Sen. Clark: Back to School Legislative Priorities

An Op-Ed by Senator Katherine Clark

Many of our students will be heading back to school this week or next. Whether your child is off to pre-K or to high school – or anywhere in between – the first day of school is always full of excitement and hope for a year of achievement, growth and fun!

As our children go back to school, we all must come together with one goal in mind: to operate and support a school system that allows every child to reach his or her true potential. This is a daunting challenge in times of fiscal restraint, but important progress has been made.  During the 187th legislative session that came to a close on July 31, the state legislature took several key steps to put in place the policy and budget support we need to realize this goal.

Budget Prioritizes Education Funding

The $32.5 billion state operating budget for fiscal year 2013 boosts investments in the three largest sources of direct state aid to municipalities and school districts: local aid, Chapter 70 education funding, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker. Specifically, the plan directs $5.7 billion in state revenues back to cities and towns for spending at the local level, a $288.9 million increase over FY 2012 projected spending. It increases Chapter 70 education funding to $4.17 billion, an increase of $180.3 million, ensuring that all school districts receive at least an additional $40 per pupil in aid. Most notably, this budget also includes $16.8 million to be targeted toward dozens of communities, including Stoneham and Wakefield, facing inequities based on the Chapter 70 funding formula.

Important Reforms: Education Collaboratives

This year the legislature enacted reforms to increase the oversight and accountability of the Commonwealth’s education collaboratives that help teach children with special needs. The action came after investigations by the state auditor and inspector general uncovered a serious misuse of funding at the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative. Among other provisions, the bill creates clear requirements for board members and staff and prohibits board members from receiving a salary and from serving in any official capacity at a related nonprofit organization.

Strengthening Early Literacy

Third grade reading proficiency is a major indicator of future educational success, including high school graduation. But Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) reading scores show that nearly 40 percent of third graders in the Commonwealth are reading at a level below proficiency.  To address this challenge, I introduced legislation, along with Representative Marty Walz, aimed at strengthening third grade reading proficiency through the Massachusetts Early Reading Council.  This important legislation comes as Massachusetts was selected, earlier this year, to receive a $50 million grant to expand pre-Kindergarten education.  As part of the federal Race to the Top: Early Learning Challenge program, Massachusetts was one of nine states awarded grants to develop new approaches to early learning and close the school readiness gap.

After School Council

The Massachusetts Special Commission on After School and Out of School Time determined that, to ensure that after school programming remains a priority for policy makers in Massachusetts, the creation of an After School and Out of School Time (ASOST) council was a core component for success.  The goal of the council is to bring together leaders within state government, local government, and community based organization to create and advocate for a state-wide after-school and out of school time agenda.  The members of the council would include representatives of public education, public safety, parents, and youth.  By creating a permanent high-level forum for all relevant stake-holders to contribute to policy making and program oversight we can ensure that high quality after school and out of school time programming is accessible and affordable throughout the Commonwealth.

Emergency Response

During a sudden cardiac arrest (or SCA), the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.  A SCA is different from a heart attack and can strike without warning. The American Heart Association reports an estimated 295,000 occurrences of SCA (outside of hospitals) every year. We know from tragic stories of young athletes experiencing sudden cardiac arrest that the availability of portable AEDs – automated external defibrillators – is a matter of life and death.  These devices need to be where the students, spectators and players are – not only in nurses’ offices and locked in school buildings.  An Act Relative to Emergency Response Plans for Schools, signed into law in April, will help to make sure this occurs.  Among other provisions, the bill will require every school in the state to have a written medical emergency response plan to reduce the incidence of these life-threatening emergencies and promote efficient responses if they do occur.

Ensuring that all students have access to the highest quality education is an opportunity we all share.  And I look forward to continuing to work with you to advance this most important priority.


The preceeding article was provided by the Office of Senator Katherine Clark.

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