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Schools: Fewer Students, Less Money And More Attention From Beacon Hill

The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.
William Zhang
Creative Commons
The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.

It's a busy week for the Massachusetts legislature's education committee as it hears the financial ramifications of declining district enrollments and school choice — and what to do about it. 

There are 15 bills on the agenda, and clearly a number of them affect western Massachusetts. Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk it through.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Some of these bills dealing with the low and declining student enrollment — it's happening in western Mass. It's happening on Cape Cod. And that impacts these budgets for school districts at a time when other costs are rising.

Things like health care are driving up costs for school districts, even as the money that follows the students is going down.

And so it'd be interesting to hear the testimony on these bills.

These are separate bills, but they could inform and feed into the larger debate that the House and the Senate and the governor are having over how to reform the state's school funding formula. Updating that 1993 law is a priority this session.

We're still waiting to see if this is something that can get done for this year's budget to help school districts this coming fiscal year. And that would have to get reformed by June. And it's a very complicated process, but it's something they're pursuing.

A lot of these bills could kind of feed into a bigger, more comprehensive attempt up here on Beacon Hill to really readjust the way the state interacts with local school districts and funds them.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: The Joint Committee on Higher Education will hear testimony this week about campus sexual violence. The legislature has tried to tackle this before. What's new about these proposals?

I put these in the category of going back to things that didn't happen last session, but almost got done. The House and Senate both passed legislation, but it got caught up in the end-of-session chaos, and they couldn't get final votes done.

Both branches had agreed essentially to require campuses — higher ed schools — to conduct climate surveys of students to gauge the amount of sexual assault and harassment taking place on campuses. The Senate bill went a bit further. They were looking to require more student training or awareness programming for students around sexual assault and violence.

These bills were not able to get reconciled or sent to the governor's desk before the end of the session, but they've all been refiled, and they're all coming back around.

So this is the hearing process that typically bills go through, but these are already a bit further down the line than most, because both branches are already on record supporting a number of these provisions.

Will lawmakers actually have the time to generate legislation based on what they hear?

Yeah, for sure. You'd think it got so close last year to getting done that if they start a little earlier this year, they can work on some of those differences between the branches, and get something to the governor's desk dealing with this.

Last week, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission wrapped up three days of hearings on the suitability of Wynn Resorts to operate a casino in eastern Massachusetts — and began deliberating. What are the possible outcomes, and when do we expect to hear?

That's the million-dollar question. We don't know.

We do expect that this could take a little bit of time for the gaming commission to process everything in the lengthy report produced from the investigation, as well as what they heard at the hearings last week.

Encore Boston Harbor is slated to open mid-June. We expect a decision before then about what to do with that license.

The options could be everything from "you've done enough to assure us that the allegations against Steve Wynn and the culture of tolerating sexual assault and harassment has been corrected, and we're ready to move on," to fines, to the more extreme revoking their casino license, and starting from square one with a casino in eastern Mass.

So really — the full range is on the plate, and we don't really know yet where they're leaning.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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