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MTA president praises governor for making education a priority

MTA President Anne Wass is commending Governor Deval Patrick for making education a priority in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, but says more must be done to ensure that the Commonwealth's public schools and colleges have the resources they need to provide a high-quality education.

"We recognize that these are challenging economic times and appreciate that Gov. Patrick is putting education at the forefront," Wass said. "But students have one chance to get a quality education -- and they can't wait. The state needs to do its fair share now, not at some unspecified moment in the future."

When adjusted for inflation, state aid to local school districts has decreased by over $420 million -- almost 10 percent -- since its high point in fiscal 2002. State funding for public higher education has slipped by close to 26 percent, or $391 million, since its 2001 peak.

Public higher education plays a vital role in the future growth of our state economy and is the key to opportunity for many Massachusetts students, yet it has been cut year after year," Wass said. "Those cuts need to be reversed."

Wass was particularly critical of one aspect of the governor's budget proposal -- his demand that many higher education faculty and staff pay sharply higher premiums for health insurance. The plan would translate to a pay cut for many employees, she said, and is neither fair nor wise.

"We need to attract and retain high-quality faculty and staff at this crucial time," Wass said. "It's hard to see how this idea helps us fulfill this goal."

The governor is proposing a $368 million overall increase in funding over the original budget for the current fiscal year for colleges, the University of Massachusetts and preK-12 educational programs, including an increase of $223 million in Chapter 70 state aid for school districts. He is proposing a paltry $34 million increase for public higher education.

Revenue strategies

Patrick is also offering a strategy for the state to raise much-needed revenues.

The MTA supports the governor's proposals to close corporate tax loopholes, enact a municipal partnership bill and bring resort casinos to Massachusetts. These steps would be expected to produce more resources for public education at all levels.

"Educators are committed to helping students, but they need the resources to do it," Wass said. "Public schools and affordable and accessible public higher education are the key to our students' success and the future of Massachusetts."

A report released recently by the state Department of Education underscores the fact that fiscal demands are affecting a broad range of school districts and that less money is being allocated for classroom instruction.

The DOE report suggests a study to determine the level of resources needed to adequately fund K-12 public education. The MTA has long been calling for a study and is sponsoring a bill currently in the Legislature that would provide for one.