Bolder Action Is Needed to Meet Students’ Needs

Bolder Action Is Needed to Meet Students’ Needs

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy issued the following statement after the passage today of the fiscal 2021-2022 state budget:

The Legislature has passed a status quo budget at a time when bold action is needed to support our students, public schools, colleges and communities as they continue to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftershocks.

While maintaining the provisions of the Student Opportunity Act and establishing a special fund for school spending are positive steps, we must remember that our public schools — and our public colleges and universities — have been grossly underfunded for decades.

During the pandemic, inequities in education have grown even further between wealthy school districts and economically struggling districts — as well as along racial lines. And all of our public schools must be prepared to address the social and emotional toll that the pandemic is taking on students and their families.

This budget does give communities the confidence that they need to fully fund the contracts negotiated with educators’ unions and to address the needs of their districts. Special attention, however, must be paid to meeting the needs of Massachusetts communities of color and low-income cities and towns, which have been the most severely hit by the problems the coronavirus has caused — and federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act are available to do so.

Overall, our government must recognize that we are not in status quo times. Legislators still have an opportunity to meet the moment for our schools by building on this baseline with federal COVID-19 relief funds that would help heal and repair the damage of the past year.

Our public colleges and universities, which are also suffering from years of declining state investment, likewise deserved more support in this budget.

The failure to boost spending on public higher education by at least $136 million — which amounts to funding the first year of the Cherish Act — means that students hoping to attend a public college or university will still be forced into debt. Adjunct faculty remain exploited by poor pay and working conditions. And there will be persistent shortfalls in staffing for programs that support students and increase their likelihood of success.

This lack of funding creates a disproportionate negative effect on working-class students and students of color, who have been leaving our public colleges at an alarming rate as a result of the pandemic.

We urge the Legislature in the strongest possible terms to address these shortcomings with the billions of dollars in federal funds that Massachusetts is receiving through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The state revenues are there. Massive financial support from the federal government is there. The Legislature must now move forward with the willingness to truly deal with the daunting needs facing our students, our schools, our public higher education system, and our communities.