In the last month, seemingly every Massachusetts political establishment leader has made a statement against racism. The MA House has just passed a bill making Juneteenth a state holiday. Good for us, let’s pat ourselves on the back.
Just last year, the state passed the Student Opportunity Act, new education funding formula theoretically backed by $1.5 billion targeted at the particular challenges of low-income and “gateway” communities. This was actually a meaningful, anti-racist bill.
But structural racism is ever a system of last-in, first out. The funding piece of the SOA was always merely a promise, albeit one enshrined in law. Now, in the midst of genuine uncertainty, our leaders seem primed to put off its investment in the SOA, and are getting encouragement to do so from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association, among others.
”Prior to COVID-19, education finance reform was on track to be the centerpiece of the fiscal 2021 budget,” MTF President Eileen McAnneny wrote in a letter to lawmakers. She added, “After the fiscal impact of COVID-19, however, policymakers may need to modify the implementation schedule for this new law. For example, lawmakers may postpone the start of implementation until fiscal 2022, presumably after the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has abated.
Schools in lower-income areas were unacceptably short of funds already — and now we’re talking about compounding the problem with “flat-lining” funding. (Inflation is a thing; “flat-lining” is a cut.)
Part of the frustration, said Roberto Jiménez-Rivera, a Chelsea School Committee member, is that local officials keep getting mixed messages about school funding for next year.
“It seems like some legislators are more concerned we will go down in funding,” he said in an interview. “The best scenario we are hearing is level funding. But no one is saying more money next year.”
One can acknowledge a tremendous amount of uncertainty about the resources that will be available to us. How big is the state’s revenue shortfall? Will MA get a substantial federal bailout to the states?*
As for things under our control in Massachusetts: Will we raise revenue to actually fund the SOA; not to mention the special challenges to schools posed by re-opening under COVID-19 guidelines?
If we don’t fund SOA, we’ll be perpetuating and compounding a racist system. Sorry children of color, immigrants and refugees: It’s last-in, first-out. You’re left out again. Try again next generation.
If we say we’re against racism, our school budgets have to reflect that. A new holiday won’t get you off the hook, legislators and Governor Baker. Find the money.
Must-read article, along these themes of social investment vs. racism, in the Globe. Newly-woke white people, put your money where your mouth is.
*Will Mitch McConnell feel enough heat to allow that to happen? Interestingly, the results from Tuesday’s Senate primary in Kentucky might have a profound effect on our state finances. Charles Booker is a vastly better, tougher candidate than Amy McGrath; he’ll receive a lot of money and will bring more pressure against McConnell than McGrath would. I’d have to imagine that state assistance would be a big part of that campaign.