Op-Ed: The State owes our students millions and we need it now!

By Roberto Jiménez Rivera

All students in Chelsea deserve a high-quality education regardless of our community’s income. Unfortunately, it seems that Governor Baker is unwilling to prioritize our kids over the wealthy people of Massachusetts. His latest budget once again falls way too short of the education funding our students have been promised. This has to stop now. Our kids can’t wait any longer.

In 2015, a state commission found that Massachusetts was underfunding education by $1-2 billion each year, particularly in poor communities like Chelsea. That’s why in 2019 the Legislature passed the Student Opportunity Act (SOA), which was supposed to increase education spending significantly over the next seven years. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Baker decided that funding our students was not a priority, so the millions we expected last year vanished. A year later, Baker’s current budget proposal includes less than what we expected for last year. It is year 2, and we are getting less than what we should have gotten in year 1.

This new education money is not charity that the state is handing out to our children. It is money that our students are legally and constitutionally entitled to. Our students have been suffering from underfunded schools for decades, while students in wealthy suburbs have access to every resource imaginable. Our residents have suffered through this pandemic every way possible, while rich people and big corporations have made billions. The Governor has to fulfill his obligation to our students by any means possible. If current taxes are not enough, then those people who have made money off this pandemic should be asked to contribute more.

Last year, I led a group of over 150 local officials from across Massachusetts who called on the Legislature and Governor to raise taxes on the rich so that we could fund our schools. This year, I will continue fighting for that because our students need this now. The Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance has asked that instead of funding year 1 alone, that we should do everything possible to fund years 1 and 2 of the SOA this year, and I fully support this. That money can go to hiring more educators, as well as providing more mental health supports and offering more after-school activities for our students. Governor Baker does not get a pass on this just because it will be politically unpopular with his wealthy donors. We must ask our legislators to push the governor on this issue. Fund our schools and do it fast. Our kids are waiting.

Roberto Jiménez Riverais a School Committeeman At-Large.

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