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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

FY15 DESE K-12 Education Priorities

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
November 19, 2013


This memo reflects the priorities of the Board's Budget Committee, working with the Department, for inclusion in the FY15 state budget. This information is being presented to the Board today for discussion and vote to support my efforts to advocate for DESE's state budgetary needs for the 2014-2015 school year.

The Department appreciates the work of the Committee to identify key priorities for the K-12 sector. We seek to include a number of strategic initiatives in the Governor Patrick's final budget to help us maintain our competitive advantage in education that is so critical to the Massachusetts economy.

We recognize that the state is still recovering from a major recession and that we will be limited in our ability to increase operating appropriations in FY15. In fact, given that state appropriations for DESE operations comprise less than one half of one percent of total K-12 spending, it is clear that the resources to accomplish these goals must come from a variety of sources. We propose a budgetary approach that incorporates all of the following:

  • Small, focused increases in key DESE line items.
  • Legislative authority to use a portion of existing grant funds in our larger programs to support program administration and oversight.
  • Potential use of federal e-rate and state bond funds, with local matching dollars, to finance technology infrastructure improvements.
  • Using increases in chapter 70 aid to incentivize and support reform activities.

The proposal for strategic use of chapter 70 aid increases will be possible this year because the expected low enrollment growth and inflation means that the cost of meeting our foundation obligation will be relatively low. We can therefore anticipate legislative action to increase chapter 70 aid beyond current foundation aid levels. The specific dollar total requests will be determined in conjunction with the Executive Office of Education & the Executive Office for Administration & Finance in the development of the Governor's FY15 budget submittal based on the project revenues available.

DESE is well positioned to do this work. The Achievement Gap legislation signed by the Governor in 2010 set up an innovative framework for school and district improvement efforts and targeted state intervention and assistance. Our federal Race to the Top grants and other stimulus funds have allowed us to develop important tools, including new curriculum standards and assessments reflecting college and career readiness; new standards and methods for educator evaluation that are seen as a national model; and information systems and curriculum tools for use by teachers and administrators. These initiatives built on the foundation of two decades of successful standards-based education reform in Massachusetts. We set clear and high standards, we give districts flexibility and support to allow them to reach those standards, we measure their progress, and we provide extra help if they fall short.

We seek your support for the following recommendations for the key strategic initiatives that will allow us to continue to make progress to close the Achievement Gap.

  1. Expanded Instructional Time & Student Supports

    The need for additional instructional time, particularly for low income students and English language learners, is well documented. We recommend a comprehensive approach, rather than a separate expansion of the full day kindergarten (FDK) program, recognizing that many districts have already implemented FDK and have other priority needs relating to instructional time. We also need to move away from long-term funding of operational needs through grant programs and ensure that basic resources are available through the districts' regular operating budgets. It's important to also ensure behaviors that interfere with learning are also recognized and addressed within our schools.

    7061-0008Chapter 70/Foundation Aid
    7061-9410Expanded Learning Time Grants
    7061-0012SPED Circuit Breaker Program
    7030-1002Kindergarten Expansion Grants
    7027-1004English Language Acquisition
    7061-9614Alternative Education
    7061-9612Safe and Supportive Schools Grant Program

  2. Targeted Assistance and Flexibility for Underperforming Schools and Districts

    One of our key responsibilities is providing support and assistance for our underperforming schools in levels 4 and 5. Significant effort is required, particularly for level 5 schools and districts placed in receivership. We are also exploring options to help level 3 schools and districts move up rather than down.

    7061-9408Targeted Assistance
    7061-0008Chapter 70/Foundation Aid

  3. Expanded Opportunities for Career Education

    Our vocational schools have achieved great results, but they serve only a small fraction of our high school population. Working in partnership with our business community, we need to pilot new and expanded models of career education to reach all of our students.

    7017-0019Connecting Activities

  4. Renewed Focus on Early Literacy

    Given the importance of early literacy, and troubling indicators in our state and national assessments, renewed effort is warranted. We currently have several small grant programs that could benefit from consolidation, expansion, and more department support. We also need to explore options to provide long-term, stable funding for these activities through district operating budgets.

    7010-0033Consolidated Literacy
    7010-0020Bay State Reading Institute
    7030-1005Early Intervention Tutorial Literacy
    7061-0008Chapter 70/Foundation Aid

  5. 21st Century Technology

    The use of technology in the classroom to help teachers teach is exploding nationally. We also recognize that digital literacy is an important career skill for students to learn. Despite our reputation as a high tech state, too many of our schools lack the infrastructure they need to take advantage of these emerging tools. We are committed to working to close the technology gap in our districts.

    DESE does not have a specific account to fund this work through, but is promoting the potential use of federal e-rate and state bond funds, with local matching dollars, to finance technology infrastructure improvements.

  6. State Assessments to Reflect our Higher Level Curriculum Standards

    The new Massachusetts curriculum standards, based on the Common Core and reflecting college and career readiness, are already being implemented by our districts. We now need to update our state assessments to reflect the new standards and provide more useful feedback to teachers and students. Our participation and leadership in the multi-state PARCC consortium provides an opportunity to develop new assessments at a significantly lower cost.

    7061-9400Student Assessment
    7061-9404Supports to Close the Achievement Gap

  7. Improved Service Delivery through Regional Collaboration

    The small size of most Massachusetts school districts makes it difficult and inefficient for every district to provide a full range of educational services and supports to its schools. Efforts to encourage the creation of new regional districts have met with only modest success. We need to pilot new models of regional cooperation and service delivery, building on the success of our District and School Assistance Centers (DSACs) and Readiness Centers. Discussions are already underway with our educational collaboratives to see what role they could play in delivering services more efficiently.

    7061-9408Targeted Assistance

Thank you for your continued work on behalf of the students of the Commonwealth. I would request your support to advance the priorities detailed in this memorandum.

Last Updated: November 20, 2013
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