“Good afternoon Chairs Chang-Diaz and Peisch and members of the Joint Committee on Education.
My name is Josh Amaral, I’m a member of the New Bedford School Committee. It’s a privilege to be before you today. I know several members of this committee have served on a School Committee or have worked as an educator, so I know I’m in good company. It’s further encouraging to know that several members of this Committee served on the Foundation Budget Review Commission.
The purpose of my testimony is to express the sense of urgency that is needed in implementing the recommendations of that Commission. As have many others, the New Bedford School Committee unanimously passed a resolution calling for that implementation.
Those recommendations are much needed in all 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth, but foundation budget reform is especially critical to the success of students in New Bedford and similar cities. The impact to New Bedford alone is estimated to be well over 20 million dollars, almost all of which would go directly into our students’ classrooms.
Rather than the annual springtime ritual of our School Committee cutting into bone, we could make more of the kinds of strategic investments in resources that we know work. We could expand pre-school programming, bring in additional teaching support in the early grades, reduce class size, grow our base of impactful reading and math specialists, add enough socio-emotional learning positions to serve the youth coming into our schools, increase our students’ access to arts, sports, technology, current curriculum, and for the first time in many decades, go beyond the bare minimum maintenance and upkeep necessary to keep our 25 buildings open, many of which were built around the turn of the 20th century. New Bedford’s tax base does not have the means to significantly contribute above minimum net-school spending, which is necessary to cover the extent of our needs. We are making strides in our turnaround efforts, but cannot complete or sustain them without additional resources.
I come before you today as walking proof of the effectiveness of McDuffy, which was heard the year I was born and implemented by the time I was in kindergarten. I’m a proud New Bedford Public School alum, K thru 12, who was afforded a top rate education in a city like New Bedford – one equivalent, or dare I say better — than that of anywhere else in the state.
My fear is that as health insurance costs have risen, as retirement costs have soared, as charters have expanded, as in-district special education costs have ballooned and out of district special education costs have more than doubled, as English Language Learners make up larger proportions of our classrooms and children show up on our doorsteps with more and various challenges, and as families call upon the public schools to meet those needs, we are being stretched too thin, and will reach an untenable situation in which students in urban centers may not be offered the same opportunities I was offered, or that their peers in other communities are offered. Where mass layoffs become commonplace, resources dwindle, our students suffer, and Massachusetts slips from its pole position in education.
I didn’t need to look up the backgrounds of members of this Committee to know that you share my grave concerns. And I can well understand that it’s not easy to commit 2 billion dollars when you’re already short, but the phrase I used was “sense of urgency.” These are our kids, and they only have one shot at school. As I said at a School Committee meeting not long ago, we can either foot a small and worthwhile bill on the front end by paying for top rate education, or we can deal with the longer term societal ramifications of avoidance. In response, a colleague of mine quoted Harvard University’s Derek Bok, who said “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
On behalf of our students and on behalf of my colleagues on urban School Committees across the Commonwealth, I implore the legislature to fully implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission without delay. Our students can’t afford to wait.