By John Regan
Massachusetts is about to undertake the most sweeping restructuring of public-education funding since 1993. What does it mean for employers?
The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment, and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different.
However, employers do not support the sort of reform being promoted by some advocates who have been calling at rallies for a ‘blank check’ of billions of dollars of state aid with no accountability.
While the National Assessment of Education Progress indicates that Massachusetts has the best public schools in the nation, that same assessment shows significant achievement gaps between white students and black and Latino students. Massachusetts finds itself in the bottom half of states with respect to black-white achievement gaps across almost all grades in reading and math and in the bottom third of states with respect to Latino-white achievement gaps across all grades in both reading and math. The achievement gap matters to employers confronting a persistent shortage of qualified workers in an economy running at 2.9% unemployment.
Reforming the school funding formula will probably cost taxpayers around $1 billion. Employers understand better than anyone the importance of making strategic investments, but they also know that pouring money into a broken system is not the answer. Employer support for education reform hinges on the establishment of clear and measurable standards that will allow everyone to determine whether changes are working for students, teachers, and the Commonwealth.
The evidence is clear that more money does not equal better educational performance. AIM insists the following accountability measures be part of any education funding reform:
• Fully implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission through a multi-year, fully funded revision to the Chapter 70 formula that will achieve adequacy and equity for all students.
• Maintain and enhance the state accountability system to ensure new funds go to those students who need them the most and are used effectively to close achievement gaps, set statewide and district targets for closing those gaps with annual reporting on progress, and collect and report on data related to college and career readiness.
• Add a new Chapter 70 enrollment category for Early College and Career Pathways to enable replication and expansion of these high-school reform strategies.
• Provide significant and supplemental funding for innovation and the implementation of best practices in underperforming schools.
• Enact Innovation Partnership Zone legislation to provide communities with a new tool for empowering schools and educators to address persistent low performance and encourage innovation.
John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.