Current Topics

Wheelock Students Advocate at the State House for Financial Aid

February 26, 2014

This past Monday, Wheelock College participated in AICUM's annual Student Financial Aid Day at the State House. This annual event provides an opportunity for students to advocate for funding to the need-based financial aid programs critical to helping student get to—and through—college.

Student group

State Senator Sal DiDomenico and House Speaker Robert DeLeo addressed over 100 students participating in the event, including students from Wheelock. Sen. DiDomenico spoke about his own story attending Boston College at night while working during the day. He stated that money should never be a barrier to higher education, and encouraged students in similar situations to not give up on completing their college degree.

Senator Sal DiDomenico

House Speaker DeLeo emphasized his support for need-based financial aid and higher education in general. He also spoke to the need for MA to retain talented students graduating from MA colleges in the state. He encouraged students to visit their representatives in the State House later that day to communicate their support for need-based financial aid as constituents.

House Speaker DeLeo student meeting

Following the program of speakers, Wheelock's students visited legislators and told their personal stories as to why need-based financial aid is so vital to their education. It is this type of student advocacy that will once again make a difference in protecting funding for need-based financial aid programs in the state budget as it did last year when the Legislature increased funding by $3 million!

 students holding shirts

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The Opportunity Agenda 

January, 30, 2014

Governor Deval Patrick and President Obama delivered their state addresses on Tuesday, January 28th. Both sets of remarks, delivered by great orators, included a number of similarities and common policy priorities. Raising the minimum wage, addressing health care technology challenges, economic development, expanding access to early education, improving public education and, most of all, creating access to opportunity are just a few of their goals for the upcoming fiscal year and remaining legislative sessions.

Gov. Patrick also reflected on the successes and challenges of his Administration, and centered his speech on what is likely to be part of his lasting legacy in the Commonwealth: "Creating opportunity, keeping the dream within reach is the agenda now, just as it has been for past 7 years," the Gov. declared before legislators, constitutional officers and others crowded into the House chamber to hear what was his final State of the State.

Indeed, this agenda has been a priority that Patrick has spoken to and acted on throughout his tenure as the Commonwealth's Executive. As I was watching last night, I could not help but remember remarks he made last Feb. in support of expanding need-based financial aid in the state budget. Gov. Patrick, who was poor as a child and lived in a tenement home on the South Side of Chicago, remembered his Grandmother's excitement when he called to tell her that he had been accepted to Harvard University. "Now where is that anyway," she asked while trilled for her grandson. "What she was excited about was not the prestige, but the opportunity," he was quoted saying in the Patriot Ledger. "It is always what matters."

Click here to read the full blog

Testimony to Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt from President Jenkins-Scott

October 24, 2013

On October 24, Wheelock College President Jackie Jenkins-Scott provided testimony to the Subcommittee on Student Loans & Debt. Here is an excerpt:

"Members of the Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt,

"Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on a topic of great significance to me as the President of Wheelock College and to the students who attend our institution in pursuit of its unique public mission—to improve the lives of children and families.

"Wheelock College shares the Committee's concerns about the issue of high debt levels for students and alumni. We are dedicated to finding workable solutions to bring down this burden. Although our tuition increases have been modest, our budget for financial aid, including scholarships, grants and loans, has increased at a faster rate than tuition, resulting in more financial support to our students than ever before. Unfortunately, however, as student need has increased, state and federal financial aid has decreased."

Click here to read the full testimony.

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New Campaign Launches to Improve Early Childhood Outcomes

October 7, 2013

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is making early education a priority. The Clinton Foundation recently joined Next Generation to launch the "Too Small to Fail" campaign, a new initiative that focuses on improving the health and well-being of young children under five.

Check out this powerful video and click here for more information about the Too Small to Fail campaign. Don't forget to read Sec. Clinton's recent op-ed called, "Closing the Word Gap."

About the Too Small to Fail Campaign's Mission:

Too Small to Fail aims to help parents and businesses take meaningful actions to improve the health and well-being of children ages zero to five, so that more of America's children are prepared to succeed in the 21st century.

We are working to promote new research on the science of children's brain development, early learning and early health, and we will help parents, businesses and communities identify specific actions, consistent with the new research, that they can take to improve the lives of young children. As we do this work and secure commitments to action, we will use social media, other technology-driven tools and innovative approaches to inform and empower parents and business leaders to track their progress and measure their success.

Our next generation truly is Too Small to Fail-every child deserves the best possible chance at success. Early childhood experiences have a deep impact on the rest of a child's life, and America's future economic prosperity will ultimately be determined by the success of today's children. Too Small to Fail is about parents, caregivers, other concerned individuals, and the private sector coming together to take small, research-based actions with big impacts. We hope you will join us in helping prepare America's children to succeed in the 21st century.

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Federal Shut Down & Higher Education.

September 9, 2013

The federal government is closed due to a dispute over enacting the Affordable Care Act.

As of right now, the impact of the shut down on higher education is not significant. Students will continue to have access to Pell grants and federal loan funding for their education. DOE's web site remains active, unlike many web sites and online accounts operated by the federal government. In advance of the shutdown, the Federal Student Aid Office issued a technical guidance document that provides further information about the operation of financial aid programs while most of the federal government is closed for the day, days, week or even weeks. Please click here for further information about financial aid operations within the context of the shutdown.

