Sen. Chang-Díaz spoke on the floor of the Senate in favor of passing the Student Opportunity Act, to implement all 5 of the Foundation Budget Review Commission's recommendations -- including critical equity provisions. The Senate unanimously passed the bill that evening. This is what she said:
Thank you, Madame President, and through you to the members.
Thank you, as well, to the gentleman from Winchester for his explanation of this bill, and for the thoughtful, responsive, and collaborative work he put into negotiating this legislation.
As we have heard, the bill before us today will update the state’s fraying 25-year-old education funding formula. It is detailed, thoughtful, and durable legislation. It will make the complex technical adjustments to ensure that school budgets keep up with the real costs our districts face.
But this legislation is also about our values, as a Commonwealth. At a time when social and economic inequality are at an all-time high, when Massachusetts has one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, and when black and brown and low-income communities are repeatedly targeted by our federal government, this bill stands as our commitment that, in Massachusetts, zip code must not be destiny.
What we’re doing here today is an enormous deal.
And seismic progress like this doesn’t happen by itself and it doesn’t happen overnight. It always requires resilient advocacy and courageous commitment from people across our state. The work we continue today began long before any bills filed at the beginning of this session and it began long before the FBRC.
41 years ago, in 1978 (the year I was born!), 8-year-old Roburn Webby from Brockton was one of the first to call for reform. She saw that she and her classmates did not have the same opportunities as their peers in other communities. Roburn and her parents joined together with 15 other families and stakeholder groups from across the state to sue for every child’s right to quality education.
The case took 15 years to wend its way through the system -- so long that Roburn aged out of the Brockton school system and was succeeded by 13-year-old Jami McDuffy as the lead plaintiff.
But at the end of the day, their work led to one of the most important changes to K-12 education in Massachusetts history. The 1993 Supreme Judicial Court decision clearly laid out a constitutional right to quality education. And the Legislature’s subsequent Education Reform Act set a national standard for K-12 funding.
And yet, even as the MA education system climbed the national rankings, achievement and opportunity gaps persisted -- and in some cases grew. So these same communities continued to champion educational justice, calling for increased investment to make good on our constitutional responsibility.
In 2010, these communities were joined by others across the state who were facing growing year over year budget cuts.
They got down to work, making their voices heard in calls, meetings, and long trips back and forth to the State House. Their grit and persistence achieved the 2014 rebirth of the Foundation Budget Review Commission.
And still, they knew the work was far from over. For the next year, as we on the Commission held hearings across the state, communities turned out -- sharing stories of their families, kids, neighborhood schools.
We heard repeatedly about damaging budget cuts year after year, and the double bind faced by low-income kids who endure a more difficult road to start with and who receive even less support along the way.
The next year, in October 2015, the Commission issued its report -- with five clear recommendations to update the formula and provide necessary support to close the achievement gap.
And still, we all knew the work was far from over. The recommendations had no force of law, they would make no true impact by themselves.
So these stakeholders and advocates redoubled their efforts again -- crafting legislation, organizing demonstrations, attending hearings, calling the State House, meeting with offices again and again. And, more than 40 years after Roburn Webby and her parents first led the charge for equity -- these stakeholders filed another lawsuit.
On a cold morning this past January, 13-year-old Chelsea middle schooler José Cruz Jr. came to the State House and echoed these calls for an equal chance in life. He told us about how he and his peers deal with poverty, violence, homelessness, and few employment opportunities -- and that he had no one at school to talk with about it.
“So I ask you,” he said to us. “Do you sincerely expect us to succeed under these circumstances? Are you aware of these issues? Can you do something to help us? Will you help us?”
Our session today continues nearly a half-century of work for educational equity. And this bill would not exist without the generations of Bay Staters who tirelessly and passionately kept the cause alive. Who saw the work ahead and never gave up, even when political insiders believed the issue was dead.
I want to address myself directly to the people who are not in this room, but who made sure we would be in this room today.
If, 5 years ago, you packed up some crayons and coloring books and peanut butter sandwiches for the kids and schlepped a half hour to the next town over to testify at an FBRC hearing during dinner time: Thank you.
If you are one of the kids in Boston who'd never spoken in public before, but came to the Mattapan hearing and stood up to recount how there is no toilet paper in your bathrooms and no working water fountains in your school: We see you.
If you are one of the FBRC commissioners who quietly pushed for the commission to issue 5 recommendations, not 2--to not adjourn until we had addressed the issue of achievement gaps: You made a difference.
If you wrote an email, helped pass a local school committee resolution, attended the March for Our lives 18 months ago and asked for the twin solutions of gun safety legislation and FBRC reforms, if you wrote a Facebook post, or met with your legislators: This bill belongs to you. You helped make this happen today.
I also want to address myself directly to you, my colleagues here in the halls of government. I want to thank you, too. For we are undertaking something courageous today.
There is a difference between charity and justice. We could have passed a bill that -- instead of aiming to close our yawning achievement gaps-- aimed to make them less egregious. We might have celebrated that bill by saying: “We are doing more than ever before for kids stuck in the achievement gap!”
But today in this chamber, we are making a different choice. An important choice.
We are refusing to accept the iron-law correlation between socio-economic status and educational attainment. We are refusing to accept that low-income black and brown students who make it to medical school are statistical anomalies.
Instead of orienting ourselves around the comforting goal of “more than before” for low-income communities, we are anchoring ourselves to the true goal in our state constitution: a quality education for every child.
Some might say, quietly or in different words, that closing these gaps is unrealistic...infeasible.
But in Massachusetts, we have the courage of our convictions. We don’t shrink from a challenge just because it’s hard.
In Massachusetts, we invented technologies that got humanity to the moon. We pioneered universal healthcare. We recognized same-sex marriages when others were afraid to. We armed the first Black regiment in the Civil War. And we gave birth to the American Revolution and to public education.
Embracers of the harder goal, persisters toward the harder goal is who we are in Massachusetts.
And it’s who I know all of you in this chamber to be. It was the unwavering commitment from all of you over the years that led the Senate to pass the FBRC’s full recommendations five separate times over the last 3 years. In the RISE Act, in the FY17 budget, in the FY18 budget, and twice as standalone legislation last year.
And, Madame President, I want to give special recognition to you, for your role in getting this legislation to where it is today. You set this legislation as a priority from the very beginning of this session, from that very rostrum. And you and the Chair of Ways & Means backed up the Senate’s commitment with funding for the low-income rate for the first time in this year’s budget. That was a big deal, and it put to bed the doubts that doing justice--rather than charity--for low-income students was possible.
This bill goes the distance: it acknowledges and operationalizes the research that closing the achievement gap is possible, but requires two times the investment for our poorest students if we are serious about closing gaps at scale.
This is what generational progress for educational equity and economic justice looks like. This is what refusing to give up looks like.
We failed Roburn Webby 40 years ago, and we missed the mark on doing right by Jami McDuffy 26 years ago. But today, finally, we can get it right for José Cruz and decades of Bay Staters who will come after him.
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“We need to come to terms with the fact that we are free-riding on the backs of women,” said state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, a Boston Democrat.