A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 17, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
"HOT" EDUCATION ISSUES AWAIT NEW CHAIR
Finally, we have seen the last of the fall! The skies opened up and gave Massachusetts its first snowstorm of the winter. We have not seen the flurry white stuff for so long that, frankly, I think we were beginning to miss it. This record setting absence of snow has already shattered our dreams of a white Christmas, cut short the days of sledding and snowball fights, and trampled the hopes of thousands of children praying
for school cancellations.
Now that winter is back from its long vacation, we can once again enjoy all the wonderful activities that it provides for us, like shoveling thousands of pounds of snow from the driveway, slipping and sliding on icy roads, and cleaning off the car at 7 in the morning. After 303 days without snow, we can truly appreciate now what we have been missing all that time.
Snow is not the only thing that is new to us this year. Last week, the Democratic Caucus of the House of Representatives ratified the new committee assignments proposed by Speaker Thomas Finneran. While the meteorologists were tracking the impending storm, we were determining which committees our colleagues would serve under for the remainder of their terms.
For the most part, we did not significantly change the composition of our legislative committees, since most of the assignments were done last year. We did, however, approve of three new chairpersons who will assume their new positions in February. The Ethics Committee will be headed by Representative Colleen Garry (D-Dracut) and the Science and Technology Committee will be captained by Arthur J. Broadhurst (D-Methuen), former chair of Ethics. The "musical Chairs" was capstoned by the most significant appointment of the day: the Education Chairmanship, which will be taken over by Representative Lida Harkins (D-Needham).
The Education Committee has been at the forefront of our attention, not only because it is right next door to my office, but also because it has been without a skipper for four months. The previous Chair, Representative Hal LaneB a former principal who resigned his legislative post in SeptemberB left some big shoes to fill for his successor, and with them, some very important issues to tackle. I have no doubt that Representative Harkins, a former teacher herself, is ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.
One topic that has already surfaced for the Education Committee is the expiration of the Education Reform Act and its proposed renewal. During its term of operation, this Act has brought unprecedented levels of state funding to public schools (almost $3 billion) and, in large part, achieved its goal of equalizing education expernditures throughout the Commonwealth. Although this year marks the end of the state legislature's seven year program, our commitment to children will not falter. The upcoming debate will, thus, develop the best means of allocating the state's incredible resources to our schools.
When considering new ways to approach Ed Reform in the coming years, we cannot ignore the area of special education. Over the past several years, the demand for special education has continually increased, placing an incredible strain on the education budgets of cities and towns. As schools simply cannot provide the most appropriate learning environment without adequate resources, they will look to the state to ease their financial obligations. In part, Ed Reform answered this call for more state funding, but continuing such an approach may require extensive discussion, planning, and change.
How best to deal with this very sensitive issue will no doubt keep the new chair busy over the course of the next few months, as the legislature attempts to craft intelligent programs that address the needs of students while keeping costs at a minimum to taxpayers.
A day spent in the Education Committee would not be complete without hearing that all-too-familiar word being spoken at least once: MCAS. This student testing program is only in its initial stages, and yet, there are future dilemmas on the horizon that we must begin taking into consideration. For example, how will we deal with students who do not pass the MCAS and therefore do not graduate? Will the MCAS turn schools into "test prep" centers rather than places of learning? Such questions are already part of the ongoing debate about how to best establish basic standards in schools without "standardizing" our children.
Any legislator knows that a strong system of education is the secret to a good society. Investing in education not only benefits the children who receive it, but guarantees the health of the nation for generations to come. Supporting education is
perhaps our most important obligation, because, in the words of Plato, "The
direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life."