Governor’s budget proposal is good news for preK-12, but not for public higher education

Governor’s budget proposal is good news for preK-12, but not for public higher education

The following statement was issued today by MTA President Merrie Najimy after the governor released his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year:

Our preK-12 students are big winners in the governor’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal. Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed increase in Chapter 70 school aid of $304 million is welcome news that is consistent with the funding requirements of the Student Opportunity Act. The increase will provide new opportunities to students across the state — particularly in districts where too many low-income students and students of color are struggling.

But this is just the first increase of seven needed to fulfill the requirements of the landmark education law, so much will hinge on the state’s dedication to meeting its commitment in the years ahead. The new law was signed on Nov. 26 after more than a year of advocacy by educators, parents, students and civil rights leaders. If the increase proposed for this year is matched each year, by fiscal year 2027 school districts will be receiving about $2 billion more in state Chapter 70 education aid than they are getting in the current fiscal year, according to recent projections. We will be counting on the Legislature to fulfill the promises the law contains, and we will be vigilant to ensure that it does. Districts may also benefit from additional local resources being allocated to our public schools under the new foundation budget requirements.

The picture for public higher education is far less bright. The Baker administration continues its record of proposing insufficient budgets for a public higher education system that has been cut by 32 percent per student over the past two decades, when adjusted for inflation. The governor’s proposed budget provides no real increase to any campus operating budget, save for a small increase to the UMass system. While the governor claims his proposal increases public higher education funding overall by 2.8 percent, or $35 million, that is grossly misleading. Those numbers reflect the increase over the fiscal 2020 budget that was initially approved. The totals were later increased through a supplemental budget process. If you compare the current FY20 budget to what the governor is proposing for fiscal 2021, it reflects little or no actual increase. In sum, the governor’s budget offers virtually nothing to cover even the inflationary cost increases of our campuses — much less begin to reverse the decades-long cuts.

With new preK-12 funding, a growing number of students will be graduating from high school finally having a well-funded education through grade 12. But as they prepare to go on to public higher education, they still won’t be able to afford to attend college if this budget proposal is passed without changes. Some students who do attend will still have to rely on food banks because they won’t be able to afford both basic necessities and tuition at the same time. Other students will still be drowning in debt because they won’t be able to afford public higher education without having to borrow heavily.

The underfunding of public higher education has led to other problems as well. More and more full-time faculty are being replaced by part-time adjunct faculty, who receive low pay and few or no benefits. In addition, capital costs have been shifted to campus operating budgets, leaving less money to pay for courses, programs and staff positions that are vital to student success.

Our legislators can do better. They must do better. We are urging legislators to pass the Cherish Act, which would increase campus and scholarship funding by $600 million with a five-year phase-in. They don’t have to wait to pass a bill. They can start now by increasing support for our public higher education campuses and scholarship accounts by $120 million in fiscal 2021 and set us on the path that we are already on with our preK-12 schools: toward having the schools and colleges our students, educators and communities deserve.