90 percent of DOE employees are now furloughed, and will remain so if the shutdown continues for one week. However, if appropriations are not granted within a week, the impact could be significant. DOE updated its contingency plan on Friday, providing a glimpse into the consequences of under such as scenario.

A protracted delay in Department obligations and payments beyond one week would severely curtail the cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities, and vocational rehabilitation agencies that depend on the Department's funds to support their services. For example, many school districts receive more than 20 percent of their funds from Department-funded programs. Colleges rely on Higher Education funds to pay ongoing expenses of staff running programs for disadvantaged students seeking to enter and stay in college. Vocational rehabilitation agencies receive 80 percent of the cost of providing services to adult individuals with disabilities from the Department's program.

Below are useful articles with additional information about the shutdown's impact on higher education and other programs:
Plans for a Shut Down (Inside Higher Education)
How a Government Shutdown would Affect Academe (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Absolutely everything you need to know about how the government shutdown will work (The Washington Post)

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Boston Heads into General Election

September 23, 2013

The results are in! State Representative Marty Walsh and City Councilor At-Large John Connolly will now compete in the general election for Boston's Mayor. Eights candidates will vie for 4 At-Large City Council seats:
Ayanna Pressley
Michael Flaherty
Stephen Murphy
Michelle Wu
Martin Keogh
Jeffrey Michael Ross
Annissa Essaibi-George
Jack Kelly, III

The general election will be held on November 5, 2013.

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Vote, Vote, Vote!

There is less than one week to go until Boston's primary election for Mayor, City Council District seats and City Council At-Large seats. A recent Mayoral election poll by the Boston Globe shows one third of likely voters are undecided as to which candidate they favor. Nine of the 12 candidates fall within the poll's margin of error, underscoring the importance of voting on Election Day, September 24th. Below are resources for voters:

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President Jackie Jenkins-Scott's Gun Safety Testimony

At 10 a.m. Friday, September 13, 2013, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security will hold a formal hearing on gun issues at the State House's Gardner Auditorium. Below is the text for the submitted to the Jt. Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security by Wheelock President Jackie Jenkins-Scott.

Chairman James E. Timilty
Massachusetts Senate Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security
State House, Room 507
Boston, MA 02133

Chairman Harold P. Naughton, Jr.
Massachusetts House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security
State House, Room 167
Boston, MA 02133

September 4, 2013

Chairman Timilty and Chairman Naughton,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony in support of strengthening Massachusetts' gun safety laws. In January 2013, I was proud to be one of the 254 college presidents who signed a pledge to lead campus discussions about how to best address gun violence in America. The pledge supports President Obama's effort to create a national conversation on mass killing, gun violence and mental health in our country and urges him to pay particular attention to measures that would restrict access to assault weapons.

I submit this testimony in that same spirit today. I urge the Committee to do all it can to expeditiously advance legislation that addresses illegal gun trafficking; takes steps to make schools safer; bans assault weapons and high capacity magazines; and prevents violent individuals from acquiring guns while balancing the privacy rights of people with mental illness. These steps towards gun safety would take Wheelock, our students, alumni, faculty and staff, and the 280 community agencies we work with across Massachusetts, closer to the College's public mission to improve the lives of children and families.

The shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School have renewed the concern over safety in our schools. As the President of Wheelock College, a private, nonprofit higher education institution that is known for preparing teachers and human service professionals, school safety was at the center of conversations on campus following the tragedy in Newtown. These conversations with students and expert faculty highlighted that safety and security in schools does not come from armed guards or simply adding security systems to buildings. Safety in schools ruminates from within the communities they are located.

While Massachusetts boasts some of the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, more than 200 people are killed each year in this state as a result of gun violence. The individual and neighborhood trauma levied by these deaths as well as non-fatal incidents of gun violence holds families and neighborhoods hostage, preventing them from reaching their full potential. In order to make communities safer, and in turn schools safer, legislation advanced by the Committee must address the problem of illegal gun trafficking that is responsible for the majority of guns used in violent street crimes. Guns obtained through the internet or gun shows without criminal background checks or through straw purchasers are not protected by the Second Amendment. Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, many leaders and advocates have called for gun control legislation that makes "common sense" reforms while balancing the rights of current or would-be gun owners. I see none more common sense as closing the loop holes that fuel illegal gun trafficking as well as banning military assault weapons and high capacity magazines in the Commonwealth. More than half of the 63 mass shootings that have occurred within the last three decades have involved assault weapons equipped with high-capacity magazines. More children, youth and adults would be alive today if the power of these military grade weapons were not at the shooters' disposal.

Lastly, mental health has been part of the conversation over gun control here in Massachusetts and nationally. At Wheelock and elsewhere, it spurred a conversation about the need for accessible and affordable mental health services for all ages. In other places, however, this conversation has mistakenly turned towards penalizing individuals with mental illness and labeling all people with mental illness as violent. I support legislation that prevents violent individuals from acquiring guns by improving background checks. However, as a social worker, I urge the Committee to cautiously balance this goal with the privacy of people experiencing mental illness, the majority of who are not violent. Legislation that would sweepingly mandate the release of mental health commitment records to licensing agencies could infringe on the rights of people with mental illness and could stop individuals from seeking treatment if not narrowly tailored within the legislation.

