Public education activists from across the Commonwealth gathered at the State House before
the October House vote on the Student Opportunity Act, a historic education funding bill.
Photo by Bob Duffy
After long wait, a community anticipates more state help
By Laura Barrett
T he Chicopee Education Association is one of many locals that long ago recognized the importance of a new funding bill to
the future success of students and the district. In a
recent conversation with MTA Today about why the
involvement of educators and their allies was vital,
CEA President Laura Demakis was joined by Kathy
Abood, a science and technology teacher at the
Streiber Memorial School, and Donald Lamothe, a
Chicopee School Committee member.
Demakis took over as the local president in
2018 — a time when contract negotiations were not
going well. The School Committee had successfully
obtained some one-time money from the City
Council for capital improvements, but municipal and
school officials were concerned that they didn’t have
enough revenue to cover future raises. Reserves set
aside during better times were rapidly running out.
“Our superintendent even said, ‘This is death by
a thousand cuts,’” said Lamothe.
In recent years, Demakis said, the district
had lost about 70 employees through attrition, or
more than 10 percent of the CEA membership. An
elementary school program for gifted students and
summer school for middle school students were on
the chopping block, and more cuts were coming.
“We were always robbing Peter to pay Paul,”
Chicopee is a low- to moderate-income city just
north of Springfield. Now that many of the mills and
factories in the area have closed down, many of the
jobs are in the service sector. The median household
income of $48,866 is far below the state’s, which is
Significant increases in property taxes are not
seen as tenable. The CEA, along with school and
Continued on next page
By Laura Barrett
V ictory for more equitable school funding is at hand. The Student Opportunity Act, a major state education funding bill backed
by the MTA, has been approved by the Legislature
and is widely expected to become law before next
year’s state budget is finalized.
On Nov. 20, during the last formal session
of the year, the Senate and House unanimously
approved the same version of the bill to increase
state funding for public schools by $1.5 billion a
year over inflation when fully phased in. The bill was
developed by a joint House and Senate conference
committee based on versions of the proposal
approved by both chambers in October.
Governor Charlie Baker can now sign the act,
send it back with proposed amendments or veto it; he
had not outlined his intentions as MTA Today went
to press. Given the overwhelming support for the
measure, he is viewed as unlikely to win significant
changes if he seeks them.
“Member activism has brought us to this historic
success,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy. “By
passing the Student Opportunity Act, the Legislature is
living up to its constitutional obligation to make sure
that the quality of a child’s school is not determined
by family income or ZIP code. All students deserve an
excellent education — period.”
Laura Demakis, president of the Chicopee
Education Association, said that new funding will
make a huge difference for her district, where staff
have been lost through attrition and educators are
continually being asked to do “more with less.” New
funding will provide Chicopee’s students with new
opportunities and Chicopee’s educators with more
The bill fully implements all of the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission,
with most of the new funding directed to low-income
districts. The funding will be phased in over seven
Najimy said that the final bill reflects the
insistence by MTA members, parents and the
wider community that educators and other local
stakeholders have the primary role in crafting how
the money is spent for the benefit of our students.
“While we believe that the bill still includes too
much in the way of discredited top-down intrusions
from the Department of Elementary and Secondary
Education,” Najimy said, “this new bill limits
the commissioner of education’s role in shaping
district plans compared to the version of the Student
Opportunity Act released by the Joint Committee on
“We and our 116,000 members will continue
the work of making sure that educator and
community voices are central to building the public
schools our students deserve,” she added.
T he MTA was a major force behind the Student Opportunity Act and its earlier incarnation, the Promise Act. Through their
local associations and statewide through the Fund
Our Future coalition, actions included:
n 79 organizing events, 44 of them community
forums and 35 of them in-district legislative
n 100 school committee resolutions and seven
municipal board resolutions.
n 18,124 signatures on petitions.
n 3,844 emailed messages and 1,955 phone calls
n Attendance at rallies on May 16 in Boston,
Springfield and Pittsfield by more than 4,000
educators and fellow public education advocates.
n About a dozen weekly State House activist
events from May through August.
n The distribution of thousands of flyers,
stickers, signs and Fund Our Future T-shirts.
n Tens of thousands of social media posts and
shares, including widely viewed posts of members
of the New England Patriots testifying and wearing
T-shirts in support of a new education funding bill.
Meanwhile, the MTA is leading the Council for
Fair School Finance, a coalition that filed a lawsuit,
Mussotte v. Peyser, in June on behalf of students
in seven school districts. The lawsuit contends that
the current funding formula is both inadequate and
discriminatory, disproportionately harming low-income students and students of color. The lawsuit
will remain active until and unless the council
determines that the state has addressed funding
inadequacy and disparities.
“Our advocacy for this bill has been loud and
long,” said MTA Vice President Max Page. “We
understood the need to be heard over the hum of
business as usual. Our students can’t wait.”
For updates, please visit massteacher.org and