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CLT&G Update
Tuesday, July 28, 1998

Greetings activists and supporters:

"This is like 1987."

So concludes Leo Sarkissian, an "advocate for the mentally retarded," about the new state budget that began on July 1. It increases spending on health and human services programs by $314 million over last year, to nearly $8 billion.

I'm sure the teachers union concurs, as another $100 million of our promised tax rate rollback and our billion-dollar TAX OVER-PAYMENT is about to be handed over as its reward for years of incompetence . . . and insuring that the promise was broken and our cash was available to them.

This feeding frenzy surely is reminiscent of 1987 alright. But remember what followed "The Massachusetts Miracle" -- the the Dukakis Fiscal Meltdown, and The Biggest Tax Increase in State History!

But did any of us really believe in Finneran's "fiscal responsibility" or that the pols wouldn't find ways to spend our TAX OVER-PAYMENT like drunken sailors out to sea for far too long?

Chip Ford --

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, July 28, 1998

Leaders set broad plans for teachers;
State would be in forefront in hiring, training

By Kate Zernike, Globe Staff

In their first unified attempt at addressing the state's teaching crisis, top legislative leaders and Acting Governor Paul Cellucci joined the commissioner of education yesterday in proposing what would be the nation's most comprehensive and rigorous program to attract, train, and retain top-notch teachers.

Their plan envisions a series of scholarships, incentives, and new programs from middle school to retirement, all aimed at elevating a profession dragged down in recent decades by a lack of respect and low starting salaries.

Standing at the foot of the grand staircase of the State House, the leaders sought to change public sentiment by asking people to recall those whom House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran called "gems" -- the teachers who have inspired achievement beyond expectation.

"This plan is about the dignity and nobility of teaching," said Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll. "We need to return to a time when teaching was a very, very important aspect of our society. ... This issue is as important as there is for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

The plan plucks the most successful programs from across the country andcombines them with proposals made in the weeks since the state announced that 59 percent of prospective teachers did not pass a basic literacy and skills test. It includes Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham's proposal to offer $20,000 signing bonuses and Cellucci's plan to test existing teachers and fire those who fail.

While some states now include some of the elements of what was proposed yesterday, no state includes them all.

Driscoll said the plan would cost between $5 million and $10 million, a large part of that a onetime expense to set up the endowment for signing bonuses. Finneran said the money would come from the $1 billion state surplus.

Perhaps because it is so ambitious, the plan ran into a wall of skepticism as soon as it was announced. But Finneran, Driscoll, Cellucci, and Birmingham responded with almost belligerent optimism, insisting the Legislature has the money and the will to spend it -- especially since education has shot to the top of the public's list of concerns.

"In the last three weeks I think we have observed a sea change in the decibel level of the rhetoric which has characterized this debate ... away from recrimination, toward constructive proposals," Birmingham said.

Still, there was some jockeying yesterday as each hinted that his own aspect of the plan was most significant -- especially Cellucci, who is running for his first full term as governor. Yet while the leaders admitted they might disagree as the details of the plan are worked out, they said yesterday's announcement was significant because it brought them together to agree on the need to do something.

The support of Finneran, Birmingham, and Cellucci at the State House and Driscoll at the Board of Education is likely to improve the plan's chances of becoming reality in some form.

"As one of several people who expressed their immense frustration with what has become the fiasco of public education, I am encouraged that out of the various sparks that were struck over the last three to six weeks we now have a very public, collective desire and determination to move forward," said Finneran, whose previous statements on the teacher testing debacle had been limited to a speech in which he called the teachers who failed idiots -- a remark he retracted as "impolitic" yesterday.

"They can count me in on the conceptual parts, and I'll try to do my best to fill in the substantive framework."

Driscoll, the chief author of the plan, said he would make specific proposals to the Board of Education on Sept. 15. Some parts would require only board approval, while others would need the Legislature's vote. With only this week left in the year's session, those elements requiring legislative approval would be considered in January.

In the plan, there is something for everyone to like, and something for every politician to take credit for.

The plan reaches as far back as middle schools, to set up Future Teachers of America clubs, and in high schools it would offer college scholarships to students who plan to go into teaching. In colleges, it would expand a current program to forgive the student loans of top performers who go into teaching.

It sets up what Birmingham called an "elite" corps of new teachers attracted by $20,000 signing bonuses. By 2003, it would establish a corps of 1,000 "master teachers" among the ranks of existing teachers. These would train new teachers, who would be considered "apprentices."

The master teachers would be paid to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a Detroit-based group that puts teachers through a yearlong series of hurdles to earn special certification. Teachers who go through the program pay $2,000 and continue to teach but also take a series of tests and are observed teaching during that year.

The plan also would make it easier for those in mid-career in other professions to shift their talents to teaching without having to take teacher education courses, a common deterrent to would-be educators.

For all teachers, it would toughen the recertification procedure from what it is now. (In essence, teachers have to attend courses to get recertified every five years, but do not have to sit through evaluations or any tests.) A new procedure, Cellucci and Driscoll said, would include a test of how well teachers know their subjects.

But even aside from the sheer difficulty of steering such an expansive plan through the Legislature, there are other hurdles.

National board certification, for master teachers, takes time and money. Only 911 teachers nationwide have completed the process in the 11 years since the board was founded. Led by Republicans, Congress recently slashed the national board's federal funding, complaining that it was taking too long to certify too few.

And unions are resistant to teacher testing.

"I didn't hear teacher bashing today, which is an improvement," said Kathy Kelley, president of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers. "But ultimately, I think we're also going to have to do something about salaries."

But to questions of how long the plan would take to reach its goals, and how realistic it is, Driscoll retorted: "How long is it going to take us in Massachusetts to commit ourselves to the nobility of teaching?"

