to urge you to voice your support for a final bill that includes strong accountability guidelines and an emphasis on college and career readiness.
MBAE was pleased that the House fully restored the original accountability language as the Joint Committee on Education reported it out. The Committee, in a unanimous vote, and in a bipartisan manner with both House and Senate leadership support, got it right on this issue in the original version of the bill. Any bill of this size, with this substantial an investment of taxpayer dollars, requires a minimum level of accountability for how money will be spent. The Committee bill requires districts to develop three-year plans for how new money will be fully leveraged to close achievement gaps and to set targets to be achieved in closing gaps, consistent with state targets. This must be included in a final bill to ensure that the Commonwealth is focused on a consistent set of outcomes and measurements.
The original language from the Joint Committee on Education granting the state’s Commissioner of Education the ability to assess each district’s plan for compliance with the statutory requirements and to require changes in non-compliant plans should also be adopted without change by the Conference Committee. These measures are entirely reasonable, without being overly cumbersome or punitive, and provide parents and community leaders with some assurance that districts are setting measurable goals and outcomes they will achieve with new funding while undertaking important community consideration of the best way to achieve those goals. Each district must be required to list the evidence-based approaches they will utilize to close gaps and explain why they choose to bypass any of the best practices recommended by the FBRC, should they elect to use other evidence-based approaches instead.
We support changes the Senate made to the bill that require the state to collect data on college and career outcomes after high school graduation, including the number of students obtaining well-paying jobs directly after high school, critical information given the declining opportunities for students with only a high school diploma. We also support Senate changes that require districts to address how they will improve student readiness for college and careers and that lists college and career readiness as a priority for funding from the 21st Century Fund. A final bill should also move the state, through the Education Secretary, toward setting statewide targets for improving college and career readiness for all students.
The business community supports the inclusion of these measures because they will prompt and incentivize districts to focus on better preparing students for college and the workforce. They come at no additional cost; they simply set the right goals for the 21st century. Passing a $1.5 billion bill without them would be a major missed opportunity for the students of the Commonwealth.
MBAE is confident that the commitment and the will exists to move forward with a final bill that, in the spirit of the unanimous consensus bill put forward by the Joint Committee on Education and supported by the leadership of both branches of the legislature, will prove a great benefit to all the state’s students in a way that balances funding and serious accountability as did the seminal Education Reform Act of 1993.
Thank you for your commitment to ensuring ALL students get the education they need and deserve.
Edward M. Lambert, Jr.