Governor Baker’s Education Funding Proposal Falls Short

Troubling provisions included in governor’s education plan

 The Massachusetts Teachers Association and its allies have been arguing for years that public education, from prekindergarten through higher education, is deeply underfunded. We are glad that Governor Charlie Baker is finally responding to the advocacy of educators, parents and local education officials across the state and has agreed to update the school funding formula.

His school funding plan is a small step in the right direction.

However, the governor’s school funding proposal falls far short of what is needed, takes too long to implement, and — through his accompanying education bill — gives the state new weapons with which to force districts to implement changes against the wishes of the community. In addition, his budget proposal makes only insufficient one-time investments in public higher education funding.

The governor has said that his plan would, over seven years, increase state and local foundation budget spending by $1.1 billion. Rather than approve the governor’s plan or a different bill released by members of the House last week, we are urging the Legislature to enact the Promise Act, which would update the foundation budget formula and substantially increase state aid to public schools. If it were fully implemented this year, the state increase would be $1.3 billion.

We also support the Cherish Act, which would increase funding for public higher education by more than $500 million a year once fully implemented. That would restore funding to the level achieved in fiscal year 2001 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

We are deeply troubled by provisions in his education bill that would allow the commissioner of education to withhold funds from a high-need district that the state deems has not made sufficient progress. This appears to be a lever the state could use to demand that districts implement the detrimental policies — perhaps even privatization schemes — that officials such as Education Secretary Jim Peyser have long supported. These could include forcing districts to accept new charter school seats or establishing takeover zones, rather than implementing changes that educators and parents in the district believe are needed.

To keep the promise made by the founders of our state, we urge the Legislature to take the bold step of fully funding our public schools and restoring funding for public higher education to the levels achieved nearly two decades ago. This increased funding should not come with increased bureaucratic red tape and mandates from the state, but instead should respect the wisdom and ability of the educators, residents, and elected officials in our local communities to institute the improvements they know are needed.

The Fund Our Future campaign was formed in 2018 and has been endorsed by the MTA and the following organizations: American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, Boston Teachers Union, Citizens for Public Schools, FairTest, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, NAACP New England Area Conference, Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts and SEIU Local 888.

For more information on the Promise Act and the Cherish Act, go here.

New Bedford coalition blasts education board’s charter scheme

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted today to force an irresponsible proposal upon the students and families of New Bedford in approving a plan that requires the community to give up millions of dollars in public school funding and hand over a public building at no cost to the Alma del Mar charter school so that the school can expand by 450 seats and draw students directly out of the district, according to the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools.
“This so-called compromise is no compromise at all,” said Ricardo Rosa, co-chair of the NBCSOS, who attended the BESE meeting.
The board voted to proceed with a radical hybrid that allows a charter school to expand and fill its seats from a single neighborhood school district.
“If the city did not go along with this plan, the board said it would simply allow Alma to expand by even more seats and drain more funds away from our real public schools,” Rosa said. “None of this is in the best interests of the students of New Bedford. Instead, it benefits Alma del Mar and its investors.”
MTA Vice President Max Page called the proposal “extortion” in his public testimony before the board.
“You have weaponized the charter expansion process,” Page told the board.
Page pointed out the deep flaws in the proposal put forward by Education Commissioner Jeffery Riley. It requires the city to give away a publicly owned building to the private organization that operates Alma del Mar, he said, and it would automatically enroll students at a school that is not overseen by city officials.
“Not a word was spoken today about the pain inflicted on the 95 percent of public school students attending real public schools,” Page said. “Charters have already siphoned away millions from the city’s proud public schools, run by a democratically elected school committee. This whole process has been deeply undemocratic. Advocates for public education across the state should be very worried if this scheme moves forward. Secretary of Education Jim Peyser made clear that this is a model he would like to replicate across the state.”
New Bedford Educators Association President Lou St. John said that the proposal benefits Alma del Mar but does nothing to address the issues raised by parents and educators about the funding that any charter expansion takes away from district schools.
“The NBEA has said all along that we do not support any expansion of charter seats in the city,” he said. “Our public schools are currently underfunded by $40 million, and the city already loses $15 million to charter schools. I urge our local officials to support the public schools that educate all children and to fight alongside us for the funding our students deserve.”
MTA President Merrie Najimy criticized Riley and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for being such staunch advocates of the charter school industry while ignoring the concerns of students and families in New Bedford.
“The commissioner would not even attend a community forum to listen to what some of the 400 parents, students and educators in attendance had to say about charter school expansions,” Najimy said. “Yet the commissioner managed to find time to come to New Bedford to meet with Alma Del Mar’s leaders and attend other pro-charter-school events.”

Statement by Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy on New Bedford Charter School Proposal

This proposed deal involving the Alma del Mar Charter School and the City of New Bedford is unacceptable. It fails to alleviate our most fundamental concern: The charter school will drain much-needed funds from the New Bedford Public Schools. We wish that state education officials would put half as much energy into supporting and funding our public schools as they put into finding new ways to force communities to accept —and pay for – privately run charter schools.