Wheelock College cannot fully accomplish its mission to improve the lives of children and families until gun violence and its pervasive negative impact on communities is reduced. For this reason, I urge the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security to advance legislation that promotes gun safety, reduces gun violence and takes a balanced approach to the addressing mental health, as it relates to gun control, by considering the suggestions described herein.

Thank you again for the opportunity to submit testimony on this important matter.

Jackie Jenkins-Scott
President, Wheelock College

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2 Weeks until Election Day in Boston!

Sept. 10, 2013

Today marks two weeks until Boston's Primary Election on Sept. 24. The candidates have been very busy, especially those running for Mayor. Check out a recap from last night's Mayoral forum by MassCreative on the arts as well as a recording of the NECN/Boston Herald forum at Suffolk University.

Also, take a moment to visit a new blog I recently came across: bostonedblog.com

About BostonEdBlog:
"Just 6 weeks ago, we—a group of volunteers, BPS parents, and concerned citizens—launched the Boston Ed Blog with the goal of keeping education front and center in the Mayoral election. Since then we have endeavored to learn along with you, and listen to the candidates ...

This moderated blog exists as a citizen portal to highlight issues and inspire ideas for the duration of a vital electoral season."

The blog encourages public conversations on a host of educational topics, such cradle to career learning, family engagement, extended learning time, staff development and much more. It is also hosting a poll, which closes on Sept. 21st.

BostonEdBlog.com is definitely worth the visit for BPS parents, Boston residents, educators and anyone following the debate over education within the Mayor's race.

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Testimony in Support of H1832/S51, An Act Establishing an Education Loan Repayment Program for Social Workers in Areas of Need

Professor Hope Haslam Straughan
Joint Committee on Higher Education
State House, Room 472
Boston, MA 02108

June 14, 2013

RE: Testimony in Support of H1832/S51, An Act Establishing an Education Loan Repayment Program for Social Workers in Areas of Need

Chairmen Sannicandro and Moore and Members of the Joint Committee on Higher Education:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on HB1832/SB51, An Act Establishing an Education Loan Repayment Program for Social Workers in Areas of Need. As the Associate Dean of Social Work at Wheelock College, I urge the Joint Committee on Higher Education to support this important legislation.

H1832/S51 would establish a pilot program that repays the student loans of licensed certified social workers (LCSW) working with high needs populations, including the elderly and vulnerable children. It will ensure qualified and educated professionals are able to enter the field by providing an affordable educational option. Individuals who join the social work profession do so with altruistic intensions. As the preamble of our code of ethics states, "the primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty."

Unfortunately, the monetary value of this essential work in society is low. According to the National Association of Social Workers, the average compensation for a master's level social worker with 2 to 4 years of experience is $35,600. Social workers are aware of their earning potential when selecting the profession, but their passion and commitment for helping others is too strong to ignore. As a result, the average BSW student assumes $24,809 in debt and the average MSW student assumes $42,890 in debt by the time they graduate. In a time when the cost of higher education continues to grow and compensation for "helping professions," such as social work, remains low, students will be dissuaded from entering the field and professionals will be forced to leave it if this unmanageable financial situation is not addressed. HB1832/SB51 is a step towards that direction.

Furthermore, I understand that the legislation aimed at containing health care costs, which was passed by the Legislature in 2012, included student loan forgiveness provisions for doctors, nurses, physician assistants and other medical practitioners that work in underserved areas. LCSWs work alongside these professionals every day, and therefore deserve the same opportunities for student loan forgiveness.

Again, I urge the Committee to support HB1832/SB51. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on this important matter.

Sincerely,
Hope Haslam Straughan, Ph.D., MSW, ACSW
Associate Dean for Social Work, Leadership, and Policy & Associate Professor of Social Work
Wheelock College

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The Policy Connection 2013 Student Blogger Contest

1st Prize Entry:
It's Time for Feminism by Haley Weinreich

I've done a lot of things this year. I've started my junior year at Wheelock College, I (finally) moved out of my parent's house, and I begrudgingly learned how to pay my own bills. But, by far, the most important thing I've done this year was discover feminism. Feminism is a scary word to a lot of people, and it should be. Feminism means refusing to accept the way things operate in our society. It means that things are going to change.

Feminism means equal pay for women. It means self-governance over our own bodies. It means leadership opportunities, shattering the glass ceiling, being able to comfortably walk alone at night, and it means that your gender doesn't determine the way you're treated in this society.

I was prompted to write about a pressing social problem, one that community leaders or activists can address, and the steps they might take to resolve it. Picking the unpopular hot button issue of feminism probably won't help my chances of getting this published, but this is the most pressing social issue in my life, as I experience oppression based solely on my gender every single day. I am tired of being told I should be more focused on finding a husband than pursuing a career in politics. I am tired of being told that ‘I'm smart- for a girl.' I am tired of the way I dress determining the way people treat me. Most of all, I am tired of knowing that I'm not alone in this exhaustion. These experiences are unfortunately not unique to me. Instead they are the collective experiences of the sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends, and daughters that have the audacity of being born female.

