Advocates Make Case for More Public Ed. Funding
LOWELL -- A lack of quality education for youth tends to cause a domino effect ending in social turmoil.
That was the message Lowell resident Bob Forrant conveyed to area lawmakers on hand for a community forum held in Lowell Monday night. The Lowell Education Justice Alliance, which organized the event at the Lowell Senior Center, used the forum to advocate for increased funding for public education.
“If we’re not going to take it seriously, then we can’t bemoan the opioid crisis,” said Forrant, a member of the UMass Lowell faculty for 25 years. “We can’t bemoan the inequality as it grows in the commonwealth, as it grows in Lowell, as it grows in Lawrence, and other districts that you all represent. Absent is a decent quality education. People are stuck.”
“We need to fix it or the people responsible for fixing it should step aside and let people get on the Legislature who are willing and interested to do the work ...” Forrant added, as his final few words were drowned out by the applause from forum attendees.
Several parents, grandparents, educators and students addressed the panel of legislators. Issues in area schools raised by the nearly 20 speakers included rising class sizes, withering school infrastructure and the elimination of programs and education opportunities.
The school funding formula needs to change was the message organizers hoped legislators would take back to the Statehouse.
The event, was held in collaboration with the Fund Our Future Coalition. Their grassroots campaign has expressed support for two bills currently before state legislators -- the Promise Act, for elementary and secondary education, and the Cherish Act, for higher education.
The Promise Act is the latest effort to reform the decades old state funding formula, which critics have called out of date and a barrier to educational equity across the state. The legislation would update the foundation budget formula for public schools, increasing state Chapter 70 funding by more than $1 billion. The bulk of the funds would go to districts with the greatest need and fewest resources.
A similar bill that would have diverted hundreds of millions of dollars to public schools died in the Legislature last year.
The Cherish Act freezes tuition and fees for five years and would result in more than $500 million in additional funding for public higher education. Those funds must supplement existing funding.
Jack Bove, a junior at UMass Lowell, who spoke to lawmakers in support of the Cherish Act, said, “education has to be an escape from poverty, not a path to it.”
“I’m getting out of school with $25,000 of debt, and somehow that’s considered fortunate,” he added. “I have seen people drop out because they weren’t sure about how much aid they were going to get the next semester, or they weren’t sure if tuition and the cost of housing was going to raise.”
Closing the event, event organizer Darcie Boyer asked each legislator whether or not they supported the two bills.
Supporting both the Promise and Cherish acts were Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Lowell -- who is a co-sponsor of the Promise Act -- and Reps. Tami Gouveia, D-Acton, and Rady Mom, D-Lowell.
Thomas Mahoney, an aide from the office of Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, showed support for the Promise Act, but remained undecided on the Cherish Act.
Brian Hoey, an aide from Rep. David Nangle’s office, as well as Reps. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica and Thomas Golden, D-Lowell, were undecided on both bills.
Golden explained he has consistently supported increases in education funding, but in the case of the Promise and Cherish acts, the question raised is, “Where is the money coming from?”
“At the end of the day, every single legislator is pushing for more local aid and more Chapter 70 aid,” Golden said. “But to just blindly say you are going to support it without knowing how it’s actually going to be paid for and without eviscerating another part of the budget is, quite frankly, something I just won’t do. The more responsible approach is to find out what the overall cost is and to figure out how to actually pay for it.”
Kennedy called the funding concerns legitimate, but referenced new revenue streams becoming available, including through legalized recreational marijuana and gambling ventures, and the possibility of the Fair Share Act.
“There will be additional revenue that would be available, it would just need to be dedicated to public education,” Kennedy said.
Bove also acknowledged the difficulty legislators had supporting the legislation considering the funding demands, but called it “an investment in your own future.”
“It may cost you some votes next election to say, ‘I want that $1.5 billion in new revenue,’ but it’s an investment in the social systems that everyone pays into,” Bove said. “You’re giving people the ability to get a higher-paying job, to have a better future, because of that education.”
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis.