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Baker budget shortchanges public education

A steady stream of educators and advocates testified on Monday, Feb. 29, against Governor Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2017 state budget proposal, saying it would shortchange public education in significant ways.

Several members of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which held a hearing on the proposal at Everett High School, asked pointed questions of Education Secretary Jim Peyser and others in the Baker administration.

The hearing, which focused specifically on education and local aid, was held to gather the views of agency officials, educators and others as the House and Senate begin hammering out their own versions of a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

MTA president Barbara Madeloni, who testified on a panel with two other MTA members, told the legislators that she came before them with “a great sense of disappointment.”

“We educators again find ourselves facing a budget that underfunds and undervalues public education,” she said.

Related Resources

Read our full analysis of the governor’s budget proposal for public education — including specifics about proposed funding for preK-12, local aid, higher education, early education and employee benefits. Spreadsheets for each section of the proposed budget related to public education are available here.

The governor’s budget “reflects the narrow ideological focus of this administration on charter schools, falsely raising them as a panacea for the challenges facing public education,” she continued, “and it seeks to continue to shift costs to public employees and local taxpayers while doling out tax breaks to multinational corporations.”

Erik Fearing, president of the Revere Teachers Association and a math teacher at Revere’s SeaCoast alternative public high school, said he is proud his city does not have charter schools. He said his district’s public schools offer “expanded-learning-time schools, an Innovation School and a blended-learning model at Revere High School where everyone has an iPad.”

“We have a broad range of public school programs that prove it can be done inclusively and done better,” he continued, adding that the Baker budget “seems meant to pull the rug out from under the state’s most vulnerable students.”

Max Page, a professor of architecture at UMass Amherst, testified that 30 years ago a student could graduate from UMass with no debt. That same student today would graduate with debt of about $30,000.

“That’s just shifting debt to working men and women,” he said.

What the administration hails as “efficiency” in the UMass budget, he said, means that “we have built a system that requires exploiting adjunct faculty. At UMass Amherst, we have 6,000 more students today but one-quarter fewer full-time faculty. How do we make up the difference? With adjunct faculty who have low pay, no benefits and no job security.”

“That’s not efficiency,” he said. “That’s exploitation.”

The first panel of speakers — which included Peyser, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago and Commissioner of Early Education and Care Tom Weber — described the governor's proposal as one that seeks fairness and efficiencies in what Peyser called “another tough budget year.”

Proposed changes to the methodology used to determine the number of low-income students — from those who receive free and reduced-price school meals to a “direct certification” approach that counts only those students receiving state services such as SNAP and MassHealth — raised many of the questions from the committee.

The practical effect of the change is that cities such as Revere, Everett and Somerville would lose funds in fiscal 2017 for 35 to 40 percent of the poor children they serve.

Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), vice chair of the committee, told Peyser, "We need to do more for our children, not less." He noted that Chelsea and Everett would get millions of dollars less than they would under the current formula.

Representative Claire Cronin (D-Easton), another committee member, agreed, saying that “6,000 of the most vulnerable students in Brockton” would not be counted as poor under the administration’s formula.

On Chapter 70 funding, Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) asked Peyser why that amount would increase only 1.6 percent in the governor’s budget when revenue is expected to increase by 4.3 percent.