STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - LUNCH EDITION - WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

GOP LAWMAKERS SOUND ALARM ON UI RATE FREEZE

While the House and Senate this year have each approved proposals to freeze unemployment insurance rates, employees remain at risk of facing big premium increases because Democratic legislative leaders have been unable so far to push a freeze bill to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk. House and Senate Republicans on Wednesday warned employers face a "drastic increase" in rates for the first quarter of 2014 and filed a standalone rate freeze bill in both branches, citing "continued inaction" on the issue in the Legislature. The House included a rate freeze in a recent midyear spending bill, but the plan was dropped by a House-Senate conference committee. The Senate included a rate freeze in its unemployment insurance system reform bill, which has not yet been taken up by the House. "At this time, it is an extreme disservice to businesses throughout the Commonwealth to not consider this proposal separately based on its merit. A freeze of the unemployment insurance rate is imperative for both our state's workforce and entrepreneurs. If not approved immediately, this increase will have a negative impact on our economy," House Minority Leader Brad Jones said in a statement.


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According to John Regan, executive vice president at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, state law suggests that bills go out at the end of each quarter, on in this case by the end of March, with payments due at the end of April. However, Regan noted that during a normal cycle, employers would receive "rate notices" from the state in November or December that are similar to bank statements and tailored to help employers plan to make payments. Regan said those notices are due to 170,000 to 180,000 employers and businesses are "very concerned" that they have not gone out while rate freeze legislation is considered on Beacon Hill. Regan said businesses are concerned about rate uncertainty and also that rushing to send rate notices and bills could lead to mistakes. - M. Norton/SHNS

DOE GIVES MIXED PROGRESS REPORT AFTER THREE YEARS UNDER RACE TO THE TOP

Three years after winning a $250 million grant from the Obama administration to support education reforms, Massachusetts has made progress in improving graduation rates and student performance in underperforming schools, but has fallen behind in other aspects of its plan developed to compete with other states for the funding, according to a new report. The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday released progress reports for the 11 states that received grants through the Race to the Top competition to support school reform. The report highlights how the state's high school graduation rate increased from 83.4 percent in 2010-2011 to 84.7 percent in the 2011-2012 school year, and said the percentage of eighth graders scoring at or above proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam was "significantly higher" than in 2011. According to the Department of Education, struggles related to the state's "strategy and vendor" have delayed the implementation of a new framework that was supposed to give districts and teachers access to real-time data and Massachusetts has made "limited progress" toward establishing a comprehensive professional development system. Massachusetts also failed to fully implement its educator evaluation system during the 2012-2013 school year as planned because the student growth component of the scoring system was not in place. Further, the report said the state continued to face delays in implementing MassCore, a new curriculum track designed to promote college and career readiness for high school students. The state received credit for improving student performance in many low-performing schools, including moving 14 schools out of Level 4 status last fall, and helping nine schools initiate intervention models. - M. Murphy/SHNS

COMMITTEE ENDORSES BILL PUTTING ACTIVE TEACHER ON BOARD OF ED

The makeup of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would be revamped under legislation moved forward by lawmakers Tuesday. The legislation would put two active teachers on the board. Currently, only retired teachers are allowed to sit on the board. The legislation (S 226) filed by Sen. Kenneth Donnelly was recommended favorably by the Education Committee. Educators from around the state approached Donnelly to file the bill because people felt it made sense to have an educator who faces the issues teachers face today on the board that makes educational policy, according to Donnelly's staff. - C. Quinn/SHNS