‘We Can’t Wait!’ – A Call for Major Reinvestment in Public Education This Year
‘Fund Our Future’ Coalition Demands Equal Access to Great Public Education
From Prekindergarten Through College
BOSTON – Students, educators, parents, and community leaders from across Massachusetts today filled a hearing room at the State House to call on Governor Charlie Baker and the Legislature to end the generation-long underfunding of local public schools and public colleges and universities. Advocates called for a major $1.5 billion reinvestment in public education in time for local communities to include the funding in the next academic year’s budget, and in time for public college students to avoid tuition and fee hikes this fall.
“Last year, my calculus class had at least 35 students. The class was so packed that we had to bring chairs from other rooms, we barely had space to move around, and students rarely got a one-on-one time unless they came before or after school. Our teacher was amazing but she was only one teacher with more students than should be allowed. Currently, my younger siblings don’t have a librarian at their elementary school and the library hasn’t been in full use for years,” said Birukti Tsige, a senior at Malden High School. “I was able to get a good education in Malden, but only because I knew where to seek out my resources, used the internet for just about anything and actively went searching for opportunities and help. But I saw, and I’m still seeing, how the lack of resources impacts kids who need support, who are too afraid to ask for help, and who are too overwhelmed to take everything on themselves. We can’t afford to wait another year. Legislators need to fund our future, and they need to make this — and us – their first priority when they start work in January.”
“For decades, Massachusetts has failed to address the persistent education inequality that often exists between students in one community and those in the city or town right next door. I’ve taught in both Worcester and Weston, and I’ve seen firsthand the difference between a well-funded school district and one that doesn’t receive adequate funding,” said public school teacher Zena Link. “It’s wrong, we know it’s wrong, and we can’t wait another year for our state leaders to provide the money they promised to fix it. We must give all students equal access to great public education from preK through college, whether they live in Worcester or Weston, Brookline or Brockton, North Adams or Norwell.”
The new Fund Our Future coalition called on the Legislature to meet the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission and the Higher Education Finance Commission by increasing state funding for preK-12 schools by $1 billion a year and increasing state funding for public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year. The coalition is made up of the following members: American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, Boston Teachers Union, Citizens for Public Schools, FairTest, Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, Massachusetts Teachers Association, NAACP New England Area Conference, and PHENOM (Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts).
“I graduated from UMass Boston with a bachelor’s degree, but it took me over 12 years because of the unaffordable costs and lack of funding opportunities,” said Juan Pablo Blanco, a current UMass Boston graduate student. “At UMass Boston we have buildings where the water is not potable, offices where leaks rot our floors and worst of all, a campus that is quite literally sinking into our substructure. We are not, however, just a convenient exception. This is becoming the norm all across the state. When public institutions become unaffordable and inaccessible for our community, they are no longer public. All students, regardless of their background, deserve well-funded public colleges and a debt-free future.”
“We know what Massachusetts needs to do to fund our schools, and we can’t wait another year,” said Darcie Boyer, the parent of a 3rd grader in the Lowell Public Schools and a member of the Lowell Education Justice Alliance. “We’re going to keep coming back to the State House to talk to our legislators and share the stories of families and school communities across the state. Local teachers, students and parents know what’s needed in our schools, and it’s time for the State House to hear our voices.”
The Foundation Budget Review Commission found in 2015 that the state is underfunding public education by at least $1 billion a year. The commission found that the state’s funding formula fails to account for the cost of four specific items: educating students who have disabilities, are English learners, or are from low-income families, and managing the rising cost of health insurance for staff. Since 2002, annual K-12 funding from the state has been cut by $405 million in inflation-adjusted dollars. Nationally, Massachusetts ranks 33rd in the share of our states’ economic resources dedicated to public education. As a result, many students aren’t getting a well-rounded education including small classes, music and art, science, technology, engineering, and math education, and public school staff including counselors, paraprofessionals, special education teachers and librarians.