Change will not come easily or quickly. A simple shift in policy will not do the trick, nor will personally identifying as a feminist. We need a multigenerational societal solution for a multigenerational societal problem. Lawmakers can do a better job of introducing and passing bills pertaining to equal rights for women. Businesses can do a better job of hiring women for the positions they are qualified to assume. Schools can do a better job of instilling equality among their male and female students. We can all do better.

It's time for a change. We live in a flawed society-one dictated by media and politics instead of knowledge and compassion. I want to live in a world where I have a say in the way things are run, and one where my gender doesn't decide if I achieve my dreams. I was 18 years old before I saw the first female Senator of Massachusetts elected, and frankly that was 18 years too long. It's time for women in powerful positions to not be an anomaly. It's time for little girls who dream of being President or working on Capitol Hill or running a company to have living proof that it is not only possible, but that it's achievable. It's time for men and women to realize this problem is not a ‘woman's issue,' it's an economic issue, a family issue, a human rights issue, and a public safety issue. It's time for us to organize and refuse to accept the society we live in is a lost cause. I came to Wheelock College for one very specific reason-to inspire a world of good. It's time for all of us to take on that challenge, to better ourselves, our families, our communities, our states, our country, and our world.

It's time for Feminism.

HaleyAbout the author:
My name is Haley Weinreich, and I'm graduating in 2015 with a double major in Political Science & Global Studies as well as American Studies. I plan on pursuing graduate degree in Political Science, and hope to one day represent the people of Massachusetts in Washington DC. I'm interested in politically advocating for marginalized demographics, and increasing political participation among my fellow students and citizens.

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2nd Prize Entry:
Unaccompanied Homeless Youth in Massachusetts: What Does This Mean?

It happens to be a snowy day in March and I sit in the comfort of my warm (relatively) house in the suburbs of Boston. I am a middle-aged graduate student at Wheelock College studying contemporary issues of children and families. One of our assignments is to research and report on a personal topic of interest. Professionally, I am the Director of Training at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women. I could write extensively on the importance of afterschool for children and youth, but today I must write on another topic.

A few years ago my daughter, while in college in Connecticut, invited me to a community gathering she helped organize on human trafficking. The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness of the topic and to encourage attendees to take action to help support young women who are lured or forced into a captive life of servitude or sexual exploitation. The impetus nationwide is to provide supports for the women to decriminalize their actions and to find, prosecute, and penalize the "johns" and pimps. At the time Massachusetts was one of three states without human trafficking legislation.

Today, Massachusetts has legislation in place against human trafficking but it is time to enact new legislation to protect a particularly vulnerable group of young adults who can fall prey to those who would enslave them into a life of sexual exploitation. These youth are called "unaccompanied homeless youth" and are defined as 1) under the age of 25 and 2) not in the physical custody or care of a parent or legal guardian and 3) lacking fixed, regular, and adequate housing. My intent is to draw attention to the importance of passing legislation to support unaccompanied homeless youth to them help avoid mental trauma, dropping out of school, living on the street, or becoming victims of human tracking. The multiple risks faced by homeless youth trying to survive on their own demand solutions that encompass stable housing, access to mental health services, job and skill development, etc. Therefore, legislation or state funding through line item budgeting is needed to enable these wraparound services.

First we must find these young people. An anecdotal phrase that describes one survival mode is "couch surfing." This term refers to youth that move from house to house seeking temporary refuge with help from relatives, friends or strangers. Others live on the street trying to survive by work (hard to get) or petty crime, selling drugs, trading sex for food or money or get caught up in the ravages of prostitution and illegal activities. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA DESE) estimates that there are approximately 6,000 high school students unaccompanied and homeless. This figure does not include those who have already dropped out of school or older youth aged out of the school system.

A classmate of mine "adopted" a homeless high school senior when her son brought him home one day saying that he had nowhere to live. He stayed for the remainder of the school year and enlisted in the U.S. Army upon graduation. This boy is fortunate- care came to him, but it is estimated by the Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth that 50 high school students were homeless in the same town as this boy that year. It is unlikely many of those adolescents were as lucky.

I am grateful for my warm house and my family. I am so far removed from the experience of homelessness that it is hard for me to picture the day-to-day suffering of those affected. I donate money and I volunteer at a downtown shelter, but that is easy and I always go home to my own bed. Some reports describe the effects of street life as mirroring post-traumatic stress syndrome. We can look to nonprofits and churches to assist but it is time to act legislatively. We have the means to offer help and support through our public institutions and through our policing response. The human trafficking legislation passed in Massachusetts to protect vulnerable children, such as homeless youth, from sexual exploitation is proof of that fact. Giving first responders the ability to safeguard youth rather than arrest them, similar to the human trafficking legislation, is essential. Massachusetts has taken steps in this direction but it must go further with legislation and/or budgeting specifically directed towards unaccompanied homeless youth. I urge you to support the work of the Massachusetts Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Commission in addressing this issue. Visit the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless for more information and steps you can take.

Reference:
Homelessness in Massachusetts Public Schools. from http://www.mahomeless.org/images/2011_data_8-12.pdf

KatherineAbout the author:
Katherine Schleyer is an Educational Studies Graduate Student (degree expected Dec. 2013). As the Director of Training at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, I work to support the professional development of afterschool staff. My primary focus is on the use of assessment tools to improve program quality and to help youth reach positive outcomes.

