Baker’s misguided early education cuts

Governor's words of support not matched by his budget deeds

THERE HAS BEEN a lot of talk about Gov. Charlie Baker’s education budget vetoes. Even national news outlets chimed in, making strange points about how this is somehow the fault of Massachusetts Democrats for choosing Martha Coakley last year as our nominee. However uninformed the author must be about Massachusetts, and despite the tired lines about Coakley, there is a point in there. We need to talk seriously about the future of early education in Massachusetts.

Legislators in the Massachusetts House seem to agree, which is why I’m thankful that the governor’s cut to a program expanding full-day kindergarten was overridden in the House, 155-0.

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Gov. Baker, upon signing the 2016 budget, cut nearly $5.1 million from early education and razed a program to expand full-day kindergarten. Disappointing, yes, but far from surprising. Baker has never really been a supporter of early education.

During last year’s campaign, Martha Coakley made it very clear that she was committed to expanding early education. She reinforced this by pledging to eliminate the waiting list of over 17,000 low-income children seeking subsidized pre-kindergarten  slots. Then-candidate Baker, while saying he supports shrinking the list, turned down the opportunity to make the pledge.

Baker has frequently expressed skepticism of early childhood education. However, his central argument is that the benefits of pre-kindergarten may vanish by grade 3 if not supported by a strong K-12 system.

“We need to make sure there’s a runway here between pre-k into strong elementary and middle school and high school education,” Baker said back on the campaign trail.

Why, then, would he slash $17.5 million from an $18.5 million program to expand full-day kindergarten? Without that crucial funding, full-day kindergarten would eventually vanish from already cash-strapped school districts. Is kindergarten not a part of a strong K-12 system?

What about costs? Candidate Baker frequently cited costs when explaining his skepticism of early education. It certainly makes sense that with a waiting list 17,000 strong we should make sure we’re spending wisely to provide the highest number of seats to those who need them.

It is doubly concerning, then, that Gov. Baker fully vetoed another program that would do exactly that — establish best practices for cost control in state-subsidized early education services.

It’s easy to believe that something will not work if you’re keeping it from working, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

A MassINC poll conducted for WBUR found that not only do 73 percent of Massachusetts voters support comprehensive early childhood education, 53 percent of those surveyed said that they would even support raising taxes to fund it. It also goes without saying that Massachusetts families value the opportunity to send their kids to full-day kindergarten.

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We should encourage members of the state Senate follow the House and pass a veto override on Gov. Baker’s disastrous cuts to early education and full-day kindergarten. It’s clear that Baker doesn’t support early education, and that his skepticism has overruled Massachusetts voters.

This is our party’s issue. Despite what misguided news articles may say about her, Martha Coakley was our nominee. Her pledge to protect early education is reflective of our party’s commitment to education, and this should be a no-brainer for all of us. Let’s protect the meaningful progress that has already been made in education. If we don’t stand up and fight for these programs, then who will? It’s pretty obvious by now that Gov. Baker won’t.

Shakeir Gregory is a communications and policy intern at the Massachusetts office of Democrats for Education Reform.