MTA joins coalition launch of Fund Our Future campaign
MTA joins coalition launch of Fund Our Future campaign
The atmosphere in Room 222 of the State House was festive but the message was serious today as students, educators, parents and community leaders from across Massachusetts called on Governor Charlie Baker and the Legislature to end the generation-long underfunding of local public schools and public colleges and universities by reinvesting $1.5 billion a year in public education.
MTA members and other coalition members held signs and wore Fund Our Future T-shirts to show their support for the initiative, which will be filed as a bill in January.
“Last year, my calculus class had at least 35 students,” said Birukti Tsige, a senior at Malden High School, providing just one example of how inadequate funding and staffing affect both students and educators. “The class was so packed that we had to bring chairs from other rooms. We barely had space to move around, and students rarely got a one-on-one time unless they came before or after school. Our teacher was amazing, but she was only one teacher with more students than should be allowed.
“This year, we have four guidance counselors,” Tsige continued. “That seems fine until you realize that there are more than 1,900 students in the school. They're incredible, but there’s only so much that one person can do with the hundreds of students assigned to them.”
MTA Board member and high school English teacher Zena Link amplified that message.
“There is a current crisis in preK-to-12 schools and in public higher education," Link said. "This can’t be addressed with standardized testing and curriculum or additional police officers.
“I’ve taught in both Worcester and Weston, and I’ve seen firsthand the difference between a well-funded school district and one that doesn’t receive adequate funding,” she added. “It’s wrong, we know it’s wrong, and we can’t wait another year for our state leaders to provide the money they promised to fix it.”
“I graduated from UMass Boston with a bachelor’s degree, but it took me over 12 years because of the unaffordable costs and lack of funding opportunities,” said Juan Pablo Blanco, a current UMass Boston graduate student. “At UMass Boston we have buildings where the water is not potable, offices where leaks rot our floors and, worst of all, a campus that is quite literally sinking into our substructure. We are not, however, just a convenient exception. This is becoming the norm all across the state.”
The new Fund Our Future coalition, mainly comprising organizations that opposed the charter school ballot initiative in 2016, called on the Legislature to meet the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission and the Higher Education Finance Commission by increasing state funding for preK-12 schools by more than $1 billion a year and increasing state funding for public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year.
Underfunding of Our Schools and Colleges
Public schools need $1 billion
The Foundation Budget Review Commission found in 2015 that the state is underfunding public schools by at least $1 billion a year. The commission found that the state’s funding formula fails to account for the cost of four specific items: educating students who have disabilities, are English learners or are from low-income families, and managing the rising cost of health insurance for staff. Since 2002, annual K-12 Chapter 70 funding from the state has been cut by about $400 million in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
Higher ed funding is stuck in 2001
The state’s Higher Education Finance Commission found in 2014 that the state is underfunding our public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. That is roughly the same amount of new money that would have to be allocated just to bring per- pupil state support back to where it was in 2001, in inflation-adjusted dollars.
“Public education is why Massachusetts is a great place to live and work. But our future is at risk when only some communities and students have access to a great public education, while others do not,” said Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP. “Wealthy districts can make up for the shortfall in state education spending by raising taxes on local residents, but that is not an option for lower-income urban and rural communities.”
School leaders have been expressing growing concerns about the inadequate funding. John Oteri, superintendent of schools in Malden, spoke for many at the event when he said, “Twenty-five years ago, education reform paired new funding for local schools with strict accountability measures. Teachers, students, and school districts have responded to those requirements for years, but the state hasn’t lived up to its end of the bargain with adequate funding.” He noted that there have been dramatic changes in the demographics of Gateway cities such as Malden, where 70 different languages are spoken at home in a community with 60,000 residents.
“We are struggling to serve our students’ needs with the limited current funding available to schools,” he said, calling for support for another set of three “R’s.”
“We need the state to Reprioritize, Recommit to education and provide us with the Resources needed to ensure that every student receives the educational programs and services they need: small class sizes, art and music, academic support, counseling, librarians, nurses, after school and summer school programs, special education services and support for English language learners.”
MTA Vice President Max Page said the Fund Our Future proposal is a way to strongly address students' needs.
“Our proposal recognizes that education doesn’t stop at grade 12," Page said. "All students deserve access to excellent, affordable public higher education. It’s appalling that Massachusetts has among the highest public higher education tuition and fees in the country, forcing students to take on debt that causes them lasting financial harm.”
Massachusetts has the fastest-growing public college costs and the second-fastest growth in student debt in the nation. Today, the average UMass student is graduating with over $30,000 in student debt, and the average graduate of our state universities leaves college with more than $25,000 in student debt. At the same time, full-time tenured faculty members are being replaced by part-time instructors who are paid much less, have no job security, and often do not receive health insurance coverage.
“Right now, our elected officials on Beacon Hill aren't working for us," said UMass Amherst Student Government Association President Timmy Sullivan. "Instead, they're forcing us to go into massive debt just to get the college education we need to participate in this economy, that we need to participate in a healthy democracy, and that we deserve because we know that education is a fundamental right for all and not a privilege for the wealthy few.”
“We are struggling to serve our students’ needs with the limited current funding available to schools.”
John Oteri, Malden Superintendent of Schools
Ricardo Rosa, a parent of two students in the New Bedford Public Schools and a professor at UMass Dartmouth, said he sees the needs in both systems.
“As a public school parent, I regularly have to donate money so my daughter’s classroom can have basic supplies like tissues and markers. She’s never been to the library at her middle school because there's no money for a librarian,” he said.
Rosa added that many of the students he teaches cannot afford the high tuition and fees. “At UMass Dartmouth, we’re dealing with extreme levels of food insecurity and homelessness. Our kids can’t keep waiting, so we’re going to put incredible pressure on the State House until our political leaders do what’s right.”
MTA President Merrie Najimy said that the coalition’s goal is to win passage of Fund Our Future legislation by May 1 so that students and staff can benefit from additional funding when they return to schools and colleges in the fall. Winning will require active support by a broad coalition.
“In the 2016 ‘No on 2’ campaign against lifting the cap on charter schools, our coalition made a powerful case against further privatizing our public schools,” Najimy said. “Through Fund Our Future, the same coalition will stand up together for what we believe in: fully funded public schools and colleges that provide all students, no matter what their race, ethnicity or income level, with the well-rounded education they deserve. Our students can’t wait!”