With a series of veto overrides, the legislature wrapped up the FY 2016 budget yesterday. The last few months of budget debate led to reform at the MBTA, more funding for substance abuse services to combat the opioid crisis, and a big increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit to alleviate income inequality. Unfortunately, the budget process had one big shortfall - it entirely overlooked the need to push harder to improve the performance of public education systems that continue to leave many students underprepared for the state's knowledge economy.
The final budget offers the usual boost to Chapter 70 aid to help local school districts keep pace with rising costs, but other education line items that are vital to districts serving high concentrations of disadvantaged students were reduced. The cut to the Gateway Cities English Language Learners program was particularly difficult to see. One of the few rigorously evaluated line items, these grants sought to close a stubborn achievement gap.
More deeply concerning is the absence of support for programs and policies that spur innovation. Changing technology and instructional practices provide new models. We urgently need to position Gateway Cities to test these innovations and scale those that work. Leaders in districts serving high concentrations of disadvantaged students must also find creative ways to cost-effectively deploy resources in order to give their students more high-quality learning time, both in pre-K and in grades K through 12.
Communities that are serious about ushering in this kind of innovation need the state's financial support. With the legislature sending $5.1 billion to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, surely budget makers can find a way to set aside resources for communities that are ready to act. With revenues exceeding expectations, perhaps we can address this shortfall before the year is out.
Director of Public Affairs - MassINC
Housing & Economic Development
Governor Baker visits Lawrence to unveil his urban agenda.
As part of the Gateway Cities Transformative Development Initiative, MassDevelopment announces $11 million in bonds to support a housing project in Pittsfield and awards several smaller grants to TDI Places-low-cost efforts to breath vitality into areas targeted for redevelopment.
Several major developments projects are poised to move forward in downtown Salem. They include 150 housing units, a hotel, commercial space and a long-desired Community Life Center.
Neighbors and city officials in Quincy are frustrated by the slow demolition of the old YMCA. The project stalled after asbestos was found in the 60-year-old building.
The Worcester Historical Commission signs off on the demolition of a Canal District building, paving the way for redevelopment of the property.
New Bedford moves on after the loss of its Casino bid and begins to envision new downtown projects. The Boston Globe editorial board urges caution on granting the Southeast region casino license after the withdrawal of KG Urban's New Bedford proposal. The Enterprise editorial board makes a case for approving the Brockton casino proposal.
MassBudget looks at what it would take to make higher education free in Massachusetts.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the Pioneer Institute issues a new report calling for 10,000 school vouchers for students in low-income urban districts.
Legislators override Governor Baker's veto, restoring $17.5 million in full day kindergarten grants.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum reveals a new student exchange program with the Husavik Whale Museum in Iceland.
A new Brookings Institution report looks at work-based learning strategies.
The race to fill the late Senator Thomas Kennedy's seat in Brockton draws more contenders.
In Attleboro, Mayor Kevin Dumas finds out he will be running unopposed this year.
Lowell city councilors say they are reluctant to participate in a regional emergency dispatch center, fearing the cost savings are not worth the risk.
Mayor Dean Mazzarella of Leominster joins the state's Department of Transportation's Board of Directors. One goal of his is "to make sure Leominster and the surrounding area are represented in Boston when it comes to transportation decisions."
State Police close a section of I-495 near Lawrence after a chunk of the elevated highway gave way, leaving a six-inch hole.
Charlotte launches its new streetcar line, reigniting the debate on the benefits of street cars in small to midsize cities. Also of interest elsewhere, echoing many Gateway City leaders, folks in Wisconsin are arguing for taking a regional approach to transportation to spur economic growth.
MedExpress is opening a new urgent care medical facility in Westfield. The company recently opened practices in Chicopee and Haverhill, and has plans to open up more in Springfield, Pittsfield, and Longmeadow.
Lawrence General Hospital will be building six new operating rooms and other related facilities with a $16.8 million New Markets Tax Credit.
Fall River Mayor Sam Sutter and City Councilor Jasiel Correia II get behind a new initiative that calls for lifting the "net metering caps" that they say are preventing the growth of the solar industry.
Five South Coast lawmakers are asking the state Department of Environmental Protection to examine prospects for cleaning up a New Bedford brownfield site that was the planned location of a waterfront casino before developers withdrew their bid.
With the end of Boston's bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford looks at the situation through a positive light, saying, "It hasn't cost New Bedford a nickel and we've gotten more good PR out of this effort than we could have ever afforded to pay for."
Quincy, where the site of the proposed Olympic beach volleyball court would have been located, hears relief expressed from many residents. However, a few top officials such as Mayor Thomas Koch and Chamber of Commerce President Dean Rizzo appear to be disheartened by the news.
Communities & People
Springfield pays tribute to Thomas Sullivan, the U.S Marine and Massachusetts native who was killed during the recent attack in Chattanooga, TN. He is remembered by those closest to him for his sense of humor and his love of the Marines.