Hearing Summary: Innovation Partnership Zones

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, in the Massachusetts State House, the Join Education Committee heard testimony on:

Citizens for Public Schools opposes both bills because they represent yet another avenue to privatize our public schools and remove control from elected school committees, parents, and educators. Together, CPS and our allies in the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance made a compelling case against the bills.

Supporters testified first, including Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, Superintendent of Springfield Daniel Warwick, and teachers from the Springfield School District. They argued the Bill would replicate a successful program in Springfield, the Springfield Empowerment Zone. Despite having just a year’s worth of data, proponents said Springfield model could be a tool for Massachusetts to strengthen underperforming schools.

Opponents countered that Bill S279 is largely disconnected from Springfield’s reality. Maureen Colgan Posner, president of the Springfield Teacher’s Association, made a powerful case that the bill does not draw from Springfield Empowerment Zones, which focused on empowering elected Teacher Leadership Teams. Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and Tom Gosnell, President of the American Federation of Teachers-MA, said the appointed Board of Directors in an Innovation Partnership Zone would be entirely accountable to the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. They said the bill makes no requirement that teachers or the local community be involved in the Board or decision-making processes. Others, including CPS Executive Director Lisa Guisbond, Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teacher’s Union, and several other teachers and public education activists, argued that lack of resources and over-testing, not top-down oversight, are the primary issues, especially for low-income and communities of color. Furthermore, as was noted by numerous opponents and Education Committee member Senator Pat Jehlen, no new legislation is required given that Springfield established its Empowerment Zone under current law.

Overall, Bills S2790 and H304 offer yet another way for communities to give up local power and divert it to the state commissioner of education and his appointees. Instead of concentrating power in the commissioner’s hands, we need to provide more resources and power to teachers and local communities to identify and address their own needs. These bills, unsurprisingly, will most negatively affect low-income and communities of color.

Written by Aidan Orly, Community Organizer for Citizens for Public Schools