Thousands March on the State House, Rally for Public Education Funding
Day of Action Highlights Urgent Need for Major Reinvestment in Public Schools, Colleges, and Universities
BOSTON – Thousands of students, educators, parents, and other supporters of public education rallied, blew whistles, and marched on the State House today to demand passage of bills that would increase state funding for preK-12 public schools by more than $1 billion a year and for public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year. See full news coverage of the day here.
The bills were filed to address years of inadequate and inequitable funding that have slashed services for students in public schools across the state, especially in low-income communities, and forced both program cuts and tuition and fee hikes at the state’s public colleges and universities.
“In my four years of high school, we have gone through many budget cuts that left us in rooms cramped with too many students, sharing workspaces, or having to stand up for our teachers almost losing their jobs. Time is up, and the time for change is now! All students deserve access to great public schools, whether you’re rich or poor or black or white,” said Carolina Penaflor, a senior at Everett High School.
“We need to pass the Promise Act and Cherish Act to fund our future,” Penaflor continued, referring to the preK-12 and public higher education funding bills, respectively. “It’s time for students to stop worrying about budget cuts so we can focus on boosting our SAT scores, securing higher paying jobs, and actually having enough guidance counselors to help us with college applications. We’ve done our homework, it’s time for our legislators to do theirs!”
“We are here today because every day without action is another day without the great schools all students deserve. Every day without adequate, equitable school funding is another day where some schools and colleges suffer from a lack of resources, and another day where some students don’t have their needs met, simply because of where they live,” said Graciela Mohamedi, a Brookline teacher. “We are here to deliver a message by marching to the State House and raising our voices so all of Massachusetts can hear us: Fund Our Future!”
“All across the country parents and educators have been coming together to unite their voices in the fight for increased state support for our students and school staff. The Promise Act and Cherish Act must be passed now so that my children can have on site afterschool programs, art electives, and continued supportive services for their individual developmental needs,” said Syndie Cine, a Quincy parent. “My ZIP code should not limit my children’s chances for long term success. The fact that they descend from an immigrant family shouldn’t stifle their academic growth.”
The Promise Act would implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission and result in more than $1 billion in additional state funding for preK-12 schools in Massachusetts. It would deliver the bulk of new resources to the most economically disadvantaged communities, while also guaranteeing meaningful minimum aid increases for all districts and providing relief to districts that lose significant funding to charter schools, by guaranteeing that state aid would never fall below the target set by the Foundation Budget for each community.
The Cherish Act would implement the core recommendation of the state’s Higher Education Finance Commission and result in more than $500 million in additional state funding for public higher education in Massachusetts after a five-year phase-in. The legislation would require in statute that the Commonwealth fund public higher education at no less than its FY01 per-student funding level, adjusted for inflation, and freeze tuition and fees for five years.
“We stand united, as part of the national Red for Ed movement proudly representing 140,000 educators from preschool through the public higher education system,” said Jessica Tang, President of the Boston Teachers Union. “We are here to say it’s time for full funding for public schools and colleges.”
“We stand unified and strong, in front of the statue of Horace Mann, the founder of our public education system, to remind our elected officials that education is the cornerstone of democracy,” said Beth Kontos, President of AFT Massachusetts. “But that cornerstone is crumbling without equitable funding.”
“We are demanding that our elected leaders fulfill their responsibility to Fund Our Future,” said Merrie Najimy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “We will take this fight to every community to fulfill the promise and cherish the students. We will speak out. We will show up. We will act out.”
“The fight to fund our future has taken center stage in Massachusetts: nearly 50 actions across the commonwealth, nearly 100 resolutions in city councils and school boards statewide and over 20,000 petitions signed by community members calling for investment in public schools,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “Educators are reaching into their own pockets to buy books for barren libraries, teaching in overcrowded classrooms in buildings without school nurses, and being treated as test prep managers instead of professionals – the result of systematic, deliberate choices not to prioritize our schools, our teachers or our kids. Once again, we come together to say no more. Our public schools are the first responders to fighting the status quo, and we must give them the resources they need to recruit the best teachers, and offer every kid a shot at a better life.”
In advance of the evening rally on Boston Common and a march around the State House, advocates held several events during a Day of Action within the State House that highlighted the impact that the state’s failure to invest in our public schools and colleges is having on students, especially students in deeply underfunded Gateway Cities, urban and rural districts, and communities of color. During a People’s Hearing in the State House, Founding Father and framer of the Massachusetts Constitution John Adams, in period costume, spoke about the commitments pledged to public education in the Massachusetts Constitution.
“I wrote in the Constitution that ‘it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them.’ But I’ve been awakened to find our education has not been cherished,” said John Adams. “Do we not still believe that children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom? As I wrote in 1785, ‘the Whole People must take upon themselves the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expenses of it.’ ”
Students, educators, and parents testified about how we arrived at the current education funding crisis, and discussed the impact that persistent education funding inequity has on our students and their schools.
“At my school, we still use outdated textbooks that are older than I am. And most of the time we don’t have enough textbooks to go around; we have to share a book with a person or two,” said Anna Zhao, a Boston student. “There aren’t enough medical supplies at the nurse’s office, and we don’t have a full-time school nurse; they are mostly at school to administer insulin to students during lunch. I’ve had enough. We are here to bring attention for a better BPS, here to blow the whistle. Fund our schools!”
