With the promised funding from the landmark education bill that was signed into law before the COVID pandemic hit is still up in the air, Chelsea students, parents and school committee members on Tuesday called for the state to fully fund the Student Opportunity Act Funding (SOA).
During a virtual press conference hosted by the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance on Tuesday students, parents, and school committee members from cities across Massachusetts discussed their school funding needs, their perspectives on in-person school reopening this spring, and their aspirations for education this summer and during the upcoming school year.
Chelsea School Committee member Roberto Jimenez-Rivera testified at the virtual press conference and shared their thoughts.
At the press conference, which will be held over Zoom, Jimenez-Rivera joined students, parents, and school committee members from Boston, Revere, Lawrence, Lowell and Randolph to discuss safety measures, social/emotional and educational supports, and other resources they’re looking for from their public schools as well as the need for substantial state funding to support those needs.
“We’re here today because our elected officials are once again breaking the promises that they’ve made to our students,” said Jimenez-Rivera. “Our governor in particular is continuing to neglect the kids in our poorest communities like the City of Chelsea. Two years ago everybody celebrated the passage of the Student Opportunity Act but ever since he signed it into law Governor Baker has only undermined its seven year funding plan.”
Jimenez-Rivera argued that last year before COVID the Governor decided that the low income portion of the SOA didn’t need to be fully funded.
“So even before we lost the rest of the money because of COVID his budget was already inadequate,” said Jimenez-Rivera. “And then this year instead of catching up to “Year Two” of the plan he’s only proposing what the state should have given us last year. This isn’t right and that’s why today we are calling for a budget that gets us back on track. It is year two of the SOA implementation and we need a budget for year two, not for year one.”
Jimenez-Rivera said Chelsea has disproportionately suffered from this pandemic in almost every way possible but with the proposed SOA budget children are being told that their education is less important than the interest of rich people.
“Our parents have a right to communicate with their kids, teachers, but right now we don’t have enough interpreters,” said Jimenez-Rivera. “How can we expect parents to engage when they can’t speak the language and we don’t have money to pay for interpreters? Our parents deserve language justice. Our students needed more mental health support before COVID And now they need it even more seeing as they have disproportionately lived through the trauma and death that COVID has brought us. Our students also had crowded classrooms in schools before COVID and now we need smaller class sizes, even more because of COVID. How is it that we expect small class sizes in wealthy districts, but we’re okay with having 25, 30 or even 34 students in a class in Chelsea. Our kids deserve the same access to small class sizes as kids in Brookline or Wellesley.”
Jimenez-Rivera said 94 percent of Chelsea schools are made up of students of color and they deserve access to educators of color.
“Our current funding doesn’t allow us to pay educators what they’re worth,” said Jimenez-Rivera. “So new educators of color and more experienced educators, generally go to districts that have the money to pay them what they’re worth. That lack of diversity and lack of stability hurts our students even more.”
Jimenez-Rivera said all these issues are fixable but only with the millions of dollars that the state owes Chelsea through the SOA.
“I want to be clear here, our students are owed this money, this money isn’t charity,” said Jimenez-Rivera. “Our children are legally and constitutionally entitled to those millions of dollars. They have been waiting for decades as the state underfunded their futures and they can’t wait any longer. We cannot let the burden of COVID-19 continue falling on the most marginalized and so we have to ensure that the legislature fixes Governor Baker’s broken budget. The Supreme Court declared in Brown vs. Board of Education that education is the most important function of government. I think it’s about time that our legislators remember that. Fund our schools and fund them now.”
The SOA overhauled the state’s education funding formula to ensure equity for all students, especially those in low-income areas.
Because the state has not updated its education funding formula since 1993 to reflect districts’ real health insurance and special education costs, the amount of aid being provided to cover those costs had been too small for decades.
In January 2020 Governor Charlie Baker signed S. 2412, An Act Relative to Educational Opportunity for Students, or the SOA, which would have boosted investment in public schools by $1.5 billion annually when fully phased in over the next seven years.
However, when COVID hit in March 2019 budget shortfalls pushed SOA spending to the wayside. Chelsea Public Schools were expected to receive millions in SOA funding.
The state legislature’s Ways and Means Committee met Tuesday to begin reviewing the Governor’s proposed FY22 budget.
At the press conference students and parents plan to keep pushing for a true commitment to fully fund public school and call for putting the state’s commitment to public education funding back on track.
One demand by the group Tuesday is that the state delivers at least two of the seven years of promised funding increases under the SOA in the next state budget.