Legislation to overhaul Massachusetts’ school-financing formula and reverse a voter-approved initiative that gutted bilingual education top the roster of education-related bills that lawmakers expect to file by today.

The bills, Beacon Hill’s annual, high-priced wish list, are among thousands that the Legislature will sift through beginning in January. Lawmakers filed 4,000 bills in the House and 1,800 in the Senate for this year’s session, but far fewer became law. The deadline to submit legislation is 5 p.m. today. As with previous years, many bills are making return appearances after legislators killed them. And some stand little chance because of their huge costs during a $2 billion budget deficit.

Still, the bills span current hot-button educational issues such as bilingual education and the MCAS graduation requirement, as well as perennial projects such as full-day kindergarten. “Every bill will be seriously considered,” said state Representative Peter J. Larkin, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee.

Seizing upon inequities among Massachusetts’ 372 school systems, lawmakers will file changes to the school-financing formula, known as Chapter 70. The biggest complaints come from fast-growing suburbs where school enrollment jumps aren’t necessarily accompanied by more state money – and from diverse towns that receive less state money to educate a more disadvantaged population than their wealthier, similarly sized neighbors.

“We think inequities among like communities have not been addressed,” said state Senator David Magnani, Democrat of Framingham, who also will file a bill to boost state funding for special-education students.

In addition, lawmakers are bracing for a battle over bilingual education. A month ago, voters overwhelmingly passed Question 2, which replaced bilingual programs with all-English classes. But legislators are proposing a moratorium on the issue or expanding the waivers students can apply for.

In what would amount to a repeal of the ballot question, Larkin will submit the same bill that he helped craft last year, letting schools choose bilingual programs in exchange for stricter state oversight. Voters trumped that bill when they passed Question 2, but Larkin is determined to try again.

“It was lost upon the voters that we reformed bilingual education in Massachusetts,” said Larkin, a Pittsfield Democrat. “I think we all have the same goal. It comes down to how to get there.”

Proponents of English immersion have vowed to fight changes to the initiative, which Governor-elect Mitt Romney supported.

The Massachusetts Federation of Teachers and the Massachusetts Teachers Association have legislative packages. The MTA wants to hike the sales tax to boost the state’s $3.2 billion school-financing formula and set a minimum teachers’ salary of $40,000. The price tag is $2 billion over seven years, beginning in 2005.

A coalition of lawmakers backed by Larkin also supports the “early education for all” act that would expand full-day kindergarten and create classes for 3- to 5-year-olds statewide. The price: $1 billion over 10 years.

But cost-cutting is preoccupying some leaders. The state Board of Education has filed legislation that would curtail the amount of money the state reimburses schools for construction costs under the popular but fast-growing school building assistance program, board chairman James A. Peyser said.

Representative Thomas J. O’Brien also will refile a charter-school moratorium. The publicly financed, independently run schools get money from their students’ home school districts, and school systems are no longer reimbursed for the money they lose.

Massachusetts has 46 charter schools, with five more scheduled to open in September 2003. O’Brien’s bill would not affect those, but would place a three-year cap on new charter schools while a commission studies charter-school financing.



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