“In Lynn, I am one of 16 speech teachers whose average caseload is 100 students. In the past two decades, the number of our assigned students has doubled, while the number of speech and language pathologists has remained unchanged, creating nothing short of a crisis,” said Miriam Rodriguez-Fusco, a Lynn speech and language pathologist. “Communities like Lynn are strongly affected by the failed funding formula because we service more students with special needs, more second language learners, and more families with low incomes. We need to address the real needs of each community, so that students and their teachers can receive an equal opportunity to a great education no matter where they live.”
“For decades, teachers, students and families have withstood punitive, top-down ‘accountability’ mandates as well as budget cuts. The combined effect has been to pin a ‘failing’ label on our most vulnerable and needy students, schools and districts. But it’s the state that has failed to fully fund our public schools and colleges,” said Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director of Citizens for Public Schools. “Enough is enough. We must pass the PROMISE and CHERISH Acts now!”
“This is a defining moment. How we work together in support of our most vulnerable children, through both the investment and sacrifices we make today, will determine whether all of our children have the opportunity to be joint heirs in the prosperity of the Commonwealth,” said Tanisha M. Sullivan, Esq., President of the NAACP – Boston Branch. “Our children deserve the best.”
During a Playdate Protest outside the State House, parents and children called for increased education funding with chalk drawing, a music circle, and art activities designed to highlight the kinds of schools our kids deserve.
“I dream of my son having schools with small classes and enough teachers, counselors, and librarians to help him grow. I dream of my son having schools with music and art, STEM education, and foreign languages,” said Lindsay McCluskey, a parent who brought her son to the Playdate Protest. “And I dream of a reality where all kids have access to that same great education, no matter whether their family is rich or poor; whether they’re black, brown, or white; whether they live in a big city, small suburb, or rural community, and no matter what special needs they have.”
Several clergy members led an interfaith action to highlight the moral crisis facing education, especially in under-funded communities. They then led a march through the State House to deliver hundreds of letters from students, educators, and parents about the need for increased education funding, along with 20,000 petition signatures supporting a major reinvestment in public education, to the Governor, Speaker, and Senate President.
“All children in the Commonwealth deserve well-funded schools. We are here to say no more sacrificing our children on the altar of inequality and underfunded school budgets,” said Rabbi David Jaffe of Brockton Interfaith Community. “As a father of children in the Brockton Public Schools and as a pastor at Brockton Covenant Church, I believe we have the power to pass a better world down to our children. We can choose to invest in our kids. We can choose to make decisions that will offer all children in the Commonwealth opportunities we never dreamed possible for ourselves.”
At the rally on Boston Common, students, parents, educators, and other supporters of public education demanded that the Legislature and Governor pass the Promise and Cherish Acts 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.
“We need fully funded schools that help us heal and support our children, teach and inspire their creativity, and build the communities everyone deserves,” said Joni Cederholm, a Weymouth education support professional. “I work at the public pre-school in our town, where more than half of the students have special needs, such as speech delays, autism and physical limitations. Every child learns differently, and a well-rounded school has art, music, and theatre programs that let our students express themselves. But art and music are often the first to be cut. Every year the Legislature does not act leaves us further behind. Our students can’t wait! We need more funding now!”
“Our schools are crumbling and our debts are rising. Today is the day that we say enough! There’s been lip service for funding higher ed for years, but now is the time for our representatives to put their money where their mouths are and show us they truly cherish the great equalizer,” said Erik Plowden, a UMass Amherst student. “We’re all here today because we all know that we need to Fund our Future, so that all people in this state have the opportunity to pursue their passions and fulfill their potential. We are not moving until education is fully funded in the Commonwealth and every student has a debt-free future.”
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: Act on Mass, AFT Massachusetts, Alliance for Brookline Schools, Asian American Resource Workshop, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Boston Democratic Socialists of America (BDSA), Boston Education Equity Coalition, Boston Education Justice Alliance, Boston Teachers Union, CEPA at UMass Amherst, Chinese Progressive Association, Citizens for Public Schools, College Dems of MA, Hampshire Franklin Labor Council, Interfaith Worker Justice, JALSA, Jewish Labor Committee, La Communidad, La Voz de la Comunidad – Framingham, Local 26 Unite Here, Lowell Education Justice Alliance, Mass COSH, Massachusetts Communities Action Network , Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, Massachusetts Teachers Association, Massachusetts Voter Table, Merrimack Valley Central Labor Council, MNA, NAACP New England Area Conference, North Shore Labor Council, Pioneer Valley Labor Council, Pioneer Valley Street Heat, Progressive Massachusetts, Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), PUMA Parent Union of Mass, QUEST (Quality Education for Every Student), Revere Youth in Action, SEIU 888, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Tikkun Olam Congregation Bnai Israel Northampton, Union of Minority Neighborhoods, Women Encouraging Empowerment, Young Democrats of Massachusetts, and Youth on Board. 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, those who are English learners, the needs of students from low-income families, and 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.