Governor Baker’s fiscal 2022 budget fails to meet the urgency of this moment. Communities across the Commonwealth — especially those with high concentrations of poverty and communities of color — have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. This deepening crisis has affected students in every corner of the state, from preschool through higher education. While the federal government has provided short-term COVID-19 relief funds to address immediate needs, our students will need social, emotional and academic support over the long term to recover from pandemic education.
The landmark Student Opportunity Act, passed in 2019, declared that our public schools were deeply underfunded and set a state requirement to fund that shortfall by FY 2027. Its passage was the state’s promise to address the structural racism of underfunding public schools. The governor’s FY 2022 budget marks a breaking of that promise, as it moves the goal posts by pushing out the funding shortfall yet another year. Quite simply, our state’s students can’t afford to wait. We will be insisting that the Legislature approve a budget that puts the state back on track for meeting the original seven-year SOA phase-in schedule.
The budget also fails every single person — especially our working-class students and students of color — who depends on our community colleges, state universities and UMass system to get a quality education, grow and get ahead during this pandemic. The governor’s budget reduces funding for our community colleges and state universities, cuts state scholarship aid, and shortchanges the University of Massachusetts by freezing its budget for two straight years. We cannot achieve our racial and economic justice goals as a Commonwealth if we don’t make our public colleges and universities outstanding and accessible to all students.
Public higher education is the best investment we can make to accelerate our state’s economic recovery, because we are betting on the talent and hard work of our neighbors when they get a fair chance. We urge the Legislature to pass and fund the Cherish Act, which would provide $120 million a year over the next five years to bring state spending on public higher education back to where it was two decades ago, when adjusted for inflation.