Massachusetts school districts were required to submit plans to narrow student achievement gaps by April 1 under an education funding law signed fall 2019. But only a fraction of districts turned their new assignment in on time while absorbed in responding to the pandemic.
Of the 323 public school districts in the state, 56 submitted the three-year plans to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by the deadline, according to Jacqueline Reis, a department spokeswoman.
Boston Public Schools was not among the districts that filed plans. A BPS spokesperson pointed to March 31 guidance from the department suggesting that school districts wait to submit plans until the state legislature considers an extension.
The plans, to be developed by superintendents and approved by school committees, were intended to outline how each school district would spend targeted funding for “addressing persistent disparities in achievement” among certain groups of students like English language learners and low-income students.
It is now up to the legislature to push back the deadline for the remaining 267 school districts to submit their plans. Top members of the state's Joint Education Committee told WGBH News Monday they understand the delay and said legislation to extend the deadline will likely be taken up this week.
"Obviously this pandemic is impacting virtually every aspect of our lives," said Rep. Alice Peisch of Wellesley, House chair of the Joint Education Committee.
Recognizing that factor, she said, the House passed legislation last week that would empower Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to push back the deadline to May 15 and beyond, if necessary.
"I suspect, given where we are right now, there's a high probability it will be extended beyond that," Peisch added.
This year was scheduled to begin the first phase implementation of the Student Opportunity Act, the major education funding reform bill that promised a $1.5 billion increase in state education funding over seven years.
Even though districts' funding is not contingent on receipt of the plans, Senator Jason Lewis of Winchester, Senate chair of the education committee, said accountability remains important.
"It is certainly expected that school districts are being thoughtful about what the needs of their students are and what student improvement strategies they will employ to try to meet those needs and to address the gaps in opportunity and achievement that we see with certain populations," he said in an interview Monday. "We remain committed to the goals and the objectives of the Student Opportunity Act and the same disparities in opportunity and outcome that have existed for some time for many of our low-income students, special needs students, students of color and other populations of students still remain, notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Once we get past this crisis and our schools re-open, we have to commit ourselves to closing these opportunity gaps."
With the coronavirus outbreak and a previously estimated budget shortfall of almost $1 billion, it remains to be seen whether the funding promise to school districts can still be fulfilled.
Both Peisch and Lewis predicted the legislature would prioritize public education and narrowing achievement gaps in the upcoming budget.
"It's a seven-year implementation," Peisch added, noting that the full state revenue picture won't be available until later this week. "If we hit a bump this year, which I'm hopeful we will not have to, we can make up for it going forward."