In Dot speech, Patrick pushes ed reform plan

Employing Dorchester as a backdrop, Gov. Deval Patrick this week officially unveiled his highly-anticipated education reform effort, dubbed the Readiness Project.

The raft of proposals - full-day kindergarten and universal pre-kindergarten, a "portfolio" on each individual child, a statewide teacher contract, merged school districts, and free community college, among others - are aimed at taking Massachusetts out of what Patrick aides say is a 20th-century education system for low-skill, low-knowledge workers.

But the proposals, with some expected to be filed as legislation at the end of the year, are sure to come with a hefty price tag.

At the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester's Paul R. McLaughlin Center on Monday, Patrick introduced the Readiness Finance Commission, co-chaired by Bentley College president Gloria Larson and Suffolk Construction Company president and CEO John Fish.

"Everything is on the table because our future is at stake," Patrick said.

The state's current budget for education has not been recalculated in 15 years and districts statewide are operating, on average, at 18 percent above the budget, he said. The difference is made up in large part by increasing property taxes on homeowners, which disproportionately affects seniors and others who live on low and fixed incomes.

The finance commission's recommendations will go to the governor on November 15, and will seek ways to increase efficiencies and take the pressure off of property taxes. The commission will also make recommendations for the fiscal 2010 budget for next year.

"We don't want educational outcomes to depend on zip codes," Patrick said.

State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who voted for the first round of education reform in 1993, said the large number of override votes - for and against - in the state's cities and towns reflects the conflict over property taxes.

Wilkerson was heartened by Patrick's statement that "everything was on the table."

"I would have to assume that includes taxes," she said.

For state Sen. Jack Hart, that gets back to the premise of casino gambling and the need for new revenues, with no appetite among lawmakers for raising taxes. The House earlier this year handily rejected Patrick's proposal to bring three resort casinos to the Bay State.

But Patrick has now established a "solid reputation" in both the House and the Senate, Hart said.

"In my opinion, this report will not be laid aside," he said of the finance commission.

Overall, students in Massachusetts consistently rank among the top in the country, but "it's just not good enough to be leading the U.S. pack when we see the standards that are set higher and higher, many of those well above U.S. standards, in countries around the world," Patrick said.

And despite success on the state level, there remain "persistent and pernicious" achievement gaps between Black and Latino students and white and Asian students in Massachusetts, Patrick said.

"Some of our proposals are edgy and challenging," said Paul Reville, Patrick's secretary designate of education. "Some of them are a deliberate push to folks in the field…to design a system that really is less about adults than it is about making children successful."

Reville added afterwards: "It's about how we help children, such as children in Dorchester, come to school ready to learn."

Expanded support for early education is on Patrick's agenda, with recommendations for universal pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten in high-need districts.

Mary Kinsella, vice president of early education and care at the Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club, said she is "excited" to have a governor focusing on the importance of early childhood education.

"Kids don't begin at age three," Scannell said. "There are infants and toddlers that are in our care…we have the opportunity to work with families pre-natal."

Correspondent Gintautas Dumcius contributed to this report.