State budget plan fails our schools
Higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy can fill crucial gap
AFTER MONTHS OF limbo, the state budget working its way through Beacon Hill obscures a difficult truth—funding levels will fall short of what our schools, particularly those that are the most under-resourced, need to successfully educate their students for the rest of the year. The challenges will remain even if the COVID-19 pandemic subsides over the coming months. We need targeted, progressive tax revenue to give our schools the resources to successfully navigate this crisis.
So far, the state’s answer to the pandemic is to repeatedly lower the bar for how it defines a safe return to school rather than providing adequate resources so schools can really be safe. One in 10 of the 1,800 school buildings in the state is over a century old, a figure that is true for one in five in our Gateway Cities which educate many of our state’s lowest-income students. Making these buildings safe for both students and faculty requires upgrading airflow and ventilation. Districts also must provide safe transportation for students. This costs money. Given the link between community wealth and the historical legacy of racism, kids of color and the schools that educate them tend to have fewer resources than those in wealthier districts.
This spring, our most under-resourced districts faced significant challenges in making devices and internet available for all students. Even when they did, students, including those from low-income families, from rural areas, or who are English Learners, have struggled with accessing online instruction. As with everything in the COVID-19 era, the challenges of remote learning fall disproportionately hard on black, Latinx, and indigenous students.
Instead of following through with planned, historic investments in low-income schools through the 2019 Student Opportunity Act (SOA) — investments that are even more vital during the pandemic — the governor and Legislature propose cutting nearly $240 million from the SOA plan. A new $50 million COVID-related grant fund proposed by the House would help, but does not compensate for these losses.
This year Revere could lose $10 million and Worcester could lose $16 million in state aid if the SOA is not funded. So far, these districts are surviving because they can save money by not transporting kids to school and reducing other costs associated with in-person learning. But should Revere, Worcester, and many other cities move to in-person or hybrid learning, costs will skyrocket.
We are a wealthy state and have the capacity to help every school weather this crisis and provide their students with the same level of education as students in the wealthiest districts. All of our organizations believe that the state can raise the tax revenue we need for education (and other key areas such as public health, housing, transit, and child care). Research from MassBudget argues that the best way to do so is by asking profitable corporations and wealthy individuals, who continue to take home an outsized share of income earned in our state, to pay more in taxes.This pandemic has laid bare the racial and economic inequities that exist in the Commonwealth—hitting our black, brown, and low-income communities the hardest. We can use our state budget to build equity and reverse these trends by investing in our schools. We can’t afford to defer opportunity. Students across Massachusetts are counting on us.
Brian Allen is the chief financial and operations officer for Worcester Public Schools. Colin Jones is a senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. Dianne Kelly is superintendent of the Revere Public Schools. Glenn Koocher is the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.