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3rd Prize Entry:
ATTENTION!
Childhood Depression: A Hidden Disorder Impacting Our Nation's Youth
Written by Stephanie Ambroziewicz

When it comes to depression, adults are not the only ones who are affected. Childhood depression impacts 24% of America's children and adolescents, and is increasingly underdiagnosed and undertreated, leaving many to suffer. Depression is a "hidden illness," which accounts for why so many children are not receiving proper diagnosis and treatment. More specifically, the symptoms that accompany depression in youth are not the familiar symptoms American's associate with adult depression. For adolescents, their symptoms are a great deal similar to those of adults and are also easier to detect. For children, however, the symptoms can be more subtle and easily attributed to other factors. With this in mind, awareness must be raised around the early warning signs of childhood depression so adults can provide better care.
This issue is personal. There is a child in my life who I had concerns about for some time now. It was not until I sought out a professional's opinion that I realized my concerns were well founded, and that the signs of depression were actually being manifested as behavioral issues. From this experience, I understand the seriousness of this condition and how it is so easy to misread the signs in childhood. Without my own awareness, however, this child could still be suffering.

Broader public attention is especially needed because the problem is not explicit, but instead manifests itself very much like "normal" childhood behavior, as shown in the example from my own experience above. Some common components of childhood depression include: temper tantrums, runaway episodes, academic failure, boredom, and fatigue. Since these behaviors may be common amongst growing children, the thought of it being a more serious issue is not one typically entertained. Stigma attached to mental illness and the primary methods of treatment, such as medication, also prevents families from accepting that these symptoms could be related to a more serious condition. Let's be honest, no parent really likes the idea of medicating their child. These factors contribute to the low numbers of children who receive treatment even though it is likely that the need for help is much higher.

Recently, with the Newtown tragedy that struck our nation's youth and families, mental health has been an area of much discussion. It is my hope that with the rising action around mental health screenings, childhood depression and the children it affects will finally be noticed and cared for properly. 24% of young people have suffered from at least one clinically significant depressive episode by the time they reach 18 years old. I am increasingly concerned about this and you should be too. Awareness around childhood depression is not about parents, professionals and policy makers. It is about these children, as well as the many more that go undiagnosed and untreated, and the healthy lives they deserve to lead.

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Fact Sheet—President Obama's Plan for Early Education for all Americans

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. As part of that effort, the President will propose a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child—beginning at birth and continuing to age 5. By doing so, the President would invest critical resources where we know the return on our dollar is the highest: in our youngest children.

Click here to read the Fact Sheet

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Neighborhood over quality in school plan?

By Mary Battenfeld

On Monday night, cameras flashed, hugs were exchanged, and everyone congratulated the External Advisory Committee on School Choice on its selection of a new student assignment plan for the Boston Public Schools. Based in both family address and school MCAS performance, the assignment model answers the call for "quality schools, close to home."

Or does it? Driving to my house after the Beacon Hill meeting, through Chinatown, the South End, Roxbury, and finally to Jamaica Plain, I worried about children who have no quality schools close to home.

Children like those in a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African-American to receive a Pulitzer Prize. Brooks begins with a haunting question:

"What shall I give my children? who are poor,

Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land?"

What we give our children - mine, yours, and the ones in the poem - is what school assignment is all about. Children are our hearts and our hopes, wrapped in one beautiful but fragile package. A high-quality school sends our children out to a better future, while a poor one imperils them.

The assignment model now before the Boston School Committee could potentially give children more equal access to high quality schools. But in its current form, the "Home-Based A" plan essentially guarantees neighborhood schools while merely promising quality schools. It rewards more affluent neighborhoods with access to good schools, even as it leaves poorer neighborhoods and communities of color with many low-performing schools, and no certain path to better ones.

Compare, for example, the choices of a family on Moss Hill, one of Jamaica Plain's wealthier areas, to that of a family in Roxbury's Grove Hall. The Moss Hill child gets a bucket teeming with quality schools, including seven in the top two levels, and just one school in the lowest MCAS ranking.

For the Grove Hall family, two top-tier and four second-tier schools are mandated by the Home-Based A plan. But their bucket also includes seven of the city's worst performing schools. Just 42 percent of a Grove Hall family's choices are quality schools. On Moss Hill, it's 87 percent.

That's inequity, as stark and bleak as City Hall Plaza. And while the home-based plan may not be the blizzard of inequitable access that some other plans would have been, it's still a substantial storm.

Instead of providing mechanisms to plow away that inequity, the External Advisory Committee left with a promise to get to it later. It kept in place the so-called walk-zone priority that favors those with good neighborhood schools. Nor was anything done to assure a more proportional balance of quality schools in address-based choice baskets. In the end the advisory committee also gave up on tools to chip away at socioeconomic inequity, such as reserving seats in quality schools for families who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Student assignment alone cannot fix the crushing disparities in our city's schools. But we can use it to make things better, or worse. We can accept inequality and segregation as inevitable, or turn education, as the great nineteenth century reformer Horace Mann put it, into "the balance wheel of the social machinery."

