MTA calls House budget plan a “mixed bag” for public education

MTA President Paul Toner described the House Ways and Means proposed fiscal year 2014 budget as “a mixed bag” for public education and “a tremendous loss for low-income children compared to the governor’s budget proposal.” The bright spot in the House budget plan is a proposed 8 percent increase in spending on public higher education.

The MTA represents 110,000 preK-12 teachers, education support professionals and public higher education faculty and staff in Massachusetts and advocates for adequate spending for early childhood education, public schools and public higher education institutions.

“The governor’s budget placed a high priority on public education, and he proposed fair and reasonable tax increases to pay it,” said Toner. “By rejecting a more ambitious revenue plan in favor of a smaller tax increase targeted to transportation only, the House has missed a great opportunity to advance a vision for an excellent 21st century system of public education, from preschool through graduate school.”

Early Education and Care

Toner described the House spending plan for Early Education and Care as “a big disappointment that shortchanges low-income children and will cost us all more down the road.”
 
The House plan allocates $17 million less for EEC services than had been approved in the original FY13 budget, despite a waiting list of
30,000 low-income children. The House plan is also $148 million lower than the governor had asked for. The governor’s budget called for making preschool services available to all low-income 4-year-olds in the state.
 
“Quality preschool that is available to all is extremely important for making sure students arrive at kindergarten ready to learn,” Toner said. “Our classroom teachers know what study after study has shown – that every dollar spent on early education leads to many dollars saved by not having to pay for future remedial education programs, social services and incarcerations.”

Public Schools
 
Toner described the House spending proposal for public schools as a “modest improvement” for K-12 students, though far short of the governor’s more ambitious plan.
 
Total spending on K-12 public schools is about $79 million higher under the House plan compared to the amount allocated in the fiscal year 2013 budget. That increase includes a $107 million hike in Chapter 70 local aid that will keep all districts at their “foundation” levels of spending and guarantee a minimum of $25 more per student.
 
However, the Chapter 70 line item is $117 million less than the governor budgeted, and overall education spending in the House plan is $140 million less than in the governor’s plan.
 
Even compared to the budget for the current fiscal year, the House plan would make significant reductions in several education programs and services, including career academies in Gateway Cities, Adult Basic Education, early intervention literacy tutoring, the METCO program, alternative education programs and charter school reimbursements. The House budget also rejects the governor’s proposed funding of expanded learning time for middle school students in the Gateway Cities.
 
“Middle school years are difficult in all districts,” said Toner. “They are especially challenging for students in low-income communities that may not have many affordable enrichment activities available for students.” Under the ELT program that the governor wanted to expand, the school day is lengthened by nearly two hours and the additional time is used to provide students with enrichment programs, including art and music, and with personalized academic instruction. Extra time is also used to give teachers more common planning time.
 
“We do appreciate that K-12 education has been squeezed but not decimated while the economy has floundered,” said Toner. “That said, we believe our state is in a good position right now to take education to the next level and really narrow the achievement gaps. The governor’s plan would move us in that direction better than the House proposal.”

Public Higher Education
 
Toner said the House plan for higher education is mostly “good news” for students, faculty and staff on the state’s campuses.
 
“State spending on public higher education has been cut significantly since 2001, so the plan to increase spending in the coming year is a welcome change,” Toner said.
 
The House plan would increase public higher education spending overall by about 8 percent. That includes a $35 million increase for UMass, a $24 million increase for the state universities and a $35 million increase for the community colleges compared to FY13. Contractual pay raises are included in this funding.
 
As a result of the increases, tuition and fees would be frozen at most, if not all, public higher education campuses. There would be a two-year freeze at the University of Massachusetts.
 
On the down side, the House plan rejects the governor’s proposed $112 million increase in scholarship funding for students; instead, the House budget would maintain scholarship funding at the same level as in the current fiscal year.
 
“Too many students are dropping out or graduating with a lot of debt,” Toner said. “The students have made a compelling case for more need-based aid that the House budget does not address.”
 
Toner concluded by saying that the MTA will continue to press for the revenue increases needed to make sure Massachusetts preschools, public schools and public colleges are “second to none” and provide opportunities for all students, regardless of where they live or how much their parents earn.

For additional analysis of the FY14 budget proposed by the House Ways and Means Committee, visit the Mass Budget and Policy Center.