Last evening, the Senate passed an amended version of the Education Reform Act. This legislation was the product of many hours of labor on the part of Chairwoman Walz and the Joint Committee on Education. I cannot express enough my deep appreciation for her and the committee’s efforts. These efforts began with the filing of two bills by the Governor that he believes will help strengthen the Commonwealth’s application for a Federal Race to the Top Grant. The first relates to a targeted charter cap lift. The second would modify the Commonwealth’s accountability system for our lowest performing schools and districts, and also provide for more so-called “innovation” in all existing districts.
These bills were combined by the Joint Committee on Education into legislation which attempts to address many difficult and long standing issues surrounding charter schools generally, and also advances ways to promote rapid school improvement and innovation efforts in our traditional district schools.
The bill has now been amended and passed by the Senate. However, as of the sending of this letter, the Senate bill has not yet even been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. Given this, and having spoken with Members individually and listened to the concerns raised at yesterday’s caucus, I believe it would be a disservice to the Members of the House and, most importantly, to the students and families of the Commonwealth to attempt to consider this bill at today’s session.
As the amended bill is analyzed by the Ways and Means Committee, we will focus our energies and resources on crafting legislation that addresses our unacceptable achievement gap and maximizes potential federal dollars by ensuring our application is as strong as possible. We are cognizant of the fact that much of the public school system in Massachusetts is performing wonderfully. We are universally acknowledged as the highest achieving state on national and international assessments of student achievement, and we have sustained that status for an extended period of time.
However, the fact that there is excellence and high achievement in many corners of Massachusetts’ educational system is not an excuse for inaction in the face of glaring need. Far too many children and their families are left behind, and we do not intend to allow that realty [sic] to continue.
Therefore, the House will continue to work on this legislation through the remaining days of the year. Please make sure that during this time you express your concerns and ideas concerning the bill so they can be properly considered. Please also anticipate debate on this matter upon our return to formal sessions in January. As the date for filing of applications for the Race to the Top Grant is January 19, 2009, it would be my intention to debate our own bill, conference with the Senate, and send a final bill to the Governor’s desk in time to have our efforts reflected in the Commonwealth’s application. This course, which gives us sufficient time to complete our work while not endangering our grant application, will be of far greater benefit to the Bay State than if we were to attempt to unnecessarily rush the bill through for the sake of political expediency. The House is dedicated to improving education for all Massachusetts students and will ultimately join with the Governor and our colleagues in the Senate to make timely and significant changes to our educational system without jeopardizing the excellence that characterizes so many of our public schools.
Finally, with respect to CORI legislation, it is my understanding that the Senate will attempt to debate such legislation today. As Chairman O’Flaherty is still in the process of vetting this legislation currently before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, I would similarly suggest that to address it now would be to do a disservice to this important piece of public policy. It would be my intention to allow the committee process to proceed on this matter in order to allow for a full and thoughtful analysis of it policy implications.
At today’s session we have a number of items to address including a vehicle addressing our current budget deficit. I look forward to working with you today on this and the other important matters before us. It has been a true honor to serve as your Speaker for the last ten months, and I can think of no greater honor than the opportunity to continue our efforts together in the coming months as we engage the great challenges—and opportunities—that lay ahead.
Very truly yours,
ROBERT A. DeLEO
Speaker of the House
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