Mary Ann Stewart Questionnaire

1. Arlington's growing school enrollment has strained the town budget. At the same time, the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission found the state was underfunding its constitutional obligations to public education by more than $1 billion per year. Affluent communities like Arlington resorted to higher property taxes and proposition 2 ½ overrides, while lower-income communities have simply gone without. How do we reverse this trend?

Good public schools will always shine like a beacon, calling others to their communities in search of educational opportunity for children and youth. Local and state government, with the federal government as a critical third partner, share a responsibility to adequately fund our public education system. That’s not happening in the Commonwealth and the federal government is threatening to renege on its responsibility.

After significant cuts to income taxes between 1998 and 2002, the state has had to make severe cuts in local aid to cities and towns for public schools and local services — by about 40% — and we are all paying the price. Without adequate investments in transportation and public education from pre-K through college, working families fall behind and our communities suffer. If, however, we grow our tax base we can provide a quality public education for all children, regardless of where they live. The quality of our future is at stake.

We must implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), which was created to determine the educational programs and services necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s educational goals and to review the way the state calculates education assistance to cities and towns. FBRC's Final Report (October 2015), concluded that outdated assumptions should be updated to provide funding where it is most needed: for services to English language learners, students with special needs, and students who are economically disadvantaged. I am strongly in favor of implementing the commission's recommendations, and fully support Senator Chang-Diaz’s bill, S.223, which acknowledges the need for modernizing the foundation formula for education.

Unimpeded expansion of Charter Schools also represents a threat to adequate funding of public schools, particularly in urban and rural settings. Originally touted as "labs of innovation", they have become a powerful wedge for privatization.

  • As a member of the PDM (Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts) leadership team, last year I traveled the district to explain to community groups the need to defeat Question 2, which would have drained funding for public schools and accelerated the corporate takeover of public education.

  • As a member of the Board of Education, I fight to protect core public schools from charter schools when the local communities oppose them, but that’s not enough. We need to update the Charter School law with regard to governance, transparency to taxpayers, and certification of all charter school educators, just as is required by core public schools.


2. Where do you stand on the "Fair Share Amendment," which would allow Massachusetts to tax the portion of a resident's income that is above $1 million at a rate 4% higher than income below $1 million, with the new revenues earmarked for education and transportation infrastructure?

As one of the ten original signers of the petition submitted to Attorney General Maura Healey for approval as a ballot initiative in 2015, I’m proud to be playing a key role in seeing the Fair Share Amendment passed by voters in November 2018. If we want to be a prosperous, innovative Commonwealth, then we must invest. (Even our Republican governor has proposed "modest reforms to update our tax system.")

Right now, the best income tax proposal on the table is the Fair Share Amendment. Revenues from this tax would be used, subject to appropriation by the State Legislature, only for public education, public colleges and universities, the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation. If the proposal passes this year’s constitutional convention, it will return to voters on the November 2018 ballot, and when passed there, the State will begin to collect an additional 4% of tax on those making over $1 million beginning in January 2019.

I was first to support this initiative because it is aligned with my value for fairness, in that it calls on those with the greatest ability to pay their fair share of tax. I firmly believe that the Fair Share Amendment represents our best chance for new revenue in the near future and I will continue to push for its goals. I have posted about Fair Share on my personal blog and have offered letters about it, too, the latest one published in CommonWealth Magazine: https://commonwealthmagazine.org/opinion/correspondence-spring-2017


3. Compared to other states, Massachusetts ranks high in overall achievement but low in equity, with a substantial achievement gap between low-income and high-income students. How do we close that gap?

The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 set high standards for students and established the foundation budget to secure adequate funding for all students. A few years later, it became clear that resources were insufficient to meet the standards set forth in the curriculum frameworks (though it was supposed to be analyzed regularly to ensure adequacy, and a few tweaks were made about ten years ago, no change has been made to the budget formula since it was implemented).

To provide adequate funding for all schools in the Commonwealth the state must provide additional targeted resources, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission in 2015. In addition, the bill forwarded by Senator Rush proposes investment in funding for our schools, in resources for our educators, and a three-year moratorium on the state's testing program to fully understand its impact on learning. I believe all are necessary.

