Published on Friday, 17 February 2017 14:37
On February 16, school committee members, superintendents, school business officials and others gathered in Holyoke for a panel discussion on the Foundation Budget Review Commission report and the prospects of its implementation. On the panel or represented were Rep. John Velis of Westfield, present, and then represented by Emily Swanson; Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke; Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose of Amherst; Senator Eric Lesser, represented by Joel McAuliffe; and MASC Field Director Tracy Novick.
The panel and group engaged in a wide ranging discussion which touched not only on the foundation budget review, but also the FY18 budget, bills in the upcoming session, House leadership, and advocacy. Legislators warned the prospects for immediate action on the foundation budget review were remote, with new committees and leadership just being appointed. They emphasized the degree to which collective action and continued advocacy is what is most needed. Rep. Velis said, "Hold us accountable."
Rep. Goldstein-Rose discussed bills currently submitted by himself and others regarding closing the dividend loophole and considering alternatives regarding the costs of health insurance. The Fair Share amendment, which was mentioned a number of times over the course of the evening, is, he said, polling at 70%.
Asked what was left out of the foundation budget, Ms. Novick noted the special education recommendation still does not recognize the actual special education need in districts. She also said the low income recommendation needs further detail, as it does not contain a dollar amount, and preschool is only recognized without a recommendation. At some point, she said, the discussion will have to include the funding split between local and state, which it has not thus far.
Rep. Vega emphasized the need for the Legislature to fulfill commitments made, whether on charter reimbursement or on regional transportation. He also referenced discussions within caucuses of the possibility in future budgets of additional funds being directed to highest need, while ensuring that no community loses what they have currently.
Mr. McAuliffe, speaking on behalf on Senator Lesser, noted that the losses of student enrollment many communities in Western Massachusetts currently are experiencing are linked to the Senator's ongoing advocacy regarding high-speed rail, which would link the lower housing costs of the west to the jobs in the east.
Responding to a question on Senator Lesser's bill on empowerment zones, Mr. McAuliffe noted the large amount of feedback they had gotten on the bill. He urged continued advocacy, as it is a bill, and the Senator is open to amendments and changes.
Referencing MassBudget's comparison of city to suburbs, Joe Kurland, of Mohawk Regional, closed the meeting by asking, "Why should a child in Newton get more funding than a child in Lynn? ...We need to organize - and maybe sue - to adequately fund education."