Leaders lobby for education money
BOSTON – Students, educators, parents and community leaders – including local lawmakers and Greenfield Community College’s new president – coalesced at the State House Wednesday to lobby for more state funding for public education.
At the event, legislators unveiled the CHERISH Act, filed by Senator Jo Comerford and Rep. Paul Mark, both of whom represent Franklin County towns. The bill would implement the core recommendation of the Higher Education Finance Commission, which found in 2014 that the state is underfunding public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year in inflation-adjusted dollars.
The event was organized by the Fund Our Future coalition, which is calling on the Legislature to meet the recommendations of a bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission and the Higher Education Finance Commission by increasing state funding for preschool through grade 12 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 “reinvestment in public education to happen 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.”
This comes on the coattails of several meetings throughout the county, from small town summits to funding forums, where educators, administrators and stakeholders have advocated for increased state funding for schools.
The CHERISH Act could result in more than $500 million in additional funding for public higher education in Massachusetts. The legislation would require the state fund public higher education at no less than its 2001 fiscal year per-student funding level, adjusted for inflation, and freeze tuition and fees for five years.
Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernandez, president of Greenfield Community College, said she finds it is important to support legislators and legislation that prioritizes education because it is “vitally important for the future knowledge-driven economy.”
“Community colleges enroll 50 percent of undergraduates in the state and the great majority of community college graduates remain in Massachusetts. At a time when Massachusetts is ranked seventh in the nation for outmigration, this is a smart investment in public higher education and sends a strong signal that we want our economy to remain vibrant and that we value our young people and adults returning to school,” said Salomon-Fernandez. “This bill will keep our economy strong and invest in people who will stay in the state. We are grateful that our legislators see value in this public investment.”
She added that the CHERISH bill is Comerford’s first piece of legislation since she was elected last fall speaks to the sneator’s commitment to higher education.
Comerford herself promoted funding for higher education, saying: “Two hundred and thirty years ago John Adams said, ‘The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it.’ This is the opportunity of the CHERISH Act, which seeks to re-establish a workable baseline for state investment in a sector that has seen steady decline over 18 years … My belief is that this bill will support public colleges and universities in their continued excellence, and will also be a mechanism for addressing student debt by helping to prevent student tuition and fees from continuing to skyrocket.”
Mark echoed Comerford’s support for public education.
“Massachusetts thrives based on our knowledge economy, and if we want to continue to lead we need to continue increasing our investment in higher education,” said Mark. “I am honored to join my colleagues in filing the CHERISH Act to help ensure the future success of our commonwealth.”
GCC Women’s Resource Center coordinator and vice president of the Massachusetts Community College Council, Rosemarie Freeland, also went to Boston to support the legistation that will benefit her colleagues as well as students at the college.
“The foundation of education and high education is invaluable,” Freekand said. “This legislation is necessary in order for our public higher education to have what they need operationally, so students don’t have to pick up the balance.”
The commission found that since 2001, state funding of public colleges and universities has declined, from $12,000 per student each year to $8,000 per student.
Melina Bourdeau, Greenfield Recorder, January 16, 2019