“Public education is why Massachusetts is a great place to live and work. But our future is at risk when only some communities and students have access to a great public education, while others do not. Wealthy districts can make up for the shortfall in state education spending by raising taxes on local residents, but that is not an option for lower-income urban and rural communities,” said Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP. “Our reputation for student success masks huge gaps in opportunities to learn and outcomes based on race, ethnicity and family income. Children of color are still receiving unequal opportunities and the results are stark. Massachusetts must do more – this year – to provide equal opportunity to all students.”
“If my city schools were fully funded, all students would not have to go without vital resources as they do at home,” said Kim Thompson, a Springfield paraprofessional. “How can our students believe they can succeed and be anything they want to be when we can’t provide them with books to take home, individual workbooks, or even paper? Right now we are just an extension of their home, telling them ‘sorry we can’t afford to give you that.’ “
“Twenty five years ago, education reform paired new funding for local schools with strict accountability measures. Teachers, students, and school districts have responded to those requirements for years, but the state hasn’t lived up to its end of the bargain with adequate funding,” said John Oteri, superintendent of the Malden Public Schools. “We live in a different world than we did 25 years ago, and the challenges our schools deal with have only grown. In addition, school districts such as Malden, a Gateway city with more acute needs, have had significant changes in demographics and other aspects so much so that we are struggling to serve our students’ needs with the limited current funding available to schools. Malden, a multilingual community of 60,000 with nearly 70 spoken languages at home is one of the most diverse cities in the Commonwealth. We need the state to step up with resources, re-prioritization and a re-commitment to ensure that every student receives the educational programs and services they need: small class sizes, art and music, academic support, counseling, librarians, nurses, after school and summer school programs, special education services and support for English language learners. We need our leaders to finally fulfill the promise that was made to students, teachers, and our communities an entire generation ago and fund our future.”
“As a paraprofessional in an urban district, full funding for our schools would make a huge impact on my school day and that of my students,” said Barbara McLernon, a paraprofessional at the Collins Middle School in Salem. “To have enough staff to service scholars who need the extra support would heal my soul. To have technology in my hands that the students use, so I can help them access the learning happening in their classes, would be amazing. To have working landlines to call for help in a safety situation would give me confidence that someone will come if need be. To have pens, pencils, rulers, markers, and the other simple essentials many of my students can’t afford to bring themselves would be a miracle. My heart is broken when I can’t provide for these scholars because each one of them is mine in my heart.”
The state’s Higher Education Finance Commission found in 2014 that the state is underfunding our public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. Since 2001, state funding of public colleges and universities has declined dramatically, from $12,000 per student each year to only $8,000 per student. As a result, Massachusetts has the fastest-growing public college costs and the second-fastest growth in student debt in the nation. Tuition and fees at Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities are among the highest in the country. Costs are being shifted onto students and families, who are forced to take on enormous debt. Today, the average UMass student is graduating with over $30,000 in student debt, and the average graduate of our state universities leaves school with over $25,000 in student debt. At the same time, full-time tenured faculty members are being replaced by part-time instructors who are paid much less, have no job security, and often do not receive health insurance coverage.
“Right now, our elected officials on Beacon Hill aren’t working for us; instead, they’re forcing us to go into massive debt just to get the college education we need to participate in this economy, that we need to participate in a healthy democracy, and that we deserve because we know that education is a fundamental right for all and not a privilege for the wealthy few,” said UMass Amherst Student Government President Timmy Sullivan. “Remember, the folks on Beacon Hill work for us. And my message for them is that it’s time to fund our future and finally build a debt-free future for all of our students.”
“As a public school parent, I regularly have to donate money so my daughter’s classroom can have basic supplies like tissues and markers. She’s never been to the library at her middle school because there’s no money for a librarian,” said Ricardo Rosa, a parent in New Bedford and a professor at UMass Dartmouth. “At UMass Dartmouth, we’re dealing with extreme levels of food insecurity and homelessness. It’s time for our state leaders to reinvest in our public education system from preK all the way through college. Our kids can’t keep waiting, so we’re going to put incredible pressure on the State House until our political leaders do what’s right.”
Contact: Steve Crawford, 857-753-4132, email@example.com
December 18, 2018