School funding heads in the right direction, but much more is needed

School funding heads in the right direction, but much more is needed


The following statement was released by MTA President Merrie Najimy on July 22 in response to passage of the Fiscal Year 2020 Conference Committee Budget:

After intensive advocacy and organizing by educators, parents, municipal leaders and other community members, the fiscal year 2020 budget passed today takes a step in the right direction for our public schools. This is a victory by and for the community. But it is just a small step. The Legislature has yet to approve a new foundation budget bill. There is, therefore, no commitment to continue the funding increases beyond this year.

The spending plan also includes modest increases for our public college and university campuses — but the Legislature failed to approve a bill to provide the major infusion of funds needed to guarantee Massachusetts students access to an excellent public higher education at an affordable cost. The lawmakers did reject the misguided proposal to freeze tuition and fees at the University of Massachusetts — a plan that would have been detrimental because not enough funding was added to make up for the loss in tuition and fee revenue.

"This is a victory by and for the community. But it is just a small step."

MTA President Merrie Najimy

For our preK-12 schools, the budget adopts the Senate recommendation to increase Chapter 70 funding — the main source of state funding for public schools — by $269 million in the current fiscal year. Although that is a significant and welcome increase, it is short of the funding that would be required under the Promise Act, the foundation budget bill backed by the MTA and other members of the Fund Our Future coalition.

This is the second year that foundation budget bills have been before the Legislature. It has been 1,361 days since the FBRC released its recommendations for updating the formula and increasing funding, particularly to districts serving low-income children. After last year’s failure to pass a foundation budget bill, legislative leaders promised that they would pass one this year that fulfills the recommendations of the FBRC. They have thus far failed to do so.

For public higher education, the increases in this year’s budget do not come close to solving the fiscal problems on our campuses. Indeed, we can expect tuition and fee increases for our students yet again. This budget will propel our students further into debt. UMass Boston has just announced its second round of voluntary buyouts for faculty and staff in the face of a projected $14 million deficit.

The MTA and other members of the Fund Our Future coalition are backing the Cherish Act, which would restore per-student state funding to public higher education campuses and scholarship accounts to the levels achieved in fiscal year 2001, in inflation-adjusted dollars. If phased in over five years, the bill would ultimately increase state support for public higher education by $600 million a year and would freeze student tuition and fees without forcing cuts in staff and programs. The Cherish Act is still being held in the Joint Committee on Higher Education.

Another July is coming to a close without a long-term fix to a more than $1 billion hole in our public education budget.

We are pleased that our members and our communities spoke with one voice to demand a significant new investment in public schools. But another July is coming to a close without a long-term fix to a more than $1 billion hole in our public education budget.

And public higher education, an essential part of what every one of our children deserves, continues to be largely ignored by the Legislature. While legislators are on vacation in August, we hope they will reflect on the need to pass both the Promise Act and the Cherish Act to fulfill their commitment to public education.

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