After more than a year of the pandemic, when Congress and President Biden have passed the American Rescue Plan to help vulnerable Americans and their public schools, Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeff Riley has threatened to go to the Richard Nixon playbook and withhold funding authorized by Congress. This has drawn the attention of Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.
from the Boston Herald:
Members of the Massachusetts delegation are pressing state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley not to freeze federal funding to Boston Public Schools, which he threatened to do this week, causing an uproar.
“We fully expect Commissioner Riley to act consistent with Congressional intent and allow this funding to be distributed to Boston Public Schools without delay,” read a Friday joint statement from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.
Riley during a Tuesday virtual meeting said he was “extremely concerned” about the Boston School Committee in wake of four resignations in less than a year.
Riley said he is “exploring the possibility” of temporarily freezing about $400 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding that is earmarked for Boston Public Schools.
Boston Public Schools serve a student population that is very diverse, and BPS has long been shorted on the funding its children deserves. The Federal budget, through ESSER funding, is making a positive step to help children in a school system that has long been starved through history. But Gov. Baker’s appointee wants to take steps backwards.
Public schools have an important function beyond mere knowledge about reading and math. They are an important part of creating a citizenry for democracy. Schools can teach students how to participate in civic events, how to register to vote, how to engage in debate. When we see Republicans in other states moving to restrict democracy through onerous new laws to suppress voters (especially voters of color), we should also be vigilant about Republicans in the executive branch of Massachusetts restricting important funding to school districts that serve the children of voters of color. Riley’s threat to starve a majority-minority school district could have long term negative effects for Boston and its democracy. Because, for many families, the public school is primary interaction point with the government, and if children grow up seeing their schools starved for funding, they can get the impression that the government will not respond to their needs and their voices, and cynicism can set in, reducing participation (which is what conservatives want.)
We have a Congressional delegation who are doing the right thing today, letting Riley know he’s going too far. But our Commonwealth, especially in communities like Boston, Holyoke, and Lawrence, needs a better governor than the conservative Charles Baker. A governor whose handpicked appointees will not threaten but support the schools in communities of color.
Hat tip to Tracy Novick on Twitter for finding the article. Follow her on Twitter.
(Post was edited because the Commissioner works for the Board, and does not preside over it.)