RISE Act: Education Reform For All Our Students

by schangdiaz

Tue, 04/05/2016


Early in 2016, Senate President Stan Rosenberg charged a Senate working group with the task of crafting an education reform bill that does right by all public school students in the Commonwealth. After countless hours of staff work and outside meetings with stakeholders and interested parties, the Senate working group (comprised of myself, Senator Karen Spilka, Senator Dan Wolf, and Senator Pat Jehlen) released S. 2203, An Act enhancing reform, innovation and success in education.

Throughout this process, we listened, and now we are giving a voice to all parents, students, school districts, and teachers.

For full text of the RISE Act: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/189/Senate/S2203

Above all, this bill supports 100% of public school students in Massachusetts -- the 4% of students currently enrolled in charter schools, and the 96% of students enrolled in the traditional core system. Further, the RISE Act puts forth tens of thousands of new seats in innovative classrooms, targeted to districts that are struggling the most. It also lays the groundwork for replication of best practices, both among charter schools themselves and between charter and district systems.

This upcoming Thursday, the Massachusetts State Senate will take up the RISE Act, and has a unique moment to bring together two polarized sides of the education debate. There are many key elements of the RISE Act, and I’d like to walk you through some important parts of this comprehensive bill.

Cap Lift & Innovation

- RISE Act completely blows up the cap on charter schools for at-risk students. (For the first time ever, we will have a category of charter school in Massachusetts that is completely uncapped.)

But who are “at-risk” students?

- Where Massachusetts saw over 5,000 students drop out last year: if a school is primarily serving those young people – the cap does not apply.

- Where Massachusetts has roughly 17,000 children who are homeless and face daunting odds of ever graduating: if a school is primarily serving them – the cap does not apply.

- If the school is serving pregnant or parenting teens – who are 40% less likely to graduate HS than their peers: the cap does not apply.

But what about schools who don’t serve at-risk students?

- RISE Act raises the cap on charter seats in the lowest performing districts from 18% to 23%, at a rate of 0.5% per year.

- RISE Act also incentivizes districts to bring forth more innovative classrooms by allowing them at local option to count Horace Mann charters and Innovation Schools toward this cap.

Between these 2 measures alone, this bill has the potential to bring online tens of thousands of new seats in innovative classrooms across the Commonwealth.

How does this help funding for traditional public schools?

- RISE Act places a trigger on the cap lift. This means that the charter cap will lift in proportion with full Chapter 70 local aid funding, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission. It’s important to note that the Foundation Budget serves both charter and core system students.


How does this put charter and core system schools on the same playing field?

- RISE Act calls for public disclosure of charter school finance, contracts, policies, and board meetings, consistent with disclosure requirements for core system schools.

What about the charter admissions process?

- RISE Act requires that charter schools must admit and backfill students on a continuing basis throughout the school year.

- RISE Act requires that charter schools provide students due process rights in disciplinary proceedings consistent with those provided by traditional public schools.

- The bill also puts in place an opt-out lottery process, through which the charter enrollment system will no longer be restricted to students with parents advocating on their behalf.

- Where the waitlist is concerned, charter schools would be prohibited from carrying over names from year to year; and waitlists from Horace Mann charter schools would not be included in statewide waiting lists.


How can we ensure success in both charter and traditional public schools?

- One of the best elements of the RISE Act is that it puts in place a DESE-administered teacher/administrator exchange program between district and charter schools. This lays the groundwork for replication of best practices, both among charter schools themselves and between charter and district systems.

How does this help teachers?

- RISE Act levels the playing field for educators at charter and traditional public schools in:

o   Requiring teacher certification for all charter and core system teachers.

o   Calls for implementation of state’s educator evaluation system within charter system.

Who supports this bill?

- In the days following the release of RISE Act, we have heard an outpouring of support from the Mass. Association of Schools and Superintendents, countless parents, and students who know this bill helps all children of Massachusetts.

The RISE Act makes critical investments in the core of our public school system that will concretely increase opportunity for every kid in Massachusetts. This bill also renews our commitment to innovation and puts forth serious mechanisms for the replication of best practices – at the macro level and in the trenches.

For most of my time in the legislature, I have spent countless hours working on education reform that supports 100% of students who I put in the middle space of this contentious conversation space. I have always had the same moral standard for what serves those students, and that standard is a mother in my district who wrote to me and said, “I have a child in a charter school and one child in a district school. Please do right by both of my kids.”

Today, I can tell you the RISE Act does right by not just both her children, but all children in Massachusetts who deserve a high-quality education -- no matter what schoolhouse they sit in.

Are you interested in learning more about the RISE Act? I invite you to join me online on Wednesday, April 5 where I will be hosting a Twitter Town Hall to take questions and provide insight on the RISE Act. Don’t forget to follow me @SoniaChangDiaz and use the hashtag #RiseAct to send me your questions.