Public Policy Updates: September 2022 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met for their September meeting at 9 am. The agenda can be found online here; the video of the meeting here. The meeting started a bit late due to traffic.

The Board opened with some comments regarding the 50th anniversary of M.G.L. Chapter 766, covering special education, which was a forerunner of the federal IDEA law. Secretary Peyser also noted that STEM week is coming up October 17.


The Board voted in Matt Hills as their new vice chair.
Chair Katherine Craven appointed Rouhanifard and Canavan to the subcommittee on teacher diversity; Mohamed and Plankey to the budget subcommittee, serving with Stewart; Moriarty to chair, Rouhanifard, West, Lombos to a special committee on pandemic literacy recovery.

Commissioner Riley noted that most schools have been back for a month, and said it had been a quiet opening. While the President said earlier this week that the pandemic is over, Riley said it is still something we need to deal with in schools; districts have been advised to have supplies as needed. 
MCAS scores will be publicly released next month, and Riley advised that we should think in terms of a 3-5 year recovery. 
Riley also intends to go back to the process pre-pandemic of having schools and districts under receivership or other particular state scrutiny come to Board meetings; this will include Boston.

Vice Chair Hills took the opportunity ask that districts be reminded of what was not flexible, as we consider possible pandemic surges over the winter, including the lack of flexbility on remote schooling counting towards the state mandated 180 days of school. The Commissioner noted that this holds for snow days. West asked that the Commissioner "lean harder" into reporting on receivership districts for the Board to understand where they are at. Rouhanifard observed that those struggling with disregulation often are also struggling academically; he cited the use of "high dosage" tutoring in some districts. He wondered about making solutions sustainable. Riley spoke of the use of Student Opportunity Act funds and avoiding a fiscal cliff. West also mentioned the use of Medicaid funds, as well. Plankey also noted that some districts have tutoring clubs run by students. 

Lisa Graf, delayed by traffic, spoke for public comment regarding proposed bullying regulations: the term "aggressor" is proposed to be expanded to include member of school staff. Graf said she hoped the Board will consider adversives used to control students as examples of bullying.

The Board next heard a presentation on student mental health. The Department is working to support the work of schools and districts long term. Some of this is through the social emotional learning and student mental health grant. Both Chelsea and Holliston spoke of the work being done in their districts, through engaging with their communities together in this work. 

The Board briefly spoke of and then passed updated regulations regarding early screening of students for literacy, specifically focusing on dyslexia. 

The Board also quickly passed the proposed amendment on the seal of biliteracy and the certificate of mastery, aligining those requirements with regulations that have previously been changed. 

The Board then got an update on finances. DESE CFO Bill Bell said the Department is currently actively implementing the close to $7B it oversees. He noted the announcement of a state supplemental grant program for HVAC which is being directed at districts with high numbers of low income students, with high impacts from COVID, which also have higher amounts of facilities needs. He also noted a second year of grant specifically to special education schools and programs. 
Regarding federal ESSER funding, Bell updated:

ESSER I: 99% claim (ends in 10 days!)

ESSER II: 53% claim rate

ESSER III: 17% claimed which he said was "not surprising...we've encouraged districts to use their older funding first"

West said that he'd been seeing national headlines regarding districts not spending ESSER dollars quickly enough, and he asked for Bell's perspective. Bell noted that federal dollars are in "the minority position" in Massachusetts, with most funding for school districts coming from the state or local municipalities. He said it is "somewhat of an inaccurate headline, to be honest with you...I don't chuckle, but I don't think it's a fair headline." He said, "To me, districts are doing what they should be seems to me they're on track...we have no reason to believe districts aren't spending it well." Riley noted also his doubt that the federal government will extend federal ESSER deadlines for spending. Peyser asked briefly about supplemental budget timelines. 

The Board is next scheduled to meet on October 24.