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Mass. Governor Promises Free Tuition for Community College Students

BOSTON

Gov. Deval Patrick called for an eight-year overhaul of public education last week, seeking to transform pre-kindergarten through university learning with a proposal that also would make the state’s two-year community colleges free for all high-school graduates.

In the most ambitious plan since education reforms in 1993, the new Democratic governor will seek to lengthen the school day by at least two hours, create a universal pre-kindergarten program, strengthen curriculum requirements in math and English and launch new teacher training programs.

The free community-college funding proposal would be enacted by 2015. The state’s 15 community colleges are among the costliest in the nation but are considered critical to the economy because at least 20,000 unfilled jobs in the state require a two-year degree, according to the plan.

Patrick, however, did not detail how he would pay for the proposals, estimated in some quarters to cost $1 billion annually by their completion. Instead, he will convene a “readiness project” to recommend changes and improvements to the state’s existing education system and ways to pay for the changes.

“Right here, right now, I commit my administration for the next 10 years to a statewide and sustained effort to change fundamentally the way we think about and deliver public education, to get ready for our future,” Patrick told 1,800 undergraduate and 860 graduate students at the University of Massachusetts-Boston commencement ceremony.

The governor also blasted away at anticipated opponents of the proposal, comparing them to doubters who questioned whether the colonies could break free of Britain, the United States could prevail in World War II or the country could safely send a man to the moon and back.

“Those voices have always represented a resistance to human program,” he said. “Masquerading as pragmatists, they lull us into believing that problems we made are beyond our capacity to care about and to solve. But I remind you that the American experience and the American character have, at critical moments in our history, been bigger than that, and they must be again.”

The proposal hopes to expand upon the state’s existing education reform law by placing even greater emphasis on science and mathematics, and by looking for other yardsticks to measure the success of students besides the MCAS tests.

The plan also calls for pumping money into a new set of regional teacher development centers bringing together colleges and local school districts to focus on teacher training, teacher recruiting and teacher development.

The goal is to increase the level of training for new and veteran teachers, especially in math and sciences.

“It’s a fairly comprehensive agenda,” said William Guenther, president of consulting firm Mass Insight Corp., who was briefed on the plan.

Patrick’s proposal to lengthen the school days reflects the state’s shift from a more agricultural state to one based on an information and technology-driven economy.

Patrick in recent weeks has offered hints of his plans. On May 1, he said the way Massachusetts pays for public education, through a heavy reliance on local property tax, is “not working.”

The governor has said he’s considering creating an education secretary to carry out his proposed reforms.

Currently, education leadership is split among three agencies, each with its own board of directors: the Department of Early Education and Care, which handles children prior to kindergarten; the Department of Education, which handles students through grade 12; and the Board of Higher Education, which oversees the 29 college campuses.

Associated Press



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