Council for Fair School Finance files lawsuit for equitable school funding

Today, the Council for Fair School Finance, of which MASC is a member, announced the filing of a lawsuit to pursue equity in school finance.

At a press conference at the State House, NAACP New England Area Conference President Juan Cofield opened by saying regarding the lawsuit, “We felt it necessary given the harm that continues to be done to our children” due to the inequity in the funding of education.

Group photo from education event

Speaking of the experience of her children in the Fall River Public Schools, Denise DaPointe Mussotte said,"I totally believe it's funding and the lack of funding" that harms her children's education. She noted there being thirty children in a class, there not being enough books, "it goes on and on and on." She said, "all we can ask for is the state to come through with the funding that we need." Maneisha Straker, also a Fall River parent, "if there were more investment in this generation, they would be able to be more successful in is time to invest in them."

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director, Lawyers for Civil Rights, said, "today's lawsuit is challenging the 21st century version of separate but unequal...our state legislature has not cherished public education as our Constitution requires" and has been "willfully blind" to the disparities. Resources for children's education, he said, "should come from this house and not Go Fund Me."

MASC President Devin Sheehan noted the Massachusetts truism "wait til next year," saying, "We are not waiting til next year." He was quoting the Holyoke Superintendent who said that outside the State House in 1991, when Sheehan was nine. He remembers his own experiences in an underfunded school system; "these children," he said, "are going to be leading our cities, our states, and our nation." While last year the Governor and Lieutenant Governor touted a surplus, districts were underfunded in the circuit breaker, regional transportation, and charter school reimbursement; "we did not have a surplus when we can't pay our debts."

Photo of MASC President Devin Sheehan

Mayra Balderas, among the leaders of the Chelsea Collaborative, spoke of her son's experiences as a student in special education in Chelsea. There are 33 children in a room, many with special needs, she said, and "the teachers are overwhelmed because they have so much to do." Chelsea is "just ten minutes away from the State House, but the state turns their head away" and chooses to ignore them.

Superintendent Matthew Malone of Fall River, former Massachusetts Secretary of Education, said we're talking about kids, and "failing to fund the education of my kids is messing with my kids; no one ever wants anyone to mess with their kids." He was Secretary when the Commission was enpanelled; the results were released in 2015, and the state has failed to fund those bipartisan results. When we talk about inequities in funding districts, we're talking mostly about children of color, mostly about children caught in the cycle of poverty, "children who need more." He said,"the cornerstone of democracy is a free public education, and this house was built on that." 

Danielle Andersen is a parent and member of the Orange School Committee. Orange is former mill town along the Millers River; she said, "we are a very poor community now." This year's budget forced the choice of laying off four teachers or cutting all specials for all students. Upon the recommendation of the teachers, who said that students had to have specials, they laid off the teachers. Should their override not pass, they will also still need to cut specials. She wondered how it is that children have things to strive for without the support needed.

It was noted further by others that this is not a local issue but a state issue, and that children need to know that they matter.

To reporters' questions on the grounds on which the lawsuit might be dropped, Cofield said that it has been said the Legislature will do "something," but "we are not asking for 'something'; we have certain demands that are reflective of what the Constitution requires." Asked if there were a particular dollar amount or formula, Espinoza-Madrigal said, "what is most important to democratize and modernize the funding formula."