MTA President addresses education funding crisis

Testimony of MTA President Catherine Boudreau
Before the House and Senate Ways and Means Hearing on Education
Monday, March 10, 2003

In the Student Center, Rondileau Building, Bridgewater State College

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Ms. Chairwoman, and members of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees.  Thank you for allowing me to address you today.

My name is Catherine Boudreau and I am president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which represents 97,000 educators and staff who educate over one million students in Massachusetts from pre-K through graduate school.  Because we represent members in both public higher education as well as in our local public schools, I would like to combine my testimony today and speak about the concerns of both sectors of our public education system, if I may.

While we obviously recognize the serious budget crisis facing the Commonwealth today, I am here to talk about what is needed to ensure that the progress made in education does not slip backwards.  First, passage of the Governor's proposed budget will NOT ensure our continued progress.

While I serve now as the MTA President, I am also a faculty member at Massasoit Community College, and I can speak first-hand of the continuing assault being made on public higher education.

The facts speak for themselves:

  • Since 2001, public higher education has been cut by more than $114 million.
  • Students have been faced with increased tuitions and fees -- up an average of 28% since 2001.
  • Full-time faculty who have left or retired have not been replaced -- UMass faculty numbers are down 15%.
  • Staff lost to layoffs and retirement have not been replaced, causing plummeting morale among employees and adversely affecting student services.
  • Libraries have been decimated -- their budgets slashed 91% since 2001.

The quality of our higher education institutions is already jeopardized by numbers like these. 

And yet now, Governor Romney's budget would continue the assault with an additional $156 million cut to public higher education.  And because public higher education employees are state employees, they will also be subject to the governor's proposed hikes in health insurance coverage.  These proposed hikes, which range upwards from 67%, depending on coverage, are, in fact, very real and very deep pay cuts to the more than 12,000 public higher ed employees -- faculty, librarians, administrators and staff -- who have been denied their negotiated raises.

Governor Romney's proposal is also intensifying the assault on public higher education with an ill-conceived reorganization plan and an all-out attack on collective bargaining.

The governor's reorganization plan was developed without input from the major stakeholders -- faculty, staff and students.  The plan itself has not been made public, and what the Governor has released is short on specifics.  But its potential -- and intended -- effects are crystal clear: privatization of some of our most treasured institutions, skyrocketing tuitions and fees making colleges and the university unaffordable to many state residents, as well as scaled-down course offerings to those who can afford to attend.

These community colleges, state colleges and the university were built by and for the citizens of Massachusetts.  They have provided access, affordability and excellence to generations of students.  Are these institutions perfect?  Of course not.  And the Governor's goal of consolidation does make sense in some areas: purchasing, for example. But his hastily-crafted and ill-considered reorganization scheme will not achieve his goal of saving money and will only cause disruption, anxiety and uncertainty.

But higher education is not the only segment of our public education system that is on the chopping block under the Governor's proposals.  The Governor claims that he has sent you a balanced budget without cutting essential services, and certainly, education is an essential responsibility of state government.  This legislature has always taken that responsibility very seriously, which is why you passed the Education Reform Act in 1993 and have always fulfilled your commitment to fund it since that time.  

Now, the Governor is asking you to break that promise:  Please do not do so.  

The Governor claims that he has not cut K-12 education and in fact, even claims that he has increased spending on education.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While the dollars for Chapter 70 funding have gone up slightly from last year's appropriation, in fact, the proposed "increase," when adjusted for inflation and changes in enrollment, is essentially level-funded, which, as we all know, is a cut, and certainly is not an increase in funding. 

The Governor is engaging in a shell game. While adding slightly to Chapter 70, he has gutted education grant and reimbursement programs. He has eliminated of some of the programs that educators know to be most important for ensuring success in school, such as: 

Class Size reduction for low income districts -- eliminated

Full day kindergarten grants -- eliminated

Early literacy programs -- eliminated

Early Childhood Education programs -- reduced and transferred to other agencies

School breakfast program for universal feeding - eliminated

Adding the elimination of transportation for pupils (and 50% reduction for regional school districts) that local school districts will have to pick up, we estimate over $229 million in cuts to our local schools in grant and reimbursement programs alone.

Finally, there are proposed massive cuts to other local aid, which, as every local official knows, are also cuts to our local schools.

The MTA urges the Legislature to restore these programs that are so crucial to ensure our childrens' future.

It is ironic that the only real increases in funding for education proposed by the Governor appear to be for MCAS, through increases in test administration and test prep programs and for charter schools, which continue to siphon millions of dollars away from our local schools.

The Governor also attacks collective bargaining -- which is really an attack on labor.  What, we might ask, is his point in trying to strip collective bargaining rights from workers who provide core services in education, health care and community safety?

The Governor's proposals target tens of thousands of state and local public employees, including educators and staff.  The governor's proposal severely limits the scope of what could be bargained.  Evaluations, assignments, class size, duties, professional development, and training are just a few of the issues that educators would no longer have a voice in determining--including many issues that benefit and protect students as well as educators.

In fact, this attack on collective bargaining is unwarranted, because collective bargaining can lead to changes that parents and the public want -- MTA puts quality issues front and center in our bargaining efforts.  Educators represent parents' concerns at the bargaining table, by bargaining for class size, time for teaching, mentoring for new teachers and faculty and professional development, all of which benefits students.  It is just not possible, nor desirable, to negotiate 97,000 separate contracts with our public education employees.  There are many local unions, both in higher education and in our local schools, that have very good relationships with their employers, relationships that are good because of the collective bargaining process.

There is a way out of this serious revenue crisis that we face today—and in fact, you know as well as we do that this is a revenue crisis and not a spending crisis.  The major reason that this state is facing the vast deficit that we are is due to the $3.7 billion plus in tax cuts passed over the past decade.  It is time to face the facts and recognize that we must restore revenues to protect important, yes, essential public services, including public education from early childhood through graduate school.   

I am here to ask that you not make these severe cuts to public education, that you not pass these insulting collective bargaining changes or these devastating reorganization plans, and I am also here to offer the complete support of the 97,000 members of the MTA across the state who will be there to encourage you and to applaud you when you do the right thing by restoring needed revenues to our state budget, through a combination of closing corporate tax loopholes, and increasing the income and sales tax.  

Thank you for your consideration of our views.  We hope we will be able to work together over these tough next few months to ensure that public education in this Commonwealth continues to be one of our most important resources.