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A Big Week Ahead for Education in Massachusetts

The Fund our Future campaign is advocating for about $1.5 billion to address public education funding shortages in pre K-12 and higher education in Massachusetts. (Fund our Future)
The Fund our Future campaign is advocating for about $1.5 billion to address public education funding shortages in pre K-12 and higher education in Massachusetts. (Fund our Future)
March 15, 2019

BOSTON - The Massachusetts Legislature next week is to consider more than a dozen education-related bills.

A higher-education advocacy day is Thursday, with a Friday public hearing on 16 bills in the Joint Committee on Education. The Fund Our Future campaign, a coalition of educators and parents, supports the PROMISE and CHERISH Acts - which together, advocate for $1.5 billion a year in additional funding for pre-K through 12th grades and higher ed. Gov. Charlie Baker's education bill recommends less funding and distributing the money over seven years.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy disagreed with Baker's bill, which recommended withholding funds from schools with low test scores.

"He's allowing the commissioner of education to continue to punish schools for having low test scores," she said, "and we've seen 20 years of those kinds of accountability measures have absolutely failed."

Najimy said those measures include reducing the power of collective bargaining, mandating longer school days and giving more authority to superintendents, state officials and private organizations. Since 2010, according to the teachers' union, the turnover rate for teachers in districts deemed under-performing has almost doubled, with little improvement in test-score-based rankings.

Najimy recommended giving more funding and autonomy to public schools, especially those serving lower-income students. She added that there are state resources available to fund the PROMISE and CHERISH acts.

"We have a billion dollars in surplus in the rainy-day fund, according to the governor, maybe even more," she said. "So, there is money that exists to begin the phase-in of full funding of the Foundation budget."

The Foundation Budget Review Commission in 2015 found that the state is under-funding public education.

Zach Bears, executive director of PHENOM, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, is helping to organize the higher-ed advocacy day on Thursday. Students will meet with lawmakers to ask for their support of the CHERISH Act, which would add more than $500 million in public higher-ed funding. Bears called the need "urgent," and said Massachusetts' college costs are skyrocketing in comparison with other states.

"We have a report out from the New England Board of Higher Education that Massachusetts has the fastest-growing tuition and fees in the whole country for public colleges," he said. "There's a report from the Mass. Budget and Policy Center that we have the second-fastest-growing student debt burden in the country."

The higher-ed advocacy day starts at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Statehouse. The Joint Committee on Education public hearing starts at 10 a.m. next Friday.

More information is online at massteacher.org.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - MA