Over 100 City Leaders Call on Legislature to Prioritize Education Spending

On Tuesday, June 23, a group of over 100 elected officials, superintendents, and community advocates sent a letter to state officials demanding the prioritization of education funding to Gateway City school districts in the FY21 budget amidst expected budget cuts due to COVID-19.

To make this possible, they recommend using the state’s $3.48 billion “rainy day fund,” increasing taxes on the wealthy, closing tax loopholes for corporations, and reducing the amount of state funding that goes to the wealthiest, least-disadvantaged school districts, while fully funding Gateway Cities. The group includes officials from all 26 Gateway Cities.

Gateway Cities are midsize urban centers in Massachusetts with below-average income and education levels, and high rates of new immigrants. The 26 Gateway Cities are Attleboro, Barnstable, Brockton, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Peabody, Pittsfield, Quincy, Revere, Salem, Springfield, Taunton, Westfield, and Worcester.

The Student Opportunity Act, signed into law last November, was expected to translate into an additional $300M in education funding across Massachusetts this year. Passed to close funding gaps between wealthy and disadvantaged school districts, roughly 70% of the new funds would have gone to Gateway Cities under Governor Baker’s proposed budget. However, because of the $4-7B revenue shortfall expected due to COVID-19, that funding is now at risk.

The signatories argue that Gateway Cities have long been underfunded and that COVID-19 has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities in these communities. Twenty of the twenty-six Gateway Cities have above-average infection rates and eight of the ten highest infection rates in Massachusetts are cities in this group, and their residents are also disproportionately essential workers. “Our people care for the sick, clean healthcare facilities, stock shelves at grocery stores, and run our transportation system,” the letter reads. “To keep our economy running, they put themselves and their households at risk, including their school-age children.” They also point out that their students have higher rates of trauma due to poverty and immigration, and the new funds were needed to expand mental health services and wraparound services, among many other initiatives.

Signatories also used the letter to express their disapproval of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)’s guidance that school districts purchase necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for next year, rather than the state using its purchasing power to reduce those costs for districts. “Transportation costs will skyrocket due to safe distancing protocols for students on school buses. Mental health providers will undoubtedly be even more overworked than ever before,” the letter also argues. “School districts cannot be expected to do extra work next year with even fewer resources than before.”

The text of the Student Opportunity Act states that new funding must be allocated “in an equitable and consistent manner,” which, the signatories argue, entails prioritizing already-disadvantaged Gateway Cities over wealthy districts. “This pandemic will hurt all districts, but the pain must be distributed equitably, not equally,” they argue. “Wealthy districts, especially those with low rates of English Learners and economically disadvantaged students, […] can mitigate [the financial hit] by leveraging their large property tax bases. Gateway Cities have no such cushion.”

“Unless the Legislature is able to fully fund all districts, state funding must be focused on the most disadvantaged students. Wealthier communities would have to use more of their own resources to fund their required spending, but this way we can ALL meet our required obligations to our students,” it continues.

“It cannot be the students in our poorest communities who continue to bear the burden that years of neglect from the state have put on them.”

The full letter and an updated list of signatories can be found at https://medium.com/p/2e8e6e1cffad.

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