But, even with comprehensive reforms and cost-savings, the impact of a FY10 budget without any new revenue would be devastating to our schools, police, fire, libraries, environment, and most vulnerable citizens. Some examples of proposed cuts include:
- A 32% cut in unrestricted local aid which helps fund schools, police, firefighters, libraries, and other municipal services
- A 45% cut in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program which keeps many low-income families from becoming homeless
- A 76% cut in the budget for the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism which includes funding for the arts and cultural councils
- A 25% cut in funding for the prevention and treatment of substance abuse
- Complete elimination of the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program
There would be many other painful cuts in addition to those I have listed above.
Even with the sales tax increase, to balance this budget, the state still needs to cut more than $1.2 billion in spending.
None of us wants to raise taxes during a recession. But, if we decimate local aid and support for our schools, the greater damage will be to the long-term strength and vitality of the Commonwealth.
Below, if you are interested, I have included the text of my speech from the debate in the House.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
It is a privilege to stand before you, my colleagues, at this time of unprecedented economic challenges, when the need for us to come together and serve the common good has never been greater.
When I was 12 years old, my family came to America. We left South Africa, which at that time was ruled by apartheid, an oppressive system of racial segregation. Like generations of immigrants before us, my family was drawn to America by the promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all.
We settled in New Jersey where my sisters and I attended the local public school. We were fortunate to live in a community that valued education highly. The school system was well funded, and every child, no matter what her family’s financial circumstances, had the chance to reach her potential.
Even as a child, it was clear to me that education would open the door to opportunity in America. Regardless of my background, with hard work, I could excel just like everybody else.
After high school, I came to Massachusetts to attend college. Like thousands of students from across the country, and indeed from around the world, I was drawn here because few places offer the educational, economic, and cultural opportunities that we enjoy in the Bay State. After college and then graduate school, I stayed to raise a family and pursue my career.
The twin strands of my personal story — immigration and education — are familiar I’m sure to many of you and your families. They are also central to the story of Massachusetts.
Horace Mann, one of the great champions of universal public education in the early 19th century, once said, “Having no other mines to work, Massachusetts has mined into the human intellect; and from its limitless resources, she has won more sustaining and enduring prosperity and happiness than if she had been founded on a stratification of silver and gold, reaching deeper down than geology has yet penetrated.”
Like Horace Mann, I believe that strong schools for all our children are the most important investment we can make in our future.
Unfortunately, even before we entered this severe recession, Massachusetts schools were already struggling to provide the quality of education that our children need and deserve. Since 2003, when local aid was cut, cities and towns have had to shoulder a greater share of education funding.
They have been forced to raise property taxes, cut municipal services, and institute ever increasing fees for once-standard services, such as athletics and bus transportation. Rising healthcare and special education costs have also meant cutbacks in spending on direct student instruction. On average, school districts now spend just 51% of their budgets on instruction, down from 57% in 2002.
While many of our students continue to perform at world-class levels, there are troubling signs that our schools, across districts rich and poor, are increasingly at risk. Consider just a few examples. Randolph closed two elementary schools, laid off more than 60 teachers, and eliminated almost all freshman and junior varsity sports. Newburyport eliminated a dozen teaching positions and all middle school foreign language instruction. And, in my district, Stoneham reduced art and music in the elementary schools to just half-year programs, and came close to shutting down the entire high school athletics program. Many of you, no doubt, have equally grim stories from your districts.
At the same time, we face a persistent achievement gap and stubbornly high dropout rates. In some of our cities, including Lawrence, Holyoke, Fall River, Springfield, New Bedford, and Boston, dropout rates exceed 20%. This is an enormous loss to our state, both in terms of reduced future earnings and wasted human potential, as well as increased costs for social services and our criminal justice system.
Overall, looking at total state and local spending on education, Massachusetts has slipped significantly compared to other states. In fiscal year 2005, which is the most recent data available, we ranked 29th in the share of our personal income spent on primary and secondary education, and 47th in the share of our personal income spent on public higher education.
The fiscal year 2010 budget before us, without any new revenues, will put our schools at even greater risk. Even with Chapter 70 held constant, a 32% cut in local aid will deal a body blow to all municipal services, including education. This will be exacerbated by additional budget cuts, including the special education circuit breaker, transportation reimbursement, Quinn bill, and state funding for other community programs, that will shift more of the burden onto cities and towns. We are already seeing the dire consequences, with 160 teachers in Medford receiving pink slips last week. While federal stimulus dollars will help, they will not be sufficient to stem the bleeding.
None of us wants to raise taxes during a recession and risk further near-term damage to our economy. But, without additional revenues, these devastating cuts to local aid and education will not be averted. The immediate impact will be teachers losing their jobs, larger class sizes, diminished course offerings, and even higher fees. However, the greater damage will be to the long-term economic strength and vitality of the Commonwealth.
I urge you to support increased revenues to preserve our investment in education. To quote George Peabody, “Education is a debt due from present to future generations.” Indeed, it is the most important investment we can make to secure our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren.