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For Education Funding, Hay Says Mimic the Pats

January 13, 2019

IF YOU WANT to know what more work needs to be done to fix the way the state funds public education, think of the New England Patriots, said Fitchburg Rep. Stephan Hay.

Sunday notebook

“We’re in the red zone. Like the Patriots when they’re in the red zone, we want to get into the end zone,” he said a Tuesday forum where residents, school leaders, and city officials attended at Fitchburg State University.

Hay joined Reps. Jon Zlotnik and Natalie Higgins and Sen. Dean Tran at the event to tell the public how they will plan to advocate for changes to the foundation budget during the new legislative session.

FAILING TO PASS legislation to change the way the formula the state uses for public education has been a failure, said Sen. Dean Tran.

“I’ll be the first one to admit to you that the state has failed,” he said at a Tuesday education forum. “It has failed you and it has failed our children.”

That formula hasn’t been updated since 1993, which is when Tran graduated from high school in Fitchburg.

He plans to look at the PROMISE Act, a Senate education bill that seeks to tweak the school funding formula and implement recommendations from the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

REP. NATALIE HIGGINS says Massachusetts is falling behind as a leader in public education because it hasn’t addressed inequity in school funding.

“Kids should not have different opportunities based on the zip codes their parents can afford to live in,” she said at the Tuesday forum that attracted superintendents and municipal leaders from the region.

Higgins, a product of Leominster Public Schools and the state’s public education system, said she worries about the missed opportunities for other children since she graduated from Leominster High School 12 years ago.

Getting people to come together and talk about changes that need to be made will help advocate for students, Higgins said.

“Our kids deserve us showing up,” she said in closing.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS.

Beacon Hill faced a slew of them this week as Gov. Charlie Baker wrestled with what bills deserved his signature to become law, Energy Secretary Matthew Beaton had a call to make on a controversial gas project in Weymouth and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack delivered her verdict on the I-90 viaduct in Allston.

And the administration wasn’t the only branch under the microscope.

Lawmakers settled into the less glamorous side of the job, drafting bills before next week’s deadline, while federal workers waited, and waited, to be given the green light to go back to work and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren prepared for her next exploratory mission.

“Let’s enact this bill into law before the start of the next school year,” Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz challenged her colleagues on Wednesday, as she rolled out a comprehensive education funding bill.

The education bill picks up where stalled negotiations left off in July when talks between the House and Senate over how to update the Chapter 70 local school funding formula broke down. Only this time, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and other municipal leaders are rallying behind the effort in a noticeable way.

Gov. Baker is also in agreement with Chang-Diaz’s timeline, although maybe not the specifics of her bill. Baker intends to file his own school funding reform proposal in two weeks as a companion bill to his annual budget filing, and said there’s no reason it couldn’t get done by June.

That would be a major accomplishment given how far apart the House and Senate have appeared to be on this issues in recent years, but House Speaker Robert DeLeo revealed that even he has been in consultation with “stakeholders” about how to get this done this session.

However, reforming the formula is one thing. Finding the additional money is another. Chang-Diaz said her proposal could cost between $900 million and $2 billion more a year. Taxes aren’t the only option to fund that, but they are the main option for a sum that large, and DeLeo told reporters on Monday its too early to make any decisions about new taxes now.

LIKE EDUCATION FUNDING, the governor, speaker and Senate president have all talked about addressing global warming this session as well. And in Sen. Karen Spilka’s estimation, nothing else will matter if the state (and country and world) don’t get climate action right.

“If we don’t take care of that, we don’t have to worry about education and transportation because our coastal cities will be flooded,” Spilka told environmental advocates at a networking breakfast hosted by the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

THAT’S PROBABLY WHY climate mitigation and adaptation made Mayor Walsh’s legislative agenda, an exhaustive package rolled out by the mayor this week over four days and touching upon everything from traffic to park improvements.

One of Walsh’s proposals -- to raise deed fees to generate more money for the Community Preservation Act -- already has the support of Gov. Baker. The city’s firefighters, however, could not convince the governor that he should sign a bill banning the use of certain flame retardants in products like car seats and mattresses.

The sponsors of the flame retardant bill -- Rep. Marjorie Decker and Sen. Cynthia Creem -- brought firefighters to the State House this week to ramp up pressure on the governor to sign the bill as he was also getting it from the other side. There’s no way the governor won’t sign the bill, they said.

Except there was a way. Because the bill passed on the last day of the session (New Year’s Day), Baker did not have the option of sending it back with an amendment, and on deadline day Friday he decided that’s exactly what he wished he could do.

Baker used his pocket veto power to kill the bill, expressing concerns about the timeline for businesses to comply and the inclusion of certain chemicals used in car seats and adult mattresses that are banned nowhere else in America.

Decker, probably putting it mildly, said she was “deeply disappointed,” and will now have to start over in the new session.

PROPONENTS OF A slew of other policy proposals, however, can rest a little easier knowing that Baker did sign a credit protection bill spawned by the massive Equifax data breach, a financial literacy bill and ones preventing gender discrimination in disability insurance and prohibiting counterfeit airbags.

SECRETARY POLLACK ALSO settled the debate over what to do with the I-90 viaduct in Allston, announcing her decision that the deteriorating structure will be replaced with a ground-level highway, but a section of Soldiers Field Road will be elevated on a new viaduct to keep the infrastructure away from the Charles River. The project, which will take eight years to build, is expected to open up swaths of land in that part of the city for development, walking and bike trails. The opening project price: $1 billion.

MEANWHILE, SEN. WARREN won’t need to take the Mass Pike where she’s going. The second weekend of her presidential campaign will take her north to New Hampshire instead of west, her first visit to the Granite State since she campaigned there in 2016 for Hillary Clinton.

Warren will be looking to make a good first impression. From John F. Kennedy to John F. Kerry, every Democratic presidential candidate from Massachusetts since the ’60s -- with the exception of Ted Kennedy -- has won the New Hampshire primary.

The home field advantage, however, has not often been contested by other neighbors, like Warren might face with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Kerry did beat Howard Dean, though.

AS FOR NEIGHBORS, those who live close to the site of a proposed compressor station in Weymouth begged Gov. Baker this week to deny the project its necessary state air quality permits. The compression station has been a source of controversy for awhile now, but the deadline for the Baker administration to finally make a decision on these permits arrived.

Opponents said the station, which is critical to a natural gas pipeline project that would bring more gas to the region, has no place on a relatively small parcel in a densely populated area near the Fore River, but Enbridge says it poses no risk to residents.

Just before deadline Friday, Beaton and the Baker administration agreed with Enbridge, deciding to issue the permits. They’re not the last permits the project needs, but it was a significant hurdle for the pipeline project to clear.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Everybody’s got big plans. But education reform is first out of the gate.

Contributors to the Sunday Notebook are Sentinel & Enterprise staff writer Mina Corpuz and State House News Service reporter Matt Murphy.

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