Massachusetts: Public Education and Funding Policy, 2015.
By Paula Mathieu
Massachusetts ranks seventh in the nation in overall spending on public education and is among the highest in spending for teacher and staff salaries (Frohlich). In 1993, the state passed the Massachusetts Education Reform Act (or Ed Reform) in effort to better serve students, especially in high-poverty districts. Ed Reform made significant changes to school standards (most notably the introduction of MCAS testing—see below) and accountability, structure, governance, employment policies, and the way schools are financed. According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, this reform did make progress in raising and equalizing educational opportunities for students across the Commonwealth, but much of this support has eroded in recent years (See Schuster). In terms of fairness of funding (between wealthy and poor communities) Massachusetts again ranks seventh out of the 50 states.
Despite its relatively generous spending on education and the high average educational level of state residents (39% have at least a bachelors degree), the Bay State needs to improve its K-12 educational policy, especially in its focus on testing. In 1993 the state developed MCAS, which is standards-based testing required of all public school students in the state. While MCAS remains today, Massachusetts is one of the 12 active states still signed onto PARCC. (Nine other states that originally signed on to PARCC have backed out, citing a variety of reasons.) The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a multi-state consortium working to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored by what it claims to be skills needed for college and career readiness. According to the Massachusetts Department of education “these new K-12 assessments will build a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school, mark students’ progress toward this goal beginning in grade 3, and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction and provide student support.” In spring 2015, 54 percent of districts in Massachusetts will administer PARCC tests to students in grades three to eight. PARCC has earned criticism from many educators for its multiple-choice, test-driven focus that diverts attention from instruction toward testing (see Shepard, eg.). See also Truth in American Education.
In terms of public higher education, Massachusetts experienced weaker than average and declining support from 2002 until 2014 (see Gustafson), in part due to nationwide economic recession. In 2014 that decline of support was reversed due to renewed commitment of legislators. Despite some increase, funding levels still remain sub par and is a focus of advocacy. The recently elected Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, lacks experience or expertise in higher education, and has of yet offered no specific proposals in this area.