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, July 28, 1998


Progress on teachers

Acting Governor Cellucci and the legislative leadership took good measures yesterday, with union leaders looking on, to depoliticize the next challenge in education reform -- recruiting, training, and rewarding superior teachers. The atmosphere was downright genial compared to last month, when House Speaker Thomas Finneran questioned the value of the teacher tenure system and denounced would-be teachers who failed the state's first certification test as "idiots."

The vitriol has abated, leaving room for legislation that provides a $100 million endowment to recruit top college students into the profession via $20,000 signing bonuses. Funding would be available from the state's final deficiency budget, according to Senate President Thomas Birmingham, who authored the original proposal. The signing bonuses are sound policy and deserve support, especially if combined with merit pay for current outstanding teachers. The need to recruit a dramatically better class of teachers is obvious given the 59 percent failure rate of this year's aspirants.

The commitment to build a corps of 1,000 "master teachers" by 2003 suggests that more than election year strutting is at work. Acting Commissioner of Education David Driscoll favors the rigorous program of the nonprofit National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which demands both intensive subject expertise and the ability to make material come alive for students. Fewer than 10 teachers in the state have sought and received the blessings of the board. By turning to this objective and uncompromising standard, state education officials would strip teachers unions of the familiar complaint of administrative favoritism regarding promotions and merit pay.

The latest initiatives, including scholarships and loan forgiveness packages for highly ranked teacher hopefuls, should find few detractors. The harder work will come when state education officials seek to establish reliable performance evaluations for teachers. Success at the next stage won't be measured in endowment funds but in willingness to discharge chronic underachievers.

State House News Service
Tuesday, July 28, 1998

By Dan Boylan

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 28, 1998 . . . For the first time in the 1990s, spending for human services in Massachusetts is slated to skyrocket in this year's state budget. From wage increases for those who care for the needy to the reinstatement of benefits for mentally retarded citizens, advocates, recipients and providers are excited that lawmakers are addressing long neglected issues and curious about how long that support will last.

"This is like 1987," said Leo Sarkissian, an advocate for the mentally retarded. "Back then, there were decent allocations. This year we'll finally get some good funding, but it's only for this year."

Sarkissian and other advocates say that despite many positive developments, a focused look into the $19.55 billion budget acting Gov. Paul Cellucci will sign this week reveals a reluctance on the part of legislators to step fully up to the mantle of liberalism defined by the state's ambitious public assistance programs of the 1980s.

Still, they say, the budget on acting Gov. Paul Cellucci's desk is a firm step in the right direction. It increases spending on health and human services programs by $314 million, to nearly $8 billion for the fiscal year that began on July 1.

Many agree that Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) and his boss, Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea), whose budgets were more generous than those put forward by the House or Cellucci, have stuck to their ideals and championed the causes of the less fortunate.

However, coaxing others into focusing on social spending, despite a massive revenue surplus and budget that's swelled by more than 6 percent from last year, remains as difficult as ever. "How do you lobby this new generation of legislators who've grown up in a culture of tax less, spend less?" asked one lobbyist. "It's a good question."

"We're a little bit concerned the budget's being painted as 'human services friendly,' " said Greg Payne, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless policy coordinator. "Many working families will still be left out in the cold."

Payne applauded major funding hikes for homeless assistance, including increases for food bank spending and emergency shelters. But he did express disappointment that House Speaker Thomas Finneran (D-Mattapan) failed to follow through on what Payne says is an easy issue -- adjusting the emergency assistance shelter rules regarding income.

Payne said the Senate approved a measure to raise the emergency assistance income guidelines to 130 percent of the federal poverty line, which he explained would allow a parent of two to make up to $8.50 an hour at full-time work and still stay in a shelter. As it stands now, a parent with two children cannot earn more than $6.19 and hour at a full-time job or they'll lose their right to free housing.

"Finneran seemed to support this," Payne said. "Now, we'll have to continue to counsel families to quit their jobs if they are in position of making to much money to be eligible for shelter."

Sarkissian, the executive director for ARC Massachusetts, said election-year politics and a fear of being identified with some of the more liberal causes of the 1980s, has prompted many lawmakers to ignore or distance themselves from certain issues.

Take the acting governor for example. Sarkissian said Cellucci's somewhat awkward support of increases in spending for the mentally retarded illustrates his point. "Cellucci, who has been behind us in private, supporting mental retardation issues, has shied away about his support in the public," he said. "He just wants to talk about tax cuts."

Sarkissian said he's pleased that the fiscal 1999 budget sets out to provide the Department of Mental Retardation with an increase of $10 million to trim roughly 400 individuals from a waiting list of 3,100 who now receive no state benefits.

He also heralded an increase of nearly $7 million for a program that serves 450 mentally retarded citizens who this year will turn 22, the age when recipients traditionally lose state benefits. "This is the biggest voluntary increase in MR spending in recent history," he said. "You can call it liberal, or just responsive to what government really stands for."

On the welfare front, the ultimate taboo cause this decade, Massachusetts Human Services Coalition Director Sean Cahill said lawmakers remain hesitant to tinker with any of the re-tooling they've applied to transitional assistance earlier this decade.

Cahill said he was glad Rosenberg and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth) committed themselves to some welfare issues, like addressing the legal immigrant food stamp shortfall for both 1998 and 1999.

But he lashed out at lawmakers for failing to address what many are calling the major moral issue of the day -- the thousands of welfare recipients who'll be forced off the rolls come this December if they have not found jobs. "When the two-year time limit runs out and thousands will be cut off," he said. Cahill said advocates are calling for exemptions.

Cahill said changing the exemption statutes would cost the state little or no money, but as a moral issue, it would go against anti-welfare sentiments that have prevailed in the 90s.

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