I hope the Boston School Committee remembers this, as it considers the new plan, along with the advisory committee's recommendations regarding accountability, quality, and equity. School Committee members should take their time and listen to parents and community groups. They shouldn't buy into the claim, contradicted by decades of research, that good schools grow organically from neighborhood soil.

Instead, the School Committee should cultivate the new plan's potential for equity by eliminating the walk-zone preference that diminishes opportunities for children who live farther from quality schools. It should also insist that the district present a capital plan for long-term quality improvement. Last, the School Committee should pick up the ball dropped by the school choice panel and implement specific assignment interventions for children "adjudged the leastwise" of our city.

Boston arose as a city on a hill, not separate territorial blocks. Cities don't strengthen community by hunkering down in isolated neighborhoods. Cities, and city schools, become stronger when we stride across boundaries and, in the words of school assignment panel co-chair Hardin Coleman, "have skin" in every part of the diverse Boston we all call home.

Mary Battenfeld, a parent of children in the Boston Public Schools, is a professor at Wheelock College and a member of Quality Education for Every Student.

Any opinions expressed here, except as specifically noted, are those of the individual author or commenter and do not represent an institutional position.

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Choosing Growth in Our Communities

Click here to be taken to a new tool to explore the many ways that the MA Governor's Plan will help our communities. You will be able to see things like the roads and bridges that will be rebuilt, the schools that will be better funded, and the numbers of kids who will be moved off the waiting list and into quality early ed in your community.

Other Resources: FY 2014 House 1 Budget Recommendation--Issues in Brief

1) Investing in Education to Close the Achievement Gap
2) Raising Revenue for Critical Investments

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January Updates on Early Education and Care in Massachusetts

On January 16, 2013, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center released a report outlining: "Declines in Spending on Early Education and Care in Massachusetts." Click here to read about trends in state and federal funding for early education and care programs in MA.

This report comes at the same time of Governor Deval Patrick's announcement of his plan to expand early childhood education and make higher education more affordable by implementing the following:

  • Providing universal access to high quality early education for children across the state, from birth through age five.

  • Fully funding K-12 education and allow for extended school days in high-need schools.

  • Making college more affordable and accessible for high school graduates.

  • Allowing community colleges to expand their efforts to provide students with the knowledge and skill training needed to succeed in the workplace.

  • Plan will filed with the Governor's FY14 budget proposal next week, totals approximately $550 million in its first year and increases to nearly $1 billion annually over the next four.

    Stay tuned to the Policy Connection for further information on these issues.

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6 Days until Election Day

With just 6 days to go until Election Day on Tuesday, November 6th, Democrat President Barack Obama and Republican Nominee Governor Mitt Romney are fiercely campaigning for the presidency throughout the nation. Here's what the polls are saying as of October 31st:

Polling data

Source: Real Clear Politics - http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/us/general_election_romney_vs_obama-1171.html


What's more, we might see a repeat of the 2000 election again, with a candidate assuming the presidency by winning the Electoral College but losing the popular vote a possibility. Read more here - http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/19/a-popularelectoral-split/
Above all, one thing is clear - every vote will matter! Please do not forget to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6th!

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Over the past few months, the Office of Residence Life and the Policy Connection have received numerous questions from students and parents on voting. How do I obtain an absentee ballot for my home state? What is the voting registration deadline? What are the best websites to reference for information on the candidates? To aid students in gathering information on the election, registering to vote and obtaining absentee ballots, the Office of Residence Life organized a voter registration initiative during the first week of October. By providing a central voter hub, Residence Life facilitated the voter registration and/or absentee ballot requests for 130 students. According to Resident Director Cortney Tunis, the initiative was received enthusiastically by many students who quickly spread the word to their friends to encourage them to stop by the table. By downloading and printing forms, copying ID's as needed, and providing postage, Residence Life's setup in Campus Center was a start to finish voter registration center. For students who were unsure if or where they were registered, the team directed them to the appropriate contacts in their hometown. Websites recommended to students for voter information are www.LongDistanceVoter.org andwww.RockTheVote.com. For students who were unsure about which candidate to vote for, a suggested resource to take a comprehensive quiz on the issues to learn which Presidential candidate best represents his/her is http://www.isidewith.com/.

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MA State Budget Approved with Minor Exceptions

On July 8, 2012 Governor Deval Patrick approved a $32.477 billion state budget for FY 2013 put forth by the legislature with only minor vetoes.  The budget features much expanded Chapter 70 aid to local school districts for K-12 and additional funding to improve achievement gaps in the state's "Gateway" cities.  Conversely, the state will slash funding by $8.1 million to early education programs that subsidized child care through three separate state initiatives.  For a summary of Governor Patrick's vetoes and proposed supplemental budget, click here

For close coverage on how the state budget will affect children and their families, check out the Massachusetts Budget Policy Center's KIDS COUNT.

FY2013 General Appropriations Act1

FY2013 General Appropriations Act

1. http://www.mass.gov/bb/gaa/fy2013/app_13/ga_13/hdefault.htm

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The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Children and Families

The 5-4 ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature legislative accomplishment to date, elicited a sigh of relief from virtually every child-focused organization in the United States.  Their responses conveyed a sense of excitement for the bill's impact on children's health but also growing unease with the bill's implementation moving forward. 

