House budget addresses COVID-related education dilemmas

The coronavirus pandemic created – and exposed – multiple problems with the state’s education system, from preschool through high school. Now, lawmakers appear poised to use the must-pass vehicle of the annual state budget to begin figuring out how to address some of these issues.

A large consolidated amendment passed at the end of Tuesday’s budget debate, after midnight, includes several education-related study commissions, funds, and data tracking requirements.

On the childcare side, Massachusetts’ childcare system is primarily private-pay and expensive, with some subsidies available for low-income children – a system that has long raised concerns about the lack of affordable, quality childcare for many families. Forced closures due to COVID-19 and expensive reopening requirements put many providers in financial peril.

The House budget includes several investments in early education, including a new $10 million fund to help lower income parents pay for childcare on a sliding scale.

The budget amendment would create a new public-private trust fund to support early education and care. This would be a way for public money and private donations to be pooled to help the early education field. The use of the money is left broad, so it could be used for technical and financial assistance to providers themselves, for agencies established to help providers and for new programs aimed at shoring up early education.

The amendment would also establish a commission, led by the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Education Committee, to review how childcare programs are funded and make recommendations for legislative changes. The commission would look at COVID-19-related challenges, but would also look more broadly at what funding is available for childcare, models for providing care and what changes can be made to improve access to high-quality childcare.

On K-12 education, one big problem with remote learning is that some children simply have not logged in – and the state is not tracking how many students are in that category. The House budget amendment would require the creation of a remote learning attendance and participation tracking system, and every school district with remote learning would have to track and report publicly on the number of students who have not participated and what efforts have been made to reach those students.

Another problem as schools rely heavily on internet-based learning is the long-standing divide between who has access to high-speed internet and who does not. Stories abound of rural students sitting in parking lots trying to access Wi-Fi because they lack a reliable broadband connection at home. The budget amendment would create a commission to study “equity and access to telecommunications service” including broadband internet and make recommendations for addressing the digital divide. The commission would be tasked with examining the problem in low-income communities and communities of color – where the barrier is often money to pay for internet service – and in rural communities, where the problem is often a lack of connectivity.

The House also wants to require the Department of Children and Families to monitor and report on school attendance for students with open DCF cases.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG 

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Boston officials are threatening to evict the landlord of Faneuil Hall Marketplace for falling behind on a required in-lieu-of-tax payment. The officials link the dispute to the landlord’s failure to grant additional rent relief to tenants.

Hull and Hingham residents call eliminating the MBTA ferries a “terrible idea.”

Opinion: Patrick McQuillan and Kerry Dunne ask: How about a civics project rather than another MCAS test?

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker and lawmakers are wrangling over who will have authority to spend money from an impending opioid-related legal settlement and how it can be spent. (The Salem News)

Baker signs a bill allowing Ava Roy, whose father, Worcester firefighter Christopher Roy, died in the line of duty, to get her father’s pension until she turns 26. Christopher Roy was a single father to Ava, who was nine when her father died, and state law only allows a pension to go to a spouse. (Telegram & Gazette)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A majority of Rockport firefighters threaten to quit unless the town removes its director of emergency services and assistant fire chief from oversight roles and returns departmental authority to the fire chief. (Gloucester Daily Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A report says some of the death toll of COVID-19 at the state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home could have been avoided had the state not shelved a 2012 proposal to remodel or replace the facility. (Boston Herald) A proposal for redesigning the Holyoke home envisions a $303 million renovation project, which would cut capacity from 235 to 204 nursing home beds, while providing mostly private rooms and bathrooms. (MassLive)

Health care facilities are having trouble with staffing as parents cut back hours because they lack childcare. (Boston Business Journal)

A group of infectious disease specialists writes that Gov. Charlie Baker’s new restrictions make sense and can allow schools to safely remain open in the state. (Boston Globe)

A Pocasset woman got a shock this week when she received a bill from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for a coronavirus test on her son, who died 15 years ago. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Joe Biden names long-time aide Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff. (NPR)

National security experts say the Trump administration’s delay in providing briefings to the incoming Biden administration is putting the country at risk. (Boston Globe) Congressman Seth Moulton expands on that idea on GBH.

ELECTIONS

President Trump still insists he’ll win the election, but aides say he has no actual plan for how the results will be overturned. (Washington Post)

The fevered speculation has begun over various political ladder-climbing efforts that could be unleashed by the appointment of Massachusetts elected officials to positions in the Biden administration. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Pfiizer’s chairman and CEO sold $5.6 million of stock in the company on the same day the firm reported positive results for its coronavirus vaccine. (NPR)

A new Amazon “last mile” delivery facility will move into the site of a current Ocean State Job Lot and Bob’s Discount Furniture store in Randolph. (Patriot Ledger)

Massachusetts has again captured the top spot in a ranking of top clusters for science and technology, but some wonder whether that status will hold in a post-pandemic world. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Families of high-need students rip the Boston Public Schools for the district’s handling of schooling, calling the communication and scheduling weak and confusing. (Boston Globe)

Marlborough goes fully remote until next year because hybrid wasn’t working. The town is yellow on the Baker administration COVID-19 dashboard, suggesting in-person learning is appropriate. (MetroWest Daily News) Lynnfield says the state’s guidance make fully in-person learning unrealistic. (Daily Item)

New York City has had few COVID-19 cases in its schools but the mayor may shut down the country’s largest school system again because of surging cases in the city. (New York Times)

ARTS/CULTURE

Retired history teacher Bill Cute was a contestant on Jeopardy and reflects on his interactions with host Alex Trebek, who died this week. (Herald News)

TRANSPORTATION

The Worcester Regional Research Bureau makes several proposals for how to pay for fare-free Regional Transit Authority buses. They include raising taxes, assessing municipalities, using state or federal government grants, or finding a private source. (Telegram & Gazette)

Advocates rallied to protest proposed MBTA cuts, focusing on plans to have Green Line “E” branch service terminate at Brigham Circle rather than at Heath Street near the VA Hospital. (Boston Herald)

President-elect Joe Biden taps high-ranking MBTA official Samantha Silverberg to serve on his transition team overseeing the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Officials in Attorney General Maura Healey’s office raise concerns about the independence of a DPU audit being conducted of National Grid because the firm conducting the audit includes former Grid employees. (WBUR)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Westboro asylum seekers whose families were separated at the border file a second lawsuit suing the US government. It is one of several lawsuits around the country seeking to become a class action representing all families separated at the border under the Trump administration. (Telegram & Gazette)

The man arrested for breaking and entering after walking into Gov. Charlie Baker’s home in Swampscott has been released after the Massachusetts Bail Fund posted the $5,000 bail he was being held on. (Boston Herald)

A Whitman police officer is suing the town, a former police chief and a former town administrator for not accommodating his disabilities. (Patriot Ledger)

A Boston man sent to prison for 41 years for killing a Boston cab driver, a crime he says he never committed, is released after raising questions about whether he was wrongfully convicted. (MassLive)

The DCU Center could be used to hold federal court trials. (Telegram & Gazette)