STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS- LUNCH EDITION - MONDAY, MARCH 10, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BAKER CHALLENGES GUV'S RACE RIVALS ON CHARTER CAP

Negotiations on Beacon Hill over how to move a bill that would lift the cap on charter schools in underperforming districts spilled over into the governor's race on Monday with Republican Charlie Baker asking rival Democrats in the race to join him in calling for a cap lift. "Time is running out for the legislature to do the right thing for children stuck in under-performing schools, and I hope all the Democratic candidates for governor will join me in urging the legislature to advance a bill lifting the charter school cap now," Baker said in a statement. "School choice and high quality education should not be a partisan issue." The Education Committee has been working for months trying to reach compromise on legislation that would lift the cap on charter schools in some low-performing districts and extend certain administrative powers authorized under the 2010 reform law for underperforming schools to districts with Level 3 schools on the cusp of falling into the underperforming category. While Rep. Alice Peisch, who co-chairs the Education Committee with Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, told the News Service last week that negotiations are ongoing, some interest groups who met with Chang-Diaz recently came away feeling pessimistic about the bill's chances, according to someone familiar with the meeting.


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Chang-Diaz, according to this source, is worried about siphoning limited resources away from the Boston Public Schools. Part of the financial pressure for traditional public school districts stems from the fact that the state did not fully fund its charter school reimbursement program in fiscal 2014, allocating $47 million for local school districts that must pay charter schools for the students they enroll. A fully-funded reimbursement program would cost $75 million, according to charter advocates. "We're working on a resolution that will provide more opportunities for more kids," Peisch said. Committee faces a March 19 deadline to make recommendations on most pending bills. Asked if funding was the major stumbling block, Peisch said, "Funding is always an issue." - M. Murphy/SHNS

COAKLEY CALLS FOR INVESTMENTS IN MENTAL HEALTH COVERAGE, SERVICES

Increased public investments in behavioral health programs and increased insurance coverage and reimbursement rates for service providers are among the initiatives included by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley in a plan unveiled Monday by her campaign. Coakley, the state's attorney general, also urged lawmakers to reject spending cuts proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick that she said would eliminate services for hundreds of adults and children with behavioral health issues. Lawmakers who held their final fiscal 2015 budget hearing Friday heard calls for increased investments in mental health services and substance abuse treatment programs. In her seven-page "Caring For All" plan, Coakley called for increased reimbursement rates for providers of outpatient care, transitional services, diversionary care, and school-based services. Coakley also said she would use the Corner Office and outreach programs to reduce stigma around mental illness. In a video released Monday, Coakley shared memories of her brother's mental illness. Coakley's brother Edward committed suicide at the age of 33 after the death of their parents. "I think with suicide there is this huge stigma of not wanting to talk about it," Coakley said in the video. An estimate of the cost of services requested under her proposal was not available on Monday. According to her plan, more than 200,000 adults in Massachusetts live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder, and an estimated 84,000 children between the ages of 9 and 18 live with a mental illness that seriously impacts their life. The campaign estimates that more than half of adults living with a mental illness received no treatment in the past year and 42 percent of children in Massachusetts experiencing serious depression received any treatment. - M. Norton/SHNS

LG CANDIDATE KERRIGAN CALLS PARADE EXCLUSION "STAIN" ON BOSTON

Stephen Kerrigan, an openly gay Democrat and candidate for lieutenant governor, said on Monday that he hoped South Boston St. Patrick's Day parade organizers would restart negotiations with the gay-rights community to allow them to march on Sunday. In a statement from Kerrigan's campaign, the former Edward Kennedy advisor called the parade an "openly discriminatory event. "A week or so ago an important thing happened in Boston. Mayor Walsh, representatives of the LGBT community and organizers for the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade began discussions that I had hoped would lead to the end of a decades-long stain on our capital city and on St. Patrick's Day. Sadly those hopes weren't realized, but I still think the discussion is worth celebrating," Kerrigan said in a statement. Talks initiated by Walsh between parade organizers and MassEquality broke down, but Kerrigan said the Irish-Catholic Dorchester mayor deserves credit for trying to broker a truce. Citing strong public support in Ireland for full marriage rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples, Kerrigan called it "simply not accurate and more than a bit disingenuous" for organizers to use as a reason for excluding certain groups the parades focus on promoting Irish heritage. "As some in the media have begun to point out, when it comes to tolerance and equality, there are a few things we could learn from the Irish," Kerrigan said. "I look forward to someday marching in the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade after division is put aside for the sake of Commonwealth and community. That will happen because good people like Mayor Walsh continue to step up and make the case for equality." - M. Murphy/SHNS

PENN NATIONAL PLANS FRIDAY RACINO GROUNDBREAKING

The recipient of the state's lone slots-only gaming license plans to share its construction timeline and information about job opportunities when it breaks ground on its new $225 million facility on Friday afternoon in Plainville. Penn National Gaming, which is involved with the operation of 26 gaming facilities in 17 jurisdictions, plans to feature live harness racing and simulcasting and 1,250 slot machines at a facility it's calling Plainridge Park Casino. The gaming company was awarded its license on Feb. 28 and sent out invitations to the groundbreaking last week. "We are thrilled to begin construction of this new economic engine for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Eric Schippers, senior vice president of government affairs for Penn National, said in a statement. - M. Norton/SHNS

IN PUSH FOR $$$, METCO BACKERS POINT TO RESULTS

Supporters of a voluntary school desegregation program that serves about 3,300 students from Springfield and Boston urged lawmakers to support $19.6 million in funding for the program next year, a 5.4 percent increase. "We are going to demand what we deserve," Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson told more than 100 METCO program enrollees and supporters at the State House. According to METCO, the 37 communities participating in the program received $3,459 per student in education funding plus a transportation allotment during fiscal 2014. Jackson graduated from Brookline High School in 1993, which he attended as a METCO student. He said statistics show a higher than average percentage of METCO students who graduate from high school go on to enter college and actually complete higher education. "This is a program that not only elevates people but it brings people together," he said. In a $36.4 billion state budget, $19 million is "not a lot relative to a program that has a demonstrated history of working." Rep. Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose) told attendees from Boston and Springfield that he grew up with the program, since METCO students attend schools in Melrose and Wakefield. "I am your state rep as well," he said. Rep. David Linksy of Natick also backed METCO. "It's a great program that benefits obviously the kids who go but it benefits the communities as well," he said. - M. Norton/SHNS