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Massachusetts Election 2010: The Candidates & Education

November 15, 2010 / Posted by in Blog

By Faith Birnbaum

The political environment in Massachusetts is tense, with the top two candidates for governor, Charlie Baker, Republican, and Democratic incumbent, Deval Patrick, vying for the slim majority of votes. Independent Tim Cahill and Julie Stein are distant third and second, with a combined popularity of less than 9%. The race on Nov. 2 is really between Baker and Patrick, and we want to know their positions on education!

Gov. Deval Patrick
Over the last term, Governor Deval Patrick has had some big accomplishments for education. The most recent was securing 250 million dollars in federal aid through Obama’s program, Race to the Top. That money will be going directly to school districts. Patrick has also advocated and secured other various funds for education: he allocated $204 million from the federal Education Jobs Fun to school districts, ensuring that all districts will receive at least $25 per student more than last year. A large source of federal funding has come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which has provided over 350 million for higher education and 2 billion for K-12 due to Patrick’s advocacy. Under Patrick, the combination of state and federal aid has totaled $4.07 billion, which is the highest in history. Considering this against the backdrop of the economic recession, Patrick has made it clear that educational aid is not an open to cuts.

Patrick has also attempted to close the educational gap between underfunded, under performing schools and the rest of the state. Patrick allocated $27 million to 12 under performing schools to improve student achievement.

A big issue for Patrick is the establishment of more charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. They can tailor their educational programs to fit the needs of the communities they serve, and provide educational choices and innovations for parents. Patrick has raised the cap on charter schools, from 9% to 18%, in under performing school districts in order to increase their numbers. Currently, there are 42 applications for new charter schools waiting to be reviewed. Additionally, Patrick wants to change how charter schools are funded: as of now, the money comes from the school district budget. At times, charter schools have a surplus of money, part of which is returned to the district. He would like to create a separate category for charter schools in state budget, so that the school districts know exactly how much money they are receiving and that charter school funding does not directly take money away from public schools.

The largest teachers’ union in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, (MTA), has given Patrick their endorsement for this upcoming election. Although the MTA and Patrick have had disagreements, they are impressed with his securement of funds for education and his determination to avoid cutting educational aid. In the past, the MTA has disagreed with Patrick over creating more charter schools, which usually do not hire from the teachers’ union, and giving the superintendent more power to re-evaluate teachers.

Patrick has plans for education next term: in addition to securing more funding, opening more charter schools and avoiding cutting educational spending, he would like to adopt educational standards in addition to the MCAS. The MCAS, (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) a test which high-schoolers must pass in order to graduate, is considered more rigorous than the national standards for educational achievement. Patrick would like to keep MCAS, but also develop other tools to monitor students’ progress. He feels that MCAS, although valuable, does not sufficiently measure a student’s education on it’s own. Next term, he would push to develop other educational diagnostic tools. Patrick would also like to implement a merit-based pay system for schools. This would be on a team by team or school by school system to foster collaboration. He has also mentioned expanding early education by creating a free full-day kindergarten program available for all 5 year olds
Charlie Baker has criticized Patrick’s education record, stating that because he failed to go after certain saving and reforms, there has been a loss of 3,200 teachers and 140 million in higher education fuding, which could have been avoided.

Charlie Baker
Charlie Baker has also spoken about education. He wants to keep MCAS, and only MCAS, as a graduation requireme. Massachusetts has already invested time and money into developing MCAS, so he does not see the value of spending more money to adopt and implement additional standards. Baker has spoken against cutting local aid, and he proposes to downsize the state bureaucracy in order balance the budget. He would like to tie teacher evaluations to student performance, give the superintendents greater authority over the hiring and firing of teachers, and give states more resources to change under performing schools. He is also in favor of charter schools.

Patrick has critiqued Charlie Baker’s proposals, claiming that his tax cuts would result in a $2.5 billion cut to the budget. Baker has not said how he would fund local aid and have tax cuts simultaneously.

Patrick has also attacked Baker’s record: Charlie Baker was on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, where he missed 1/3 of the meetings and voted to cut education funding. Charlie Baker has repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment to local aid and promises that he will not cut it.

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