Statement by MTA President Anne Wass on the State Budget
Massachusetts Teachers Association President Anne Wass said she is "deeply concerned" about cuts in local aid and education funding in the budget approved June 19 by the House and Senate. However, she expressed strong support for the revenue increases proposed to offset some of those cuts, including a 25 percent increase in the sales tax.
"Revenue increases are absolutely essential to prevent even deeper cuts to public schools, public higher education and a whole host of other state and local services," said Wass.
While recognizing that it fared better than some other services in the budget, Wass noted that education is the "bedrock of the economy."
"Public education provides hope and opportunity for the future and should be spared from deep cuts during a recession," she said.
She also expressed concern for the fate of education spending in FY11, since it is likely that most of the federal stimulus money will have been used by then.
The budget cuts Chapter 70 school aid to the level previously approved by the Senate. It is cut by 2 percent across the board -- or $79 million -- below the FY09 level, but federal stimulus dollars will be used to make sure no district falls below the mandated foundation budget level. The inflation formula used also does not adequately account for actual increases in the cost of providing services, potentially eroding state funding for public education into the future.
PreK-12 grant programs are also slashed, reducing funds for such programs as MCAS remediation, the special education circuit breaker, full-day kindergarten grants and targeted intervention for underperforming schools.
Wass noted that the deep cuts in non-school local aid accounts also affect schools. General government aid (formerly referred to as lottery aid and additional assistance) is cut by $377 million, or almost 29 percent. With such a deep cut, some municipalities will shift funds out of their local school department budgets to maintain other essential municipal services.
"All services sink lower when the revenue tide runs out," said Wass. "Cities and towns already saw this coming, which is why they issued so many pink slips this spring and why students in so many districts could have fewer teachers and programs next fall."
Public Higher Education
State funding for public higher education was also reduced in the conference committee budget, but the shortfall is shored up with use of federal dollars, resulting in virtual level-funding for community and state colleges and some relatively small reductions in the University of Massachusetts budget. However, in the face of rising costs, level funding amounts to a reduction.
There are also reductions in other higher education accounts, including a $9 million cut in scholarship aid for students.
Employee Health Insurance
The budget hikes costs for state employees for their health insurance coverage, but the changes are less severe than had been proposed by the Senate. Employees will pay either 20 percent or 25 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums, depending on their date of hire. This is a 5 percentage point increase over current practice. This adversely affects many of MTA's higher education members.
The budget does not include any changes in municipal health insurance, though that issue is expected to be taken up in a separate bill, possibly in the near future. The MTA is fighting to make sure teachers and other municipal employees continue to have the right to bargain collectively over health insurance.
The MTA supports the budget's sales tax hike, increases in local option taxes and the local taxation of telecommunication property. "While MTA prefers a better balance of more broad-based and progressive revenue increases and more authority at the local level to raise revenues, the new budget is a start," Wass said.