MTA President Merrie Najimy issued the following statement after the Senate Ways and Means Committee released its proposed budget for fiscal 2022:
The budget released today by the state Senate Ways and Means Committee continues the trend we’ve seen through budgets proposed by Governor Baker and the House of Representatives. Our elected leaders are not yet meeting the moment, which demands that we confront the structural racism built into funding for public education and address the extraordinary needs — exacerbated by the pandemic — of our students and communities.
The Senate budget lacks an ironclad guarantee that the Student Opportunity Act will be fully funded, and instead rests on the assumption that thousands of students will not be returning to our public schools. The MTA maintains that in doing so, the House and Senate are setting up our public schools for underfunding in the years when they most need full funding.
The Senate, like the House, does not confront the alarming collapse of enrollment by working-class students of color who most need and deserve public higher education. Without significant reinvestment in public colleges and universities, the state is systematically shrinking access to affordable, excellent higher education. We have seen a 30 percent drop in enrollment among our Black and Latinx students because of the pandemic’s economic impact. Many of these students did not want to leave behind their degrees; they were forced to by the need to care for their families. The state budget must support them, and this budget does not.
Massachusetts must move toward making public higher education debt-free for our working-class students of color and ensure that first-generation and nontraditional students have the on-campus supports they need.
The MTA continues to fight for passage of the Cherish Act to restore the state’s commitment to public colleges and universities after two decades of declining per-student spending. We urge the Legislature and Governor Baker to follow the lead of the federal government, which has recognized how vital higher education will be to the economic recovery following the pandemic and has provided significant emergency aid to our public higher education system.
We hope the Senate will improve on its budget in the coming week of deliberation. We also hope that the Legislature as a whole will take the opportunity offered by the $4.5 billion coming to the Commonwealth as part of the American Rescue Plan Act and justly fund our public schools and colleges. This historic investment must be a springboard that the state can use to permanently establish public schools that meet the needs of all of our students — especially those who have been marginalized — and ensure that public colleges and universities are properly staffed and can provide a debt-free education.
As Horace Mann said 175 years ago, Massachusetts, without the benefit of gold and silver mines, has instead “mined into the human intellect.” Public education will be, now more than ever, the source of the Commonwealth’s prosperity.