Massachusetts is poised to pass a broad reform of education policy that would expand the role of charter schools. After a long legislative session that ended in the early hours of the morning, the reform bill passed the House and now only needs to be marked up in conference before going to Deval Patrick’s desk to be signed into law.
Why the sudden urgency to increase school choice in a deep blue state? The answer seems to be that the Obama stimulus bill included a number of funds dedicated to financing state school system reforms that stipulated that the measures must be designed and passed by mid-January in order to be eligible. This proviso has nothing to do with education policy; instead it was designed to hasten job creation. By giving state lawmakers an incentive to get the reforms done quickly, the ARRA is supposed to have a greater stimulative effect for jobs earlier on.
In fact if you look at the Dept. of Education’s outline, the first priority is not reform, but to spend money quickly to save and create jobs. The result, however, is that Massachusetts lawmakers get a $250 million windfall if they pass the bill by midmonth, but nothing if after that. As powerful as the teachers’ unions may be, their clout is overshadowed by the $250 million that politicians would be able to bring home. Teachers’ unions, of course, are usually highly motivated to block most education reforms and charter schools in specific. But their clout is overshadowed by a $250 million grant that comes with few strings attached.
Whether this reform would actually create or save any jobs is a real question. But jobs were the motivation, because for Democrats right now the employment outlook is the number one concern. Maybe the federal government saw that this particular stipulation would work against their allies down the road, maybe it didn’t. But the upshot, as far as I can tell, is that Massachusetts is reforming the school system at an accelerated pace because of the Democratic Congress’s desire to improve the job situation.