The court found the function used by the federal governments to force state governments to accept the bill's reform or risk losing all federal Medicaid funding unconstitutionally violated state sovereignty.  Many children's groups fear that their state will simply refuse to enact the reforms outlined in the Affordable Care Act with serious negative repercussions for the most vulnerable children and families.

 In a lively exchange with former Governor Howard Dean on Meet the Press, current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal defended his plan to do just that.  Dean argued Louisiana's dismal performance in many key health indicators, including placing 48th in child poverty, premature deaths and industrial accidents, precipitated a pressing need for the offered federal Medicare expansion.  Governor Jindal responded that despite these statistics the threat of fiscal calamity from such a large expansion in federal entitlement spending outweighed the possible benefit to health outcomes.

Candidate Mitt Romney has stated that he will repeal the Affordable Care Act if elected president this November though the Obama administration has indicated that the bill will be fully implemented by that time.  Some of the bill's provisions have already gone into effect, including a provision that prohibits denying coverage to children based on a pre-existing condition to be expanded to all ages in 2014.  Families with adult children can now keep them on their family health plan until age 26.

Some advocates have stipulated that the biggest gains for children will come from the bill's expansion of access to primary preventative care.  Under the ACA, new health plans starting in 2014 will have to cover pregnancy & newborn care thus reducing expensive complications due to birth related problems in the mother and child.  The new plans will also include dental and vision coverage. 

Currently, 7.8% of all children in the United States lack health insurance as of 2010 and 4.9% lack access to any sort of usual health care.  While a seemingly small percentage, uninsured children represent 5.8 million total persons.  Given that childhood obesity rates have over tripled in the past 30 years and represented 30% of all children under 18 as of 2008 access to quality healthcare represents a pressing need.  While undoubtedly imperfect, the ACA may help lessen the chance that this generation will hold the dubious distinction of being the first to live shorter lives than their parents. 

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The Affordable Care Act: So what happens now?

Now that the initial hubbub surround the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act we can all pause for a deep breath and look at the road ahead. 

The 5-4 majority found an unusual ally in Chief Justice John Roberts, who may well have decided based on the increasingly partisan image of the Court over his own ideological sympathies.  Many Republicans expressed indignation at Justice Roberts’ perceived betrayal while Democrats breathed an audible sigh of relief after disastrous oral arguments had many believing the bill doomed.

That said the Act faces some uncertainties despite its newly minted constitutional status.  The Supreme Court did strike down the provision of the bill that would have denied state federal Medicare funds should they fail to comply with the Act’s other provisions.  The loss of this kind of leverage has led some Republican governors to state that they will refuse to comply with certain provisions of the act.  Whether they actually will do so is another question entirely, it is difficult to see states forgoing any federal monies at a time when their coffers are continually coming up empty.

The ruling will certainly play a role in the November 2012 elections though probably not a decisive one.  Political commentators have given the partisan advantage on the issue to both sides.  In all likelihood, the ruling gives the Obama administration a pass on a potentially humiliating debacle (should the Act have been overturned) but one that will not likely have a huge impact electorally.  The constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act will not convince any Republicans to vote for Obama while approval of the Act has not changed much and remains split largely along partisan lines. 

More to come on this topic including how the Supreme Court’s ruling will affect children and families.

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The MA House Budget Proposal for FY 2013

The Massachusetts House of Representatives finalized their budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, after amending the proposal offered by the Ways and Means Committee. The House budget proposal restored funding for Public Health programs the Ways and Means budget planned to cut by $20 million. However, despite these changes the House budget is similar to the Ways & Means proposal in that it relies heavily on temporary revenue to fill the state's $1.3 billion deficit. Both the House and Ways and Means proposals contrast with the Governor's proposal which includes temporary and new, ongoing revenue from taxes.

These charts from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (http://massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=budget_monitor_house_fy13.php)  show how the House proposal compares to the Governor's proposal.

Budget Pie Charts

 

 

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Stand Your Ground

Analysis by Chikere Uchegbu

Not since the Emmett Till tragedy has any event galvanized the civil rights movement as much as witnessed in America in the last 5 weeks. The February 26 shooting in Florida of 17 year old Trayvon Martin by self proclaimed ‘neighborhood watch captain' George Zimmerman has brought Americans of all hues together in a collective condemnation of what has been described as ‘an unnecessary loss of life'.

Since the night of this tragic event, more than 500,000 people have signed a petition calling for the arrest of the self confessed shooter. The petitioners have reserved their most caustic criticism for the Sanford police department who failed to arrest Mr. Zimmerman for what they describe as an unprovoked attack on an unarmed teen. In their defense, the Sanford police described Mr. Zimmerman's claim of acting in self defense as prohibiting them from arresting him based on a Florida statue called ‘Stand Your Ground'. In the wake of the protests, the Sanford police Chief has temporarily stepped down from his position while the investigation is now being conducted by a special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, and overseen by the Federal Justice department.

