House panel mulls education proposals
Boston Globe
By Associated Press, 4/8/2003

The state should ease the new bilingual education law, consider a moratorium on new charter schools, and postpone expanding the MCAS test to include science and history, a House panel is preparing to recommend.

A task force draft report also says lawmakers should review ''the role and necessity'' of the state Board of Higher Education, postpone major changes to the formula used to distribute local education dollars, and maintain funding for a program to reduce class sizes in early grades.

The recommendations are being offered by a task force on education appointed by House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran. A memo containing the ideas was circulated to House members. A copy was obtained by the Associated Press.

The report, which is still subject to revisions and additions, is to be released tomorrow.

Among the dozens of recommendations are several aimed at easing the new bilingual education law approved last year by voters. The law creates a one-year ''immersion'' program, designed to get students with limited English skills into regular classrooms more quickly.

The report recommends that schools be allowed ''to continue successful programs'' that are essentially barred under the new law. It would require schools to send parents regular reports on their child's progress in learning English.

The report also recommends putting off plans to give MCAS tests in history and science. Currently the state gives only math and English MCAS tests, which students must pass to get a high school diploma.

''By limiting MCAS to math and English language arts, districts would be able to focus limited resources to effectively meet the requirements of [the federal] No Child Left Behind [act],'' the report said.

Putting a moratorium on new charter schools would let the state study their fiscal impact on school districts, the report said, and let the state decide if the goals of the charter school movement are being met.

Some of the recommendations differ from those made by Governor Mitt Romney.

The report resists changes that Romney has recommended for the formula the state uses to distribute education dollars to local school districts.

''The formula has played a critical role in helping to achieve the goals of education reform,'' the report said. ''Any changes should be done in a more thorough and deliberative way, outside of the budget process. Allow for fine-tuning to create a new updated or effective formula.''

A Romney aide said the governor will review the proposals, but that it appeared Romney and House members have found common ground on preserving education funding and maintaining special education.

''We look forward to more information, however, on many of the proposals, including placing a moratorium on charter schools and the apparent gutting of the English immersion ballot initiative, which the voters supported overwhelmingly last November,'' said Romney spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman.

Other recommendations include:

Allowing public higher education institutions to keep the ability to set fees.

Creating a Higher Education Study Commission to make recommendations on reorganizing public higher education.

Developing a ''rational formula'' for distributing money to state colleges.

Establishing a special legislative commission to make recommendations by Sept. 15 on a new sustainable approach to education funding.

Reducing the number of reports and audits required of districts.

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 4/8/2003. Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.