The Joint Committee on Education heard a full day of testimony Friday from the governor, mayors, New England Patriots players, public figures and hundreds of students, parents and teachers asking the state for more money to run public schools.
“Massachusetts still has one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation between rich and poor students,” state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said in her testimony. “Everybody knows that money alone won’t do it, but we also know that you can’t do it without money.”
Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), a past chairman of the education committee, testified on the Education Promise Act, which she filed along with state Reps. Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke) and Mary Keefe (D-Worcester). The bill was one of three major pieces of legislation that the Joint Committee on Education is considering to address the state’s school funding formula, which hasn’t been updated since 1993.
Two other bills to address the issue were filed by the vice chairman of the committee, Rep. Paul Tucker (D-Salem), and Gov. Charlie Baker.
Baker testified in favor of his education bill Friday, an act to promote equity and excellence in education, along with Secretary of Education Jim Peyser and Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley. He pitched the bill as a package working in stride with his budget proposal.
“In many communities, we see persistent achievement gaps and missed opportunities for our kids — especially in urban schools with high concentrations of low-income students and English language learners,” Baker said. “It’s time to close these achievement gaps and continue to move all our public schools toward true excellence.”
Baker cited National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, in which black and Hispanic students scored below 220 in fourth-grade reading, while their white peers scored above 240. The national average is 221. Massachusetts overall scores have led the nation for 12 straight years.
Though Baker’s bill would increase the foundation budget by $1.1 billion in current dollars by 2026, his approach was criticized by some who felt the legislation didn’t go quite far enough.
“I just think we have to be more aggressive,” said Rep. Bud Williams (D-Springfield), a member of the education committee. “There is a lot of subgroups that are really underperforming and I think it’s not a quick fix. I do think we’re going to have to make more of an investment and be more aggressive in terms of implementation.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh also addressed the importance of education reform. He noted that 43 percent of students in Massachusetts who face multiple challenges including poverty, language barriers, and disability at the same time are in the Boston Public School system.
“This formula is complicated, but the issue is not,” Walsh said. “Every young person, in every community, deserves a full opportunity to learn, to dream, and to thrive in our 21st-century world.”
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"It’s going to be a game changer," Chang-Díaz said. "I know it's going to take time for the MCAD to fill the staffing shortages that they've been experiencing in recent years, but this is a huge step forward."