Hardin Coleman, dean of Boston University's School of Education has noted, "...wholesale [school] improvement has to do with phenomena existing outside the classroom." This means a shift in focus – from academic-skill acquisition to other non-academic aspects for children’s needs: social-emotional learning, student engagement, self awareness, coping with trauma, and, among many economically-disadvantaged families, a lack of access to jobs that pay a living wage and quality health care. These are issues where the State Legislature, and I as Senator, can make a difference in terms of addressing the Commonwealth’s social policies.

School budgets were already shrinking before the recession of 2008, along with increased class sizes and government mandates. As a past President of the Massachusetts PTA, the oldest and largest volunteer advocacy association for children and youth, I advocated for smaller class sizes, arts education, healthy school environments, improved school nutrition, and a hold on the state’s testing program to analyze the affects on learning. I continue to fight for increased IDEA funding for students with special needs in Washington DC.


4. Our current school "accountability" system, heavily focused on standardized test scores and with severe punishments for schools that have low scores, was created to meet the requirements of obtaining federal funds. Now that Congress has significantly loosened those requirements, what changes would you make, if any?

Since 2002 we have seen market-based reforms at the center of educational policy: No Child Left Behind (Bush); Race to the Top (Obama). This trend continues in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), by maintaining the high-stakes testing component, thus emphasizing competition between institutions in an unproductive way, with "winners" and "losers"; "successes" and "failures"; "rewards" and "punishments." Not only that, tying teaching and learning to a narrow set of metrics stymies a child's growth and development, thus limiting their potential as a member of an educated citizenry, and is unfair to educators because these tests were not designed to determine an educator's efficacy. For too long, the state's view of public education has been narrowly focused on achievement outcomes within strict, limited parameters, without looking at the whole child, what the child needs, and how all of us benefit as a society when each member is given the opportunity to contribute his or her best self.

In my vision for education, we bring back the joy of learning. Students need a well-rounded education that's based on a rich and varied curriculum that includes music, art, and athletics. Too many of these programs were eliminated or severely eroded in many communities during the recession years, and we are all paying the price.

As a past president of the Massachusetts PTA and through my position as a long-time community leader and advocate for children, parents, and educators, I called for a hold on the state's testing program, to allow time to step back and analyze the effects of all this testing on learning. Please see my testimony at Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, presented to the Joint Committee on Education in June 2015: "We are working against our future best interests if allowed to continue with the current testing regime. We want our students to be excited about their future. We want our schools to truly impart a love and joy for learning. We want creativity in teaching - and so much more."


5. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about your views on education issues, your accomplishments in this area, or your legislative priorities? Please also feel free to provide links to campaign websites and social media.

I'm running for state Senator in the special election because I'm a champion of equity and excellence with a 20+ year personal track record of speaking up for children, youth, and working families. I'm a dedicated, education activist and leader who has worked persistently on the local, state, and national levels for quality opportunity for all, as well as fighting for a system that's accountable and accessible to our people.

From November's tragic election, I believe it’s important to understand that "politics as usual" no longer works for people. If we want to see progressive change at the national level, then we need leaders in local and state government who are activists themselves and can empower people to fight for progressive change, and are willing to confront the challenges facing modern families and their communities.

I'm dedicated to the values I believe in and those are the values that I'm running on and persistent in, and that I'll continue to stand up for: fairness; opportunity for all; an open mind; curiosity; and courage, outspokenness, and fairness in carrying out my responsibilities to constituents. I have years and years of state and community advocacy and leadership in the things that are most important to our families: the economy, tax reform and revenue, public education and public transportation, and workers' rights. I'm a shoe-leather activist, having worked on every ballot initiative over the last ten years in support of revenue, tax reform, public education, minimum wage increases, guaranteed earned sick leave, and other issues that are important to families and an economy that works for everyone.

Our family moved into Lexington in 1994 through the affordable-housing program, LexHAB, on a five-year lease. My husband grew up in Lexington. We were fortunate to then find and purchase a modest home there. To make ends meet while our children were small, I started a small business offering decorative painting and residential murals. Like many parents, once my children entered pre-school and kindergarten, I became more involved. I began by advocating for my own child and then for all of the children in Harrington elementary school as an elected member of the School Site Council, my first elected position. My experience as a parent of a student with special needs gives me an additional level of insight into the challenges of families negotiating the school system today.

