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After a long day of debate, Massachusetts House lawmakers on Wednesday approved sweeping education reforms designed to increase the number of charter schools and give the state a stronger hand in improving schools.
House lawmakers approved the measure convincingly — 119 votes to 35 — just after midnight. The bill would double the number of charter school seats in under-performing districts and give superintendents more power to overhaul failing schools.
"Even as we show dramatic improvement in most of our schools, too many students are left behind," said Rep. Martha Walz, who chairs the House Education Committee. "Massachusetts has one of the largest and most persistent achievement gaps of any state in our nation."
"The reality is we've got some pretty tough schools out there, some bad schools," sHouse Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Murphy. "We need to give the tools so that these kids have a chance to reach their potential. That's the bottom line."
Advocates have been pressing for a final bill to be signed by Gov. Deval Patrick by Jan. 15 because the legislation could better position the state to qualify for about $250 million in federal education stimulus funding.
"This bill will promote accountability and innovation in our schools and position our Commonwealth to capitalize on the significant federal dollars that are at stake," said House Speaker Robert DeLeo in a statement.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston schools superintendent Carol Johnson on Thursday praised the House's efforts. Johnson said the bill's changes will bring about rapid improvements.
"We are just really excited and pleased and we look forward to using these tools to address the academic achievement," she said, "not just for some of our students but for all of our students."
The Senate passed its version of the education bill last November, and a conference committee is currently working on reconciling the two versions.
Boston Foundation President Paul Grogan, a supporter of charter schools, said the job isn't over, though. "There are some significant differences that have to be ironed out in conference," Grogan said. "We don't want there to be new encumbrances on the charters were asking to expand."
Patrick is set to meet with reporters at the State House on Thursday afternoon to discuss the bill's recent developments.
This program aired on January 7, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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