The Building on What Works Coalition is a growing collection of educators, business leaders, and elected officials who believe communities need new tools to develop learning systems that give all students a path to success. Gateway City leaders see this coalition as an opportunity to advance the Gateway Cities Education Vision. Last week they gathered for a Beacon Hill forum on next generation school finance organized by the coalition. For this week's lead, we have excerpted from remarks made by Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser at the event.
The Baker-Polito Administration came to office 26 years after the Saxon Commission, 22 years after the Education Reform Act, 10 years after the establishment of the Department of Early Education and Care, and 6 years after the creation of the Executive Office of Education. Federal dollars from the "Race to the Top" program are winding down, even as demands for higher spending across the entire spectrum of publicly funded education are gearing up. For all these reasons and more, this is an appropriate moment to take stock of how we finance public education in Massachusetts.
This doesn't mean we should start with a blank sheet of paper, but it does mean we should take the opportunity to be reflective and even bold. Here are some ideas to get the conversation started:
First, we need to establish greater alignment and even integration between early education, K-12, and college funding streams. As a critical first step, we need to establish finance systems for early education and higher education that incorporate some of the basic components of our K-12 foundation budget. All three levels should have funding formulas that are largely driven by the size and profile of the student populations they serve and take into account individual student learning needs, quality standards, and ability to pay.
Beyond that K-12 should take a cue from both early education and higher education, which have begun moving toward implementation of funding models that incorporate pay-for-quality or pay-for-performance methodologies, offering incentives for higher standards and better outcomes, not just negative consequences for failures.
Second, we need to consider the long-term affordability of the whole, not just the individual parts. Today there are major proposals pending to significantly increase spending commitments at all three levels. Based on what's already on the table, along with the many other demands on the state budget, I am more than a little skeptical that we can afford them all. If we are able to better connect the separate funding systems with one another, there may be ways to squeeze out more bang for the buck.
This implies that we need to take a coordinated approach to developing and enacting new or updated funding plans, rather than pursuing each in isolation. Otherwise, we will end up with a zero-sum competition for resources that will benefit whichever can mobilize quickly to get a bill through the legislature, thereby limiting the options for the others.
Third, we need to get serious about rethinking our approach to teaching and learning. We cannot simply assume that the best interests of students will be served by school designs and instructional practices that employ the same basic educational model that has been in place for well over a century.
Technology is not the solution to all problems. Nevertheless, it is changing the world around us, but it is still barely touching the way in which we educate our young people. When it does, its impact is typically additive, not transformative. We need to invest in new models of teaching and learning at all levels that will both improve student outcomes and reduce costs.
Finally, above and beyond reforming the underlying operating finance system, we must restructure the way in which we allocate state grant resources. We cannot simply assume that we can afford to indefinitely layer new costs on top of the existing base. Grant funding is not supposed to support on-going expenses; instead, it's intended to promote innovation, risk taking, short-term pilots and demonstration projects.
Too often, however, the beneficiaries and advocates for such grants come to see them as general revenues, so rather than making the trade-offs necessary to incorporate successful grant-funded initiatives into the regular operating budget, they pour energy and resources into advocating for funding to layer the new programs upon the old.
We look forward to working with all interested stakeholders in the coming months and years to advance this approach more broadly to improve the quality and affordability of our public education system.
-Jim Peyser, Massachusetts Secretary of Education
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