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CommonWealth Magazine

TRAVELING THE STATE as members of the Governor’s Black and Latino Advisory Commissions, we meet with families whose children represent the persistent achievement gaps in Massachusetts schools. Their children are the two in three black, Latino, or low-income students not reading on grade-level by the end of third grade. Their children are the 72 percent of low-income 8th graders on grade level in math. And their children are the 1 in every 8 Latino students and 1 in every 7 English learners who drop out of high school.

As the Legislature debates a once-in-a-generation reform to the state’s education funding formula, we ask lawmakers to listen to the voices of parents in our communities calling not only for more money, but better results.

In communities we work with, we do not hear parents object to putting programs in place to encourage student performance, unlike others who say we do not need accountability. In Gateway Cities where children struggle year after year, we hear loud and clear from residents in our communities that they want to understand how increased funding will be spent in schools, and ultimately how it will impact their children’s education.

We need more money, and we need programs that measure progress to close achievement gaps.

One way to do that is prioritize college and career pathways as an engine for future success, particularly for low-income, black and Latino students.

In his proposed education funding legislation, Gov. Charlie Baker created a new factor for determining school funding, based in part on the number of students enrolled in an early college or career pathway program. By earning college credits for free before they graduate high school, students have a better chance to complete a college degree. The governor’s bill would give schools an additional $1,050 for every student enrolled in a college or career program. If more high schools launch these programs, we can create more opportunities for black, Latino and low-income students to succeed.

In Massachusetts, only 64 percent of low-income students and 62 percent of Latino students enroll in college. More than one third of black students and a quarter of Latino students who do enroll at state universities must take remedial classes, costing them time and money without earning college credits. Exposing more students to college and careers as part of their high school experience will boost the state’s economy by providing a more diverse pool of college graduates ready for the Massachusetts workforce.

Another way to help struggling schools is to give educators the freedom to make changes within their buildings to impact learning environments for their students. In Springfield, nine middle schools and one high school have started to see improvements after years of poor academic results, through the Springfield Empowerment Zone. The Legislature also has a bill before it filed by Gov. Baker that could replicate this model around the state.

Struggling schools also need incentives to partner with Department of Elementary and Secondary Commissioner Jeff Riley to institute turnaround strategies. In black and Latino communities with persistent achievement gaps, Commissioner Riley could target additional funds to schools to help strengthen and diversify the faculty, provide extended learning time, enrichment programs, and acceleration academies. The governor’s bill sets aside $50 million in new funding for that. We need that targeted aid to turnaround low-performing schools now.

The education funding discussion going on in the Legislature will impact generations of young people. Let’s make sure we don’t wait any longer for results.

Deborah Enos, chair of the Black Advisory Commission, is an executive consultant; Robert Lewis, vice chair of the Black Advisory Commission, is president and founder of The BASE; Robert Harnais of Mahoney and Harnais law firm in Quincy, recently served two years as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association; Josie Stamatos Martinez, chair of the Latino Advisory Commission, is a senior partner and general counsel at Employee Benefit Solutions.

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