This afternoon, I offered testimony before the Joint Committee on Education on the PROMISE Act. I offer my heartfelt gratitude to the incredible educators, students, school and municipal leaders, and public education allies for sending testimony to our office and sharing their stories. My testimony is below.
Senator Jo Comerford Testimony on S. 238 and H. 586: An Act providing rightful opportunities and meaningful investment for successful and equitable education
Dear Chair Lewis and Chair Peisch,
Our current school funding system shortchanges our schools.
But more importantly, it shortchanges our students who are eager to learn and grow.
And even more, it weakens our democracy and shortchanges our future.
That’s why today’s rallying cry is “Fund our Future.” Because that’s what’s at stake. Our future.
Too many Commonwealth students, disproportionately poor or of color, are left behind. Too many schools lack adequate staff, enrichment programs, books, 21st century technology, and supplies. Too many students don’t receive the academic, social, and emotional support they need to thrive.
For me, public education is not simply a policy issue. It’s personal. My father was a public school teacher. My mom and sister were public school librarians. My aunt was a public school social worker. My wife, Ann, is a public school social studies teacher and serves on the Northampton School Committee. Our two children attend Northampton public schools.
I’ve seen both the unparalleled benefits of a truly public education and the ache of austerity from every angle.
And here’s what’s true: I have received more letters and have had more personal conversations on this topic as any other bill this session.
Let me raise up some of the many voices I have heard, from among the 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester district.
Like Betsy Rider from Hatfield, who wrote me that,
“The School Superintendent came to our meeting last night saying that the cost of special education in our district has risen so much that we do not have the money in our operating budget to upgrade our 40-year old school safety features such as fire alarm systems or locks on doors. In the name of the children in our town who need to be safely educated and in the name of the teachers who dedicate themselves to doing that every day and deserve a raise this year, we implore you to spend more on education.”
Or Hillary Wilbur-Ferro, a teacher in the Pioneer Valley Regional School District and a parent in the in the Leverett/Union 28 school district who wrote to me,
“When schools are underfunded we lose a great deal of the supports and enriching programs that allow for all students to find joy and accessible learning opportunities.”
Or Kathy Reinig, member of the Orange Finance Committee, who wrote,
“Our situation is desperate. For years we have cut from budgets that had nothing extra in them. We have underfunded most town departments in order to fund our schools the best we can, even knowing that our best is inadequate to meet the full needs of our children.”
Or Michael Sullivan, the Superintendent of the Gill Montague School System where an elementary school in poor repair was forced to close due to flooding, who offered,
“To get to a balanced budget, Gill Montague has had to defer maintenance and capital improvement projects, reduce spending on instructional materials and professional development, and reduce staff. We have lost all the district’s capacity building positions; director of teaching and learning, math coach, literacy coach, data and technology specialists, and ELL director.”
And I’ll end with some lobbying I received from John, a third-grader at the Warwick Community School, which is under severe pressure—facing possible closure—due to financial crisis affecting the Pioneer Valley