Spilka: Lewis will help spur ed reform

House veteran sees Senate focus on results over rhetoric

SENATE PRESIDENT KAREN SPILKA said on Tuesday that she hoped the appointment of a new chair at the Education Committee would help move foundation budget reform forward in the Legislature.

“Education reform was the reason I ran for the Legislature in the early 2000s,” she said as she walked to her office from a midday event at the State House. “As chairman of Ways and Means, we implemented the ed reform, the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations, three times in the last two sessions. Clearly it’s a top priority and it remains one.”

Asked whether she thought her appointment last week of Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester as the Senate chair of the Education Committee (replacing Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain) was a key step in moving the legislation forward, Spilka said: “I believe so.”

The education legislation stalled at the end of last session, with Chang-Diaz blaming House leadership for blocking the bill and repeatedly “moving the goal posts” during negotiations. “I’ve never seen so many rationalizations and double-standards employed to avoid doing what’s right for kids,” she said.

It was subsequently reported that the negotiators were asking state education officials right up until the final hours of the session to estimate the cost impact of various policy options. The cost estimates varied quite dramatically, by as much as $700 million.

Senate President Karen Spilka

Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Boston, the longest-serving member of the House, applauded Spilka’s appointment of Lewis, saying it signals an emphasis on results over rhetoric.

“They want to put a pragmatist there to get something done,” he said, adding that both Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo tacked toward the center of the political spectrum in most of last week’s committee assignments.

“They promoted people who tend to be center-short-left, not far left; not far right. I just love the picks in both the chambers,” said Scaccia, who fended off primary challenges last fall. “I think they picked people who can get things done rather than going into how far you are left or right on issues. They picked positive people who’ll do positive things.”

Some lawmakers may have been eager for a new assignment and the chance to focus on a new set of issues, but it is clear that Chang-Diaz is still invested in making changes to education funding policy.

The Jamaica Plain Democrat filed a bill earlier this year, before she was reassigned, that would substantially boost funding for local education, and sharply criticized Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to do something similar, saying it “falls short” in several areas. After the new committee assignments, Chang-Diaz said in a statement that she would continue working on her legislation, dubbed the PROMISE Act.

Chang-Diaz and Rep. Alice Peisch of Wellesley, who was her co-chair throughout her tenure leading the Education Committee, have failed over the years to reach agreement on proposals to increase the number of charter schools allowed in a given district and to rework the state’s funding of local school districts. Peisch will remain House chair of the joint committee, and Chang-Diaz will take on two new positions atop committees dealing with marijuana policy and children, families, and persons with disabilities.

A former public schoolteacher who taught in Lynn and Boston, Chang-Diaz took over as Senate chair of the Education Committee in 2011 in her second term as a senator.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Sen. Michael Rush, a West Roxbury Democrat who joined Spilka’s leadership team as majority whip, declined to comment on any other member’s appointments but emphasized the importance of cooperation and results.

“I can’t get into the weeds on specific appointments, but I think the message is clear. We have an abundant group of individuals with tremendous talent willing to work together in the Senate and move an agenda forward that the president has outlined – issues she’s concerned with – and getting along with the House and the administration to get things done,” Rush said. “That’s what this is all about.”