ATTLEBORO — As Jim Hawkins was being sworn into office in the Massachusetts House last week, the Ways and Means Committee was releasing its budget proposal for next fiscal year.
Hawkins, D-Attleboro, was surprised to see the budget did not include funding for a project important to Attleboro schools, research into alternatives to the MCAS tests students must pass to graduate.
The new representative said he had to scramble to get background information and proper language to submit an amendment to add the funding.
It didn’t help matters that he was so new to the House that he had not yet been assigned a state computer, which is needed for filing legislation.
With a little help from his colleagues, Hawkins was able to file the amendment the next day.
It calls for $400,000 in funding for an organization called Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment. The group includes school officials and teacher representatives from Attleboro, Boston, Lowell, Revere, Somerville and Winchester.
The work of the group is a high priority of Attleboro school Superintendent Dave Sawyer and others in the city school department. Sawyer says the group wants to find ways to evaluate student performance that would supplement, but not necessarily replace, MCAS.
Hawkins is a former 10th-grade math teacher. He said the search for alternatives is important to him because MCAS can be disruptive to schools.
Schedules must be upended and teachers must “teach to the test” because there is so much emphasis on MCAS, he said. Students also get stressed out, he said, because passing MCAS is a requirement for graduation.
Now that his amendment is filed, Hawkins is working on getting co-sponsors and other supporters to get it added to the budget.
Although $400,000 is a tiny portion of the $41 billion budget, the measure has faced a difficult history at the Statehouse.
Last year Gov. Charlie Baker tried to block the funding and this year Hawkins said he believes the Ways and Means Committee accidentally omitted it.