First enacted in Florida in 2005, the Stand Your Ground law eliminates the hoary legal requirement that a person threatened outside of his or her home retreat rather than use force. Of the fifty states that make up our union, more than 20 of them have one variation of the ‘stand your ground' law or another. However, the Florida statute has been called unique in its own right. In chapter 776 - Justifiable Use of Force, the Florida statute offers "immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force" (776.032) further explaining that the term "criminal prosecution" includes "arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant." It is levied on the arresting agency to determine that a ‘probable cause' exists that would suggest the force that was used was unlawful.

Chris Serino, the lead investigator in the case, has stated that he wanted the 28-year old George Zimmerman held behind bars on the night of the shooting, but was overruled by the state Attorney's office that held that there wasn't enough evidence to lead to a conviction. So not only did this statute prevent the arrest of George Zimmerman on the night of the shooting, but it has also opened up the investigation -or lack thereof- to public criticism, and a citizens analysis of what may or may not have happened that night. As Terry Moran described it on the ABC News show This Morning with George Stephanopoulos, "there is this kind of macabre national game show" analyzing the evidence in this case. These are deliberations and analysis typically reserved for members of a jury to debate and the Florida law "short circuits" this process.

Critics of the Stand Your Ground law, including former President Bill Clinton, have called for a review of the law in its many variations. In what appears to be an apparent admission of the flaws -in design or application- of the law, Gov. Scott has promised to create a task force to review the law as well. As critics of describe it, the Florida law prohibits the police from arresting anyone that invokes the Stand Your Ground law making it difficult for the courts to review the evidence, thereby circumventing the constitutional guarantees of due process.

 

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Multilingual Education

As the United States grows in diversity, many schools face challenges when it comes to accommodating multilingual children. From Boston to Chicago to Houston, providing strong learning systems for English Language Learners is an important new tasks many school districts are now faced with.

In Boston, Dr. Miren Uriarte, a Professor of Human Services and Community Studies and Senior Research Associate at the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at UMass Boston, conducted research on supporting the needs of English Language Learners in Boston Public Schools. Her report, Improving Educational Outcomes of English Language Learners in Schools and Programs in Boston Public Schools, can be found here. Dr. Uriarte was also a visiting scholar at Wheelock College in February 2012 and gave a special lecture on her findings.

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President Obama's Campaign for College Affordability

In President Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address he called for a doubling of Work-Study funding, a freeze on a scheduled interest increase for student loans, and an extension of the tuition tax credit - according to a report from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).

The NAICU report also highlighted President Obama's warning to colleges, "If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down."
This proposal, announced in the State of the Union, would take federal aid away from schools that don't "keep tuition down and provide good value," according to the White House document Blueprint For An America Built to Last. This proposal is both celebrated and feared. As a more defined plan develops, we should all have our eyes on the future of financial aid!

  • For an interesting analysis of what this proposal could mean for colleges check out the Inside Higher Ed Report Warnings of Unintended Consequences
  • President Obama kicked off his campaign for college affordability at the University of Michigan on Friday, January 27. Click here to read about his announced plans.

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Federal Pell Grant Payment and Dispersal Schedule 2012-2013 Announced

The Department of Education has released the 2012-2013 Federal Pell Grant Payment and Disbursement Schedules. The maximum Pell Grant for the 2012-2013 award year is still $5,550, the same amount it was during the 2011-2012 award year. The minimum grant award has also stayed the same (10% of the maximum, or $555).

However, what has changed is the definition of who has access to the minimum amount. Last year, students who were only eligible for 5% of the maximum grant award were "bumped up" to receive the minimum $555. In the 2012-2013 year, this will no longer happen. NO ONE will get bumped up. So, students who are eligible for 1-9 percent of the $5,500 maximum will receive NO Pell Grant. Only students who are eligible for 10% or more of the grant funding will receive a Federal Pell Grant.

To view the 2012-2013 Federal Pell Grant Payment and Disbursement Schedules click here.

 

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What Governor Patrick's Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Says about Financial Aid & Community College

The Governor's budget proposes many changes to the state's community college system. The commonwealth will offer an additional $10.4 million in funds (to a total of $218.6 million) to community colleges, but will also demand new coordination between community colleges and local businesses. The Governor wants community colleges to focus on job training and coordinate course offerings with the needs of local employers.

The Governor plans to fund state campuses with the same funds as last year (UMass campuses receive $418 million and State Universities receive $191.6 million). However, the budget also includes $43.5 million in "separate collective bargaining accounts that relate to labor costs at each of the campuses," according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

The budget also gives $87.5 million to the State Scholarship Program, very close to level funding from FY 2012.

To read more about the controversy surrounding Governor Patrick's Community College reform plans check out this Boston Business Journal article.

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Massachusetts FY2013 Budget

On January 25, 2012 Governor Deval Patrick released the 2013 fiscal year budget for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The state government is funded on a fiscal year basis. The 2013 fiscal year runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.

The Governor plans to balance the budget through cuts and other savings. Some of these cuts are clearly labeled, while others may appear "level-funded" in the new budget - meaning that they are funded at the same dollar amount in FY 2013 as FY 2012, but due to inflation this static budget actually ends up being less money than what was received last year. The Governor's Proposal also includes increasing the cigarette tax and taxing candy and soda.

For a summary of the 2013 Budget click here.

For the Governor's official press release click here.

Click here to view the FY2013 Budget Recommendation from Deval L. Patrick, Governor & Timothy P. Murray, Lt. Governor

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