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By Tom Casey

Please, Mr. Speaker (Robert DeLeo, leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives), you can offer to us any number of reasons (none of them can be defined as “good”) for not prevailing on the representatives of the people to stay in session. But in leaving a most crucial education legislative proposal unaddressed, do not ever attempt to ameliorate (the word of the week) the situation with your comment. “At the end of the day, it’s about what’s best for children … and that’s going to take some time.”

Exactly! Time! For the two months prior to the start of your six week holiday recess, it was clear to and acknowledged by all that the clock was ticking on the significant educational package. The major components of the bill target underperforming schools and drastically alter the school landscape and funding mechanisms. Additionally, some of the changes as they relate to an increase in charter schools and teacher performance being tied to standardized test scores would help the state compete for $4 billion in Race to the Top federal funds. ( In spite of the fact that this additional funding would be welcome, the criteria for accepting funds doesn’t warrant a “slam dunk” vote and “show me the money” posture when you return in January.)

The urgency to deliberate, debate, research, compromise and assess as part of the decision-making and voting process as voiced by business and educational leaders is lost while the “reps” (and Senate) are on vacation. Rushing through a consideration of the critical aspects of the educational package in early January and attempting to reach a last minute agreement to meet a midmonth deadline for the federal money is a careless, hasty and irresponsible approach to what is really “best for kids.”

It’s also a bad example to set for the children. When they don’t get their work done or do their homework, recess is denied for them. The children and their education would have been better served by you prioritizing, for once, education and providing ample time to consider all the variables and issues that will seriously impact the ways of schooling for years to come and whether we desire to buy into the criteria for federal aid.

Adding insult to injury, the Senate did vote during the confusing, late and waning hours before their adjournment for a “sweeping educational change package for underperforming schools”. But, lo and behold, a last- minute amendment to the bill actually restricts the extension of educational alternatives and help to the most underperforming districts (Boston, Lawrence, Springfield, etc.) because it was not worded properly. Haste makes waste? Inexcusable!

An extension of six weeks devoted to a focused in-depth, well-understood and intelligent debate on the future of what is “best of our kids” in school would have been a true public service and example of leadership. We see nothing we can define as optimism that in January the necessary time and attention necessary will be afforded to schools.

Couldn’t the time of the six-week recess also have been used wisely to address the doomsday evidence of additional funding shortfalls for FY 2011? Or will we wait until the last minute and apply a tourniquet? One local school district has informed staff that up to 36 positions will have to be eliminated next year.

Somehow these words are apropos:

“Zeal for the public good is the characteristic of a man of honor, and must take the place of pleasures, profits and all other private gratifications.” — Sir Richard Steele, English Essayist