By Katie Lannan, State House News Service
BOSTON — Students and teachers rallied at the Statehouse Monday, pushing for the lawmakers who last fall agreed to a $1.5 billion investment in K-12 schools to follow that commitment with new money for higher education.
The advocacy day, hosted by the Fund Our Future campaign and the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, focused on one pair of bills that propose to steer additional state dollars into community colleges, state universities and the University of Massachusetts system (S.741, H.1214), and another pair that would that would create a grant program to cover the full cost of tuition and fees for Massachusetts residents attending state colleges and universities (S.744, H.1221).
The Higher Education Committee has until March 20 to report on those four bills.
“Staff and faculty, many are overworked, underpaid. We’re seeing program cuts, budget cuts, and rising tuition and fees and rising student debt,” Zac Bears, PHENOM’s executive director, told lobby day participants. “All of this is wrong, all of this can be stopped, and all of it — at least most of it — comes from choices that are made in this building and the people who we’re trying to reach out to.”
Last November, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a K-12 school funding overhaul with a price tag of $1.5 billion over seven years. The law did not include any sources of new revenue, leaving lawmakers to deliver on its promise in each year’s annual budget cycle.
Baker, in his fiscal 2021 budget (H.2), recommended $355 million in new spending associated with the new school finance law.
On the higher education side, he’s proposing $1.3 billion total for the Department of Higher Education, University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges, for a 3%, or $33.2 million, increase over this year.
PHENOM and Fund Our Future have a total of $125 million in requests for next year’s budget, including $64 million to fund state college and university operating budgets at levels they say would be sufficient to freeze tuition and fees.
State budget writers have projected a slower revenue growth rate — 2.8% — next year than in previous years. As they craft their versions of next year’s spending plan, lawmakers in the House and Senate will have a host of priorities to balance as they look to allocate that money.
Rep. Natalie Higgins, the sponsor of the House version of the free public higher education bill and a former PHENOM director, told the advocates that their job on Monday was “to make sure everyone in this building understands the value of public higher education, that it is something that we cannot be competing and pitting K-12 and early ed against higher ed.”
“We need to invest in the whole range of public education in Massachusetts,” the Leominster Democrat said.
Selena Garcia Rodriguez, a senior at Holyoke High School North, said that as she’s been applying to colleges, she’s been ruling out schools that won’t offer a sufficient amount of aid to meet her financial need. She called the K-12 funding law “an amazing win for education justice.”
“But this puts me in an awkward position, because the way I see it, my education is only important to the state of Massachusetts until I walk across the stage and get my diploma this June,” she said. “I’m just all on my own, and when that large bill comes in August, that’s on me.”
- ‘No one to help me’: Special education families struggle with coronavirus school closures – USA TODAY
- Jefferson City Board of Education hold first virtual meeting – Jefferson City News Tribune
- Smethport Area School District introduces education plan, notes firm end of year date – Bradford Era
- Navigating Education at Home – Spectrum News
- Special education inconsistent in California school districts during closures – EdSource
- EDUCATION FOR WHAT? | The Crusader Newspaper Group – The Chicago Cusader
- Hernando schools await governor’s decision on technical education building – Tampa Bay Times
- Police plan education, measured enforcement of statewide stay-at-home order – Press Herald
- Secretary DeVos Announces New Federal Deadline Flexibility for Career and Technical Education Leaders, Allowing Them to Focus on Serving Students During the COVID-19 Outbreak – U.S. Department of Education