Massachusetts education policy makers want to spend more money on programs for academically talented students, whose needs have been downgraded as educators focus on raising the lowest MCAS scores.
''The bottom line to me is that too many of our kids are not being challenged . . . and are, frankly, bored," Education Commissioner David Driscoll said. ''The whole issue of our higher-performing kids is something we need to pay attention to."
The few dollars left after state budget cuts in recent years were spent on programs to help the lowest-scoring students pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test. In the past two school years, there has been little state funding for what is called ''gifted and talented" student programs.
The state came up with $100,000 for this year, but the Board of Education on Tuesday approved a fiscal 2006 request for $1 million. Lawmakers and Governor Mitt Romney must weigh in on the sum when enacting the budget in the new year.
Mark Andersen, president of the Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education, said the $1 million request is ''a start." He has met with state education officials and has pushed for improved math curriculum in lower grades, and wants to see college enrollment and access opened to children, among other things.
Andersen's organization estimates that 75,000 students are academically gifted, about 8 percent of the public school population.
Massachusetts historically trails most states on funding for designated programs, according to figures compiled by the National Association for Gifted Children.
The group's most recent numbers, from the 2001-02 year, show Georgia spent $112 million, Texas $65 million, and California $54 million. That year, Massachusetts spent $1.2 million for gifted and talented grants to districts, expansion of advanced-placement courses in low-income districts, and a ''dual enrollment" program that allowed qualified high school juniors and seniors to take courses for free at state colleges.
Those programs were slashed in fiscal 2003 when the state faced a $3 billion budget deficit. Only the gifted and talented grants are funded with the $100,000 this year.
''In current education politics, these are the kids who are being lost," said Board of Education member Abigail M. Thernstrom. ''The pressure is to put all the money on the low-performing kids."
The state cuts mean that local districts must fund their own programs, or scale them back, to continue.