Education leaders speak out for more revenues

Hundreds of people from across the state, including two busloads of MTA higher education members, crowded into Gardner Auditorium in the State House on May 5 waving yellow fliers marked “Invest in Our Communities.”

They were on hand to show their support for a bill carrying a similar name and theme: An Act to Invest in Our Communities.

The legislation, filed by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz in the Senate and Rep. Jim O’Day in the House, would raise $1.37 billion in revenues by increasing the state income tax rate while also increasing the personal exemption in order to eliminate or reduce the impact on low- and middle-income families.

Speaker after speaker rose to testify on the need for more revenues to protect services that are vital to the long-term health of children, seniors, our communities and our economy.

“I am president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and I am also a parent,” Paul Toner said at a press conference before the hearing. “We talk about closing the achievement gap between rich and poor. The only way we are going to be able to do that is provide students with excellent schools and also good wraparound services – the human and social services they need to be successful.

“It’s not just K-12,” he continued. “Our higher ed campuses are in desperate need of new resources. Tuition and fees have gone through the roof. We need to keep our public higher ed system not only excellent, but affordable.”

Rosemary Jebari, president of the Framingham Teachers Association, testified about the “slow erosion of services” in public schools she has witnessed in recent years. The impacts include increasing class sizes, the loss of social services, a lack of books and supplies and costly new fees for extracurricular activities and bus service.

Joseph LeBlanc, president of the Massachusetts Community College Council and chair of the MTA Higher Education Leadership Council, noted that “more courses are being taught by adjuncts that at any time in our history.

“I say shame on us,” he added.

Adjunct faculty members work hard for low pay and no benefits, he explained. Meanwhile, their students are deprived of the advising services that full-time faculty are able to provide their students.

Like many of the speakers, LeBlanc talked of the need for a fairer tax structure to provide adequate revenues in the face of growing inequality in the U.S.

An Act to Invest in Our Community Hearing, May 5, 2011

Testifying at the May 5 hearing, Joseph LeBlanc, president of the Massachusetts Community College Council and chair of the Higher Education Leadership Council, Shauna Manning, president of the Classified Staff Union at UMass Boston (center) and Rosemary Jebari, president of the Framingham Teachers Association.

More Photos

“While these continue to be great times for the haves, the have-nots are struggling,” he said, describing how many of his community college students must work full time in order to support themselves.

Several speakers talked of the severe cuts in social services, including home care services for the elderly and disabled.

Others emphasized that cutting services is “penny wise and pound foolish” since Massachusetts attracts highly educated talent because the state has cultural amenities, good schools and safe, attractive communities.

Shauna Manning, president of the Classified Staff Union at UMass Boston, said, “Most UMass graduates remain in Massachusetts after graduating, working and paying taxes in the state. There is a significant return on every dollar the state puts into public education – it is a long-term investment in the state economy and our communities.”

William Brooks Harrelson, president and CEO of Accordare, Inc., a small software services company in Arlington, took part in a panel of business leaders who told legislators that raising his taxes would actually be good for the business climate because the budget cuts taking place right now are making Massachusetts a less attractive destination.

“The cuts mean that smart, mobile professionals move away,” Harrelson said. He added that someone posted a message on Arlington’s community e-mail list stating, “Life isn’t fair, but it’s not the taxpayers’ responsibility to make it all better.”

“In fact it is,” said Harrelson. “That’s what taxes are about. Cooperation, mutual betterment, development of a better society.

This is what we do together.”

More Photos from the May 5th State House events.


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