Educators and allies will make their voices heard in Boston and Springfield
By Laura Barrett
M TA members will be showing their true colors on May 16 — and the dominant color will be red. “This is our Red for
Ed moment,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy.
“Thanks to the activism of educators and our many
allies, there is universal agreement that our public
schools and colleges need more funding. Now the
debate is about how much more and whether the
needed funds should come with new top-down
mandates and more red tape.
“Our answer to the first question is this: We
need enough resources to make sure all students have
access to a high-quality education, from preschool
through college,” Najimy continued. “That means
passing the Promise Act for public schools and the
Cherish Act for public higher education.
“And the answer to the second question is: No
more top-down mandates. We’re already drowning
in punitive state requirements that disempower
educators at the local level.”
On May 16, thousands of educators, students,
parents and other community allies will be delivering
those messages at rallies on Beacon Hill and at
Springfield City Hall.
The Boston rally and march are set for 5 p.m. so
that people can participate after school, but there will
be plenty of action in and around the State House
from 1 to 5 p.m. for those who can make it to Boston
earlier. The Springfield rally will begin at 4: 30 p.m.
These events will be an important milestone in
a multiyear effort to win more funding for public
education. The goal is to pass the two bills this
spring so that new funding will have an impact
on schools and colleges in the fall. The MTA and
the rest of the coalition will be pressing the case
before, during and after the events on May 16. MTA
members are urged to wear stickers, attend forums,
post selfies, call their legislators and participate in
other actions throughout the campaign.
Out of 200 House and Senate members in total,
the Promise Act has 119 co-sponsors and the Cherish
Act has 114. Having a majority is no guarantee of
passage, however, since there are several competing
education proposals on Beacon Hill.
Both MTA-backed bills would be phased in over
several years. When fully phased in, the Promise
Act would increase state funding for public schools
by more than $1 billion a year and the Cherish Act
would increase funding for public higher education
by more than $500 million.
Responding to the Promise Act, corporate-backed groups are pushing for either lower funding
levels, more “accountability,” or both. These
groups include Democrats for Education Reform
and Massachusetts Parents United, both of which
strongly backed Question 2, the 2016 initiative to lift
the cap on charter schools.
Governor Charlie Baker has his own bill,
which would provide only one-third of the increase
in state education aid that the Promise Act would
bring and would come with onerous new mandates.
And for public higher education, the governor’s
budget calls for a $100 million trust fund for certain
programs, but it would not permanently increase
the state’s obligation. The Cherish Act would bring
state funding back to 2001 levels when adjusted
for inflation, permanently increasing the base-level
funding for both campus and scholarship funding.
“If the Legislature adopts some new funding
but it’s much less than we are demanding, we could
miss our opportunity to make a huge difference for
students in Massachusetts,” said MTA Vice President
Max Page. “They aren’t going to revisit this issue for
Page continued, “We know that legislators are
under pressure to do less, which is why we — their
constituents — need to make a lot of noise. We have
to call them. We have to e-mail them. We have to
talk to them in person. And we need to show up in
large numbers on May 16.”
Last year, a bill similar to the Promise Act filed
by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston) passed in
the Senate but failed in the House. Winning in the
House is expected to pose the greatest challenge
again this year.
The Fund Our Future coalition has already had
several successful State House events, including
strong turnout at a Public Higher Education Advocacy
Day on March 21 and at a packed hearing on the
Promise Act and other school funding bills in Gardner
Auditorium the next day.
During the nine-hour hearing, educators, parents
and students wearing bright red T-shirts made the
case that funding has not kept pace with the cost of
Laura Demakis, president of the Chicopee
Education Association, said that in her 18 years
as a teacher, “the poverty level of my students
has drastically increased, the number of special
education students has increased and the number
of English learner students has increased. But the
I n a widely cited 2015 report, the nonpartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission found that the foundation budget, which determines
adequate spending levels for districts and drives
the amount of state Chapter 70 aid provided to
municipalities and regional school districts, is badly
out of date and inadequate. Simulations based on
the FBRC’s recommendations show that, as a result,
Chapter 70 aid is between $1 billion and $2 billion
too low each year.
When Senate Committee Chair Jason Lewis
(D-Winchester) asked Baker why his bill only
provides $500 million more in Chapter 70 aid despite
the FBRC’s recommendations, Baker responded,
“Typically when the state makes a big investment in
a local service like education, it comes with a whole
Photo by Bob Duffy
Maana Daud, a senior at the High School of Commerce in Springfield, drew close attention from
other hearing participants as she testified in favor of the Promise Act at the State House.