Boston Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said Friday she wants “every single dollar” that the district receives once Gov. Charlie Baker signs the state’s new education funding bill to go directly to serving students.
“It is really, really critical that our students get the resources that they need to succeed in school, and it’s critical to closing achievement gaps,” Cassellius said on WGBH’s Basic Black. “If it is my priority, every single dollar would go to kids.”
The bill, which the legislature passed and sent to Baker earlier this week, targets much of $1.6 billion in additional funding over seven years to serving students who have fallen behind — including those from low-income families or with special needs and immigrants learning English. Cassellius, who took over as superintendent in July, estimated the legislation could add $100 million a year to the district’s $1.4 billion budget.
Asked by host Callie Crossley how specifically the Boston schools would spend the additional state funding, Cassellius replied: “I want us to have more opportunity for rigor within schools. We need more opportunities for advanced course work, more opportunities for art and music and support systems for children and their families — social workers, counselors, those kinds of things.”
Another guest on the show, Milly Arbaje-Thomas, chief executive officer of Metco, a voluntary busing program that receives state funds, said the new funding could also help black and Latino students from Boston who attend suburban schools through the state-funded program.
“This is a great help to the districts that are accepting our students into their classrooms,” Arbaje-Thomas said.
Cassellius also suggested that the exam used to admit students into Boston Latin and two other exam schools, the Independent School Entrance Exam, could be changed. The ISEE covers material not taught as part of the general curriculum in Boston public schools and, as WGBH News has reported, has not been proven to accurately predict the high school performance of black and Latino students.
“This is our last year of the RFP — the request for proposal — on our contract for our current ISEE test,” Cassellius said. “It’s likely there will be a new test. But the ISEE could change their test to match the requirements of the new RFP. ... So we are going to put in there that it has to align to state standards, and it also has to be bias reviewed and validated.”
Cassellius said the current ISEE test imposes academic “standards that aren’t taught on a typical day in a Boston classroom.” Previously, she has pointed to the relatively high cost of the ISEE exam and suggested the MCAS as a less expensive option. Harvard researchers have predicted the MCAS would result in the admission of more black and Latino students to exam schools.
The racial-ethnic composition of Boston Latin, in particular, deviates widely from the school system’s overall enrollment, which is 72 percent black or Latino. Latin school is predominately white or Asian, with many of those students coming from private or parochial schools.
On special education, the new superintendent said she wanted to tackle the high rate at which black and Latino students are taken out of the general education classrooms even if they do not need independent learning plans.
“We have to get after how we’re doing special ed, especially for our black and Latino boys, because at a very early age, they are being identified, and the disproportionality that is happening is a problem,” she said.
Cassellius’ comments came in context of the school system that has been re-segregated. As reported by the Boston Globe last year, 60 percent of the city’s schools are “intensely segregated,” or comprised of 90 percent students of color.
In her previous job as state education commissioner in Minnesota, Cassellius said she had seen some successful integration models, but added that re-segregation is symptom of broader societal trends.
“Minnesota also has some segregation going on as well, because of housing patterns, and I think, really, that’s the solution — within your housing patterns,” she said, pointing to gentrification as another driver of the pattern.