Before Governor Deval Patrick appointed me to the State's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2014, I was a twice-elected, sitting Lexington School Committee member, and former chairwoman. As chairwoman, I oversaw a combined operating/capital budget of over $100 million, and led the Lexington Public Schools as they coped with, and recovered from, the worst financial crisis many of us have seen by fighting for child-centered, community-conscious budgets.

As a current member of the Board of Education, I push for adequate funding to schools and fight to protect core public schools from charter schools that local communities oppose. As a past president of the Massachusetts PTA, I have advocated for a hold on the State's testing program to analyze effects on learning and lobby in Washington DC for increased IDEA funding for students with special needs.

My actions over two decades of leadership on these issues – speaking up and speaking out, pavement pounding, engaging and holding conversations person-by-person, bringing more people into the conversations, teaching others to lead - have clearly demonstrated my willingness and preparation to work persistently for the values that I care about and are shared by many in the 4th Middlesex.

And today, it has never been more important that we empower people to engage with their government, especially at the state and local level where individuals can be heard and have an impact. The national political environment we're in is the backdrop to every conversation we're having, and the things we value in Massachusetts, especially public education, innovation and the environment, climate change, and healthcare and reproductive rights, are under attack.

My personal record of activism, leadership, and accomplishment demonstrate my commitment and dedication to long-term, incremental change in achieving our shared goals.

Social links:

Local, state and national leadership and service includes:

State:

  • Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, since 2014
    • Governor-appointed to five-year term. Responsibilities include sole authorizing entity of granting charters for new commonwealth charter schools, policy-making, and regulatory oversight of the Commonwealth's K-12 public schools.
    • Original petition signer of the Fair Share Amendment.
    • Budget Subcommittee member, setting the Board's priorities for social-emotional learning (SEL), student health and mental health, Safe and Supportive Schools, Civics Education, METCO.
    • Elected by Board colleagues to represent Massachusetts on the board of the National Association of State Boards of Education.
  • Massachusetts PTA, since 2005
    • State President, 2010 – 2012
    • Member-at-Large, since 2014
    • Advocacy and Legislative committee member, 2006 – 2014 (Chair, 2011 – 2014)
    • Region 3 Communications Chair 2005-2008
  • Massachusetts Association of School Committees, 2009 – 2014
    • Featured Presenter on family engagement, 2009 – 2011, 2014
    • Featured Panelist on social media, 2016
    • Legislative Committee, 2012 – 2014
    • Resolutions Committee, 2012 – 2014
  • Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, since 2007
    • Leadership Team
    • Education Reform Working Group
    • Revenue Options Working Group
    • Grassroots advocacy: Question 2 (opposed) and other ballot initiatives
  • MassPartners for Public Schools, since 2006
  • Coalition of state education associations and Massachusetts PTA
    • Chair, 2011 – 2014
    • Member, 2006 – 2017
  • Governor Patrick’s Whole Child Subcommittee appointee, 2006 – 2007

Local:

  • Lexington School Committee Chair and Member, 2009 – 2014
  • Lexington Democratic Town Committee, since 2017
  • Elected Representative to Lexington Town Meeting, since 2006
    • Selectmen’s ad hoc Budget Schedule Committee, 2007
    • Precinct Chair, 2013 – 2014
    • Precinct Vice Chair, 2011 – 2013
  • League of Women Voters of Lexington, since 2006
    • Communications Chair and Board Member, 2008 – 2010
  • Harrington School Site Council, Elected Member, 2006 – 2008
  • Harrington School PTA Co-President, 2005 – 2008

National:

  • National Association of State Boards of Education, since 2014
    • Elected Representative, Northeast Area Director, 2016 – 2018
    • Legislative Conference, promoting education agenda with Massachusetts
  • Congressional Delegation in Wash. D.C.
    • Editorial Advisory Board for The State Education Standard
  • Media Literacy Now, National Education Policy Initiative, since 2011
    • Advisory Board, 2011 – 2013
    • Steering Committee, 2013 – 2015
    • Board of Directors, since 2015
  • National PTA, 2006 – 2014
    • State Advisory Council, 2008-2010
    • Legislative Conference, promoting education agenda with members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation in Wash. D.C. every year from 2006 to 2014
Thank you for the opportunity to address some of the issues and concerns of the Arlington School Enrollment Parent Group.