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AFT Massachusetts Members are Taking Action to ‘Fund Our Future’

AFT Massachusetts members from around the state are taking action to ‘Fund Our Future’ as part of a new campaign to reinvest in Massachusetts’ public schools and colleges. Since the new state legislative session began last month, members have been working to pass legislation that would fix the state’s school funding formula and reinvest more than $1.5 billion each year in public education from preK through college.

“Our public education system is underfunded from top to bottom, and through our work with the Fund Our Future coalition, we are committed to ensuring that our students and their schools have the funding they need to succeed, from preK through college,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “These bills will help us support our students throughout their entire education, no matter where they come from or what needs they have. We’ve waited far too long for Massachusetts to invest in our kids, and it’s time to pass this legislation now!”

AFT activists spent much of January urging legislators to sign on to the Fund Our Future bills: the PROMISE Act for increased K-12 funding and the CHERISH Act for increased public higher education funding. From calling legislators and signing an online petition, to visiting the state house or meeting legislators at local events, hundreds of AFT Massachusetts members took action to urge their own legislators to support the bills.

A February 7 Springfield Legislative Forum, hosted by the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and AFT Massachusetts, featured local parents, students, and educators talking about the urgent needs that exist in their schools. A March 11 legislative forum is scheduled in Lowell.  AFT locals in Salem, Lynn and Boston have also held walk-ins before school to highlight the need for increased investment in local schools.

Another major tactic locals are using to build support for the Fund Our Future agenda is the passage of local school committee and city council resolutions. To date, more than 50 school committees and city councils across Massachusetts, including the Springfield, Lowell and Lynn School Committees and the Lawrence and Lynn City Councils, have passed resolutions to support fully funding our schools by implementing the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

“For decades, Massachusetts has failed to provide adequate funding to address the unique needs of students in Lawrence and other lower-income communities. Our students deserve the same high-quality education as those in wealthier communities, and we’re glad to see the Lawrence City Council join more than 50 school committees and city councils around the state in voting to support fully funding our schools and fixing the state's outdated funding formula,” said Frank McLaughlin, President of the Lawrence Teachers Union, after the passage of a city council resolution in Lawrence. “We need the Legislature to take strong action by passing the Education PROMISE Act, which would implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission and increase state funding for public education by more than $1 billion a year, including tens of millions of dollars for Lawrence students. And we need the Legislature to act this spring – in time for local communities like Lawrence to include the funding in our next academic year’s budget. Our kids can’t afford to wait.”

AFT locals in Billerica, Chelsea, Peabody, Salem, and other communities are also organizing to pass resolutions in support of greatly increased state funding for local public schools.

The Fund Our Future campaign was formed to end the generation-long underfunding of local public schools and public colleges and universities in Massachusetts and is endorsed by the following members: American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, Boston Teachers Union, Citizens for Public Schools, FairTest, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA), Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, Massachusetts Teachers Association, NAACP New England Area Conference, PHENOM — the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, and SEIU Local 888. The campaign is calling on the Legislature to pass two bills that meet the recommendations of the state’s bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission and the Higher Education Finance Commission by increasing state funding for preK-12 public schools by $1 billion a year and increasing state funding for public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year. Advocates are calling for this major reinvestment in public education to happen this spring – in time for local communities to include the funding in the next academic year’s budget and in time for public college students to avoid tuition and fee hikes this fall.

The PROMISE Act, filed by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz and Representatives Aaron Vega and Mary Keefe, would implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission, which found in 2015 that the state is underfunding public education by at least $1 billion a year. The commission found that the state’s funding formula fails to account for the cost of four specific items: educating students who have disabilities, are English learners, or are from low-income families, and managing the rising cost of health insurance for staff. Since 2002, annual K-12 funding from the state has been cut by $405 million in inflation-adjusted dollars. Nationally, Massachusetts ranks 33rd in the share of our states’ economic resources dedicated to public education. As a result, many students aren’t getting a well-rounded education including small classes, music and art, science, technology, engineering, and math education, and public school staff including counselors, paraprofessionals, special education teachers and librarians.

The CHERISH Act, filed by Senator Jo Comerford and Representatives Paul Mark and Sean Garballey, would implement the core recommendation of the state’s Higher Education Finance Commission, which found in 2014 that the state is underfunding our public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. Since 2001, state funding of public colleges and universities has declined dramatically, from $12,000 per student each year to only $8,000 per student. As a result, Massachusetts has the fastest-growing public college costs and the second-fastest growth in student debt in the nation. Tuition and fees at Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities are among the highest in the country. Costs are being shifted onto students and families, who are forced to take on enormous debt. Today, the average UMass student is graduating with over $30,000 in student debt, and the average graduate of our state universities leaves school with over $25,000 in student debt. At the same time, full-time tenured faculty members are being replaced by part-time instructors who are paid much less, have no job security, and often do not receive health insurance coverage.

“Bipartisan state commissions have identified the need for more funding in our education system – there’s no denying the fact that these investments are needed to deliver the basic elements of a great education,” said AFT Massachusetts Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan. “Now it’s our responsibility to remind the Legislature of their duty to fulfill the promises they’ve made to generations of Massachusetts students and fund our future.”

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