MTA ESP of the Year Jean Fay testifies on education funding

Testimony of Jean Fay
Representing the Massachusetts Teachers Association
House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means
Thursday, February 23, 2012
On the FY13 State Budget

Good afternoon, Representative Kulik, Senator Moore, members of the Committee.

My name is Jean Fay, and I am a kindergarten paraprofessional for the Amherst public school system. MTA President Paul Toner was not able to be here today, but he asked that I represent the MTA, and I am happy to do so.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, representing over 107,000 members across the Commonwealth, including educators (Pre-K through graduate school) and educational support personnel.

I am here today to speak to the need to adequately fund our public schools, colleges and universities.  While I understand the tight budget constraints our state is experiencing right now, we all need to remember that the children of Massachusetts are not only our most valuable resource, but also our most vulnerable one. We all need to continue to work together to ensure that we provide the best possible education for the students of Massachusetts.

Since the state is facing financial challenges, MTA supports the governor’s proposed budget recommendations (House 2) that would essentially level-fund Pre-K-12 Education.  House 2 proposes an increase in funding for Chapter 70 to ensure that all school districts are spending at their foundation budget level, and $10 million for programs to help reduce the achievement gap in our Gateway Cities. 

As someone who works with young children, I know firsthand the importance of smaller class sizes. Without proper funding we will see larger class sizes which will make providing the early intervention services that are so crucial to children in their early school years virtually impossible. Presently I work in a class with 20 kindergartners. I often find myself trying to coax a recalcitrant five-year-old to hold a pencil while simultaneously assisting 19 other students with their literacy strategies. We are already stretched so thin I can only imagine what will happen if class sizes increase due to continued budget cuts.

Late last spring, I was awarded a classroom library makeover from Scholastic Books. I was thrilled, knowing that the new books were needed to replace the books I had brought from my home, which although well loved, were also well-worn. That same week a tornado hit Western Massachusetts, leaving behind a path of destruction and devastation. A colleague of mine told me about Robyn Krapf, a first grade teacher at Elias Brookings School in Springfield, who lost the entire contents of her classroom. Donating the new books to her classroom not only made sense, it was the right thing to do. This year Robyn has 32 students in her class, and she struggles to provide each of them with the attention they need and deserve in a temporary classroom with limited supplies.

The Mass Budget and Policy Center reports that between FY09 and FY12, Chapter 70 was reduced by $440 million. Other education programs decreased by over $130 million, for a total loss to education funding of over $570 million. Most communities cannot make up this funding.

After over 14 years as a kindergarten paraprofessional in the Amherst public school system, I still make less than $17,000 a year. Yet, I would never even think of hesitating to reach into my own pocket to pay for a pair of snow boots or a warm winter coat for a needy child in my class, because I know it is the right thing to do. Adequate funding of public education is the right thing to do, to ensure we invest in the most valuable resource—our children.

MTA urges the Legislature to look beyond this upcoming fiscal year and develop a plan for addressing the adequacy of the foundation budget by supporting House Bill 153, which requires an independent study to guide the Legislature in adjusting the foundation budget as the economy improves.

Speaking also for our members in higher education, we are pleased that the governor included reserve accounts in his budget that will fund the collective bargaining agreements for our higher education members for FY13. Taking these funds into account and his proposal to increase funding for our community colleges by $10 million, the Governor proposes to increase funding by over 6.8 percent. 

However, public higher education has been cut 16 percent since the recession: over $164 million from FY09 to FY12. Public higher education’s mission is to provide Massachusetts citizens with the opportunity to participate in academic and educational programs for their personal betterment and growth, contribute to the area’s existing base of research and knowledge and contribute to the Commonwealth’s future economic growth and development. 

In order to make this mission a reality, MTA’s supporting the Legislature’s Public Higher Education Caucus recommendation to increase all campus line item accounts by five percent and to increase scholarship funding by five percent.

The last several years’ cuts to higher education have seriously compromised our state system. Since FY01, higher education has been cut almost $700 million (adjusted for inflation), a 40 percent reduction in state funding. These cutbacks have come at the same time most institutions are seeing increased enrollment. Our colleges and universities cannot make up this funding, without raising fees and tuition, which limits access and hurts those students and families most vulnerable.

The governor’s budget proposes changes to the way our 15 community colleges would be governed and funded. The process did not include a full discussion by all stakeholders including faculty and staff. While the outside section dealt with leadership and funding of the community colleges, it does not deal with other initial issues necessary for the success of the community colleges and its students.

The state will again face a budget in FY14 with an enormous gap between revenue and needed spending. To begin to address the lack of revenue to support quality education for all students, we ask for your support to increase state revenues as soon as possible. 

We understand this will be difficult, but we want you to know that we will support you in your efforts to increase revenues, especially if done in as progressive way as possible, such as increasing the income tax. 

Massachusetts cannot cut its way to a strong and vibrant economy. We must invest in our communities, our residents, our students, and do so in a strategic way.  We urge you to consider this approach.

Thank you for your consideration of our views.

 Jean Fay testifies before House Ways & Means hearing, 2/23/12

See Also:

FY13 Budget Spreadsheets

Revenue Campaign Activist Toolkit

Adequate Fuding Campaign Activist Toolkit