Schools

Mass. Teachers Association knocks state lawmakers’ ‘status quo’ budget

"Our government must recognize that we are not in status quo times."

MA Statehouse
The Massachusetts State House. Matthew J. Lee / The Boston Globe

Massachusetts legislators unanimously approved a $48.1 billion budget bill last Friday, but there is some dissent coming from outside the State House.

In a statement, the Massachusetts Teachers Association said the state budget does not include enough funding to address widened inequities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and called on lawmakers to use federal relief funds to “help heal and repair the damage of the past year.”

“The Legislature has passed a status quo budget at a time when bold action is needed to support our students, public schools, colleges and communities as they continue to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftershocks,” MTA President Merrie Najimy said Friday, adding that “our government must recognize that we are not in status quo times.”

Advertisement:

The budget, which still requires approval from Gov. Charlie Baker, does set aside $350 billion for a trust fund to support the Student Opportunity Act, a 2019 law that requires more funds for school districts with higher percentages of low-income students and English language learners. While at least one of the law’s authors expressed concern about the near-term impact of saving that money for the future, Najimy called the move a “positive” step.

However, she also stressed that the state’s public schools and colleges — while generally highly ranked — “have been grossly underfunded for decades.” And the pandemic, she said, only widened inequities between wealthy and economically struggling districts, “as well as along racial lines.”

“This budget does give communities the confidence that they need to fully fund the contracts negotiated with educators’ unions and to address the needs of their districts,” Najimy said. “Special attention, however, must be paid to meeting the needs of Massachusetts communities of color and low-income cities and towns, which have been the most severely hit by the problems the coronavirus has caused — and federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act are available to do so.”

Federal officials recently gave the Baker administration approval to use the remaining $611 million of the $1.8 billion Massachusetts received from the America Rescue Plan relief package passed in March. State officials say about 90 percent of the funds will go directly to school districts, while the other 10 percent will be controlled by the state. The Baker administration had emphasized the need to use the funding to support a safe reopening of schools for the fall semester, as well as academic support for students who were most impacted by the pandemic, according to the Department of Education.

Advertisement:

State lawmakers are also beginning the process of deciding what to do with roughly $5 billion in general relief funds that the American Rescue Plan channeled directly to state government.

“Legislators still have an opportunity to meet the moment for our schools by building on this baseline with federal COVID-19 relief funds that would help heal and repair the damage of the past year,” Najimy said.

According to Najimy, the Legislature’s “failure” to increase the state’s higher education spending levels by $136 million — the amount prescribed by a union-backed education bill known as the Cherish Act — also means that college students will “still be forced into debt” and that funding for faculty will remain insufficient.

“This lack of funding creates a disproportionate negative effect on working-class students and students of color, who have been leaving our public colleges at an alarming rate as a result of the pandemic,” Najimy said. “We urge the Legislature in the strongest possible terms to address these shortcomings with the billions of dollars in federal funds that Massachusetts is receiving through the American Rescue Plan Act.”

In addition to the federal relief funds, Najimy alluded to the fact that Massachusetts collected more than $4 billion in unexpected tax revenue. Baker had proposed using some of the money to fund a two-month sales tax holiday, which was blasted by Najimy and AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos.

Advertisement:

In her statement Monday, Najimy reiterated her call to invest the money in schools.

“The state revenues are there,” she said. “Massive financial support from the federal government is there. The Legislature must now move forward with the willingness to truly deal with the daunting needs facing our students, our schools, our public higher education system, and our communities.”

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com