MTA President Max Page outlines key budget priorities for student and educator success

MTA President Max Page outlines key budget priorities for student and educator success

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Max Page delivered the following testimony to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Ways and Means at a hearing on education and local aid in the FY25 state budget.

Good afternoon. My name is Max Page. I am the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, a union of 117,000 educators in the Commonwealth’s public schools, colleges, and universities. I am also a Professor of Architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Thank you to the chairs and committee members for the chance to share the perspective of educators as you craft a Fiscal Year 2025 state budget.

Our priorities align with our shared goal of strengthening public schools and colleges and build on the work we have already started to create the public preK-16 higher education system that students and educators deserve. The Fiscal Year 2025 budget, including the funds made available through the historic Fair Share victory, provides us the opportunity to make urgently needed investments across public education.

I will highlight for you several key priorities that are crucial to student and educator success, but I will also submit a more detailed overview in writing for your consideration.

The MTA is advocating for passage of budgetary funding for public higher education that will commit long-term funding to provide for debt-free public higher education for two- and four-year colleges and universities, increase student support services, improve pay and benefits for educators including adjunct faculty who receive low wages and no benefits, and increase state investments in campus facilities including investments in capital projects. Many of these investments are outlined in the Cherish Act.

Consistent with the Cherish Act, MTA is requesting a phased in implementation of debt free public higher education beginning with debt-free community college covering the full cost of attendance, including living expenses after accounting for existing scholarships, earnings from a reasonable number of weekly hours of work by the student, Pell Grants and other resources. Providing the opportunity of college to students who have been priced out of higher education will reap the long term social and economic benefits for everyone in the Commonwealth, especially those who have been forced to give up their dreams because of cost.

Providing students with the support they need to stay in school and graduate is vital, which is why we request that the state increase its commitment to the community college’s SUCCESS program. The program provides proven wraparound support and services to students at risk of leaving school, including economically disadvantaged students, and students of color, by providing academic advising, tutoring, mentoring, and more. MTA urges the legislature to bring this program to scale at community colleges and expand it to the state universities and University of Massachusetts.

The MTA also supports the governor’s proposal to dedicate $125 million annually from Fair Share Amendment funds to address to support capital improvements across all public higher education campuses, thus helping further offset the cost of public higher education our students are forced to pay.

Turning now to preK-12 education, I first want to highlight the urgent need to fully fund the Student Opportunity Act by fixing the Chapter 70 inflation glitch that could cost districts statewide over $300 million in FY25 and in each future year.

As you know, current law caps the Chapter 70 inflation adjustment at 4.5 percent, a provision that was triggered during the recent period of high inflation. As a result, districts did not receive state funds above that cap to cover expenses that nevertheless continued to rise at the local level. Absent a fix by the Legislature, these funds will be lost permanently, and the Commonwealth will never meet its real-dollar targets under the Student Opportunity Act. This issue needs to be addressed over the coming years, and we hope that a fix can be started in the FY25 budget.

We also feel strongly that Chapter 70 can be used as vehicle to help address the Commonwealth’s early education needs. Currently, Chapter 70 provides funds for half day, public school-based preK programs, and we strongly urge that it also be used to provide districts with the resources needed to provide full day programs as well.




And as districts across the state face increasingly strained budgets, it’s also important to provide funding above and beyond Chapter 70 to ensure that we are meeting student needs that have only grown in recent years.

That is why we support the governor’s proposed Literacy Launch initiative. Educators – who are the experts on literacy – have been clear that they need more time, funding and flexibility to analyze student needs and respond appropriately.

Literacy Launch closely aligns with many of the policies our educators have recommended such as expanded access to professional learning and resources to allow for the adoption and implementation of high-quality curricula materials at the local level.

The Commonwealth must also make resources available to support the social and emotional well being of students more effectively.

The MTA has proposed the creation of what we are calling the Whole Child Grant Program. Under our proposal, districts could receive grant funding to hire positions that we know are crucial to student success and wellbeing but that are understaffed across the Commonwealth. This includes school nurses, librarians, school counselors, school adjustment counselors, social workers, and school psychologists. The incentive is intended to be multi-year and will be open to all school districts, with a focus on providing larger grant awards to low-income districts as well as districts that are not primary recipients of SOA funding.

We also need to continue our efforts to recruit talented and diverse candidates to enter the education profession, in large part by removing student debt as a barrier to a career in the classroom.

We were proud to work with the Legislature to include in the FY23 budget funding for the Tomorrow’s Teachers Scholarship Program that is providing financial assistance to students enrolled in Massachusetts public colleges or universities who have committed to teaching in a public school in the Commonwealth for a minimum of four years after graduation. The program, which was only launched this past fall after a delayed implementation, was unfortunately not funded in FY24. It is critical that appropriations are restored in FY25 to continue our work to build the strength and diversity of the educator pipeline.

Also important to the recruitment and retention of a strong educator workforce is the Commonwealth’s promise of a secure and dignified retirement – a promise that is not being kept for current retirees. The MTA continues to advocate for an increase in the state and teachers’ pension COLA base, which has not been raised in over a decade. We support the commission the governor has proposed in House 2 to develop a plan for raising the base, including how best to fund the increase, but it is important that retirees see some measure of relief this fiscal year.

In closing, the MTA urges you to take these requests into consideration as you develop a budget proposal, and we are available to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you for your time.