A group of 87 local business leaders have come out in support of Governor Deval Patrick’s early education plan, and the taxes tied to it —which they say are necessary investments to ensure a well-educated workforce.
The announcement, made in a public letter on Tuesday, came as the governor prepared to meet with business leaders and economists on Wednesday to discuss the state’s economy and his fiscal year 2014 budget. Earlier this month, a group of 57 economists also wrote a letter supporting Patrick’s budget, which would fund new transportation and education programs partly by raising the income tax and rewriting portions of the corporate tax code.
“Nobody loves taxes, but we feel that this is less of a tax and more of an investment,” said Paul O’Brien, the former chief executive officer of the New England Telephone company and a signatory on the letter. “New revenue is going to be needed if we want to improve our early education.”
Patrick’s proposed budget would raise the income tax to 6.25 percent from 5.25 percent while lowering the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. Part of the increased revenue from those changes would fund a $131 million infusion into early education programs in fiscal year 2014 and $350 million over four years.
The plan calls for eliminating the state’s early education wait list, which currently has 30,000 children on it, by providing universal access to early education, according to a statement from the state’s Executive Office of Education.
Among the letter’s signatories are Jack Connors Jr., chairman emeritus of the advertising company Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc.; Peter S. Lynch, co-founder of the education-focused Lynch Foundation; and John Bissell, executive vice president of Greylock Federal Credit Union.
“As a business leader I’m concerned frankly with the caliber of [job] candidates we’ve been seeing,” Bissell said. “I would love it if we were growing homegrown talent to fill high-opportunity jobs, and I think we as a community need to come together to improve early education for that.”
Patrick’s budget received a tepid response from Republicans when he unveiled it during his State of the City address in January, not least because of the proposed tax increases.
In their letter, the business leaders repeatedly framed the new tax levels as being vital to decreasing the state’s achievement gap and building a pool of well-educated workers capable of competing in a global economy.
“As businesspeople, we seek a strong return for our investments,” the letter said. “[James] Heckman and other leading economists estimate a 10-16 percent return on investing in high-quality early education, particularly for children from low-income families.”
The letter received a swift response from the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a group that advocates on behalf of the 23 business leaders on its board of directors.
Director Linda Noonan said MBAE is not opposed to the governor’s early education plan, but did not agree with the entire education package, either. She called for new funds to be spent only in areas with proven success rates.
“We’re just saying, ‘If we’re going to do a tax increase, please explain what we’re doing with the money already invested,’ ” she said.
The letter from the 87 business leaders, though, touted the research behind Patrick’s proposal.
“Decades of research tell us that closing the achievement gap begins in early childhood,” the letter said. “Participants in high-quality early education demonstrate improved school readiness, higher language and early math skills, and enhanced social-emotional development.”