BOSTON, MA — Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick gave his annual State of the Commonwealth address last night, in which he proposed sweeping changes to the community college system, centralizing authority for 15 campuses and emphasizing job training.
Patrick said "We have a skills gap. We can do something about that. We can help people get back to work. And our community colleges should be at the very center of it."
He reinforced an assessment made by a pair of reports released last November that described the state's community college system as disjointed and inadequate in its preparations of students for technical careers.
He cited successes within several colleges where programs trained workers in fields like health care and precision manufacturing.
Patrick said "We need that kind of sharper mission across the Commonwealth, so that community colleges become a fully integrated part of the state's workforce development plan. We can't do that if 15 different campuses have 15 different strategies." His proposal will let a central board distribute funding to individual colleges, taking into account enrollment and several performance measures. An additional goal is to make it easier to transfer credits among colleges, which has been a frequent complaint.
While some expect internal resistance to the plan, Paul Grogan, chief executive of the Boston Foundation and author of an influential report on community colleges released two months ago, was quoted in the Boston Globe, saying that "There is an accountability movement in education now, and also obviously there's the tremendous problem created by the economy." "This is an opportunity for the schools to be something fundamentally more important than they have been."
Patrick also re-introduced two other initiatives which he has previously supported: A health insurance payment overhaul ending the fee-for-service model and replacing it with global payment system that rewards doctors for coordinating care. And a criminal sentencing package which would modify the controversial "three-strikes" crime bill that would lengthen sentences for repeat offenders, requiring life sentences without parole for those whose third felony is murder or a "similarly heinous act of violence."
His health care bill was titled "An Act Improving the Quality of Health Care and Controlling Costs by Reforming Health Systems and Payments. " Among it's benefits — according to the text of the filing letter — are that it will encourage the formation and use of integrated care organizations, decrease total per capita expenditures on health care and the rate of growth in expenditures in the Commonwealth, ensure transparency and accuracy of payer and provider costs, provider payments, clinical outcomes, quality measures, and other information necessary to discern the value of health services.
When highlighting his criminal sentencing package, Patrick demanded that the strict new punishments be coupled with his plan to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, saying that state spending on prisons has grown 30 percent over the last decade due to longer sentences for first-time nonviolent drug offenders.
Patrick said that "we have moved, at massive public expense, from treatment for drug offenders to indiscriminate prison sentences and gained nothing in public safety. Many come out more dangerous than when they come in."
He went on to say that "alongside our reform of the Habitual Offender rules, we must have a comprehensive reentry program. We need more education and job training, and certainly more treatment, in prisons, and we need mandatory supervision after release." His plan would permit nonviolent drug offenders to have supervised release after serving half their sentence, hoping to help to integrate four to five hundred non-violent offenders in the next year and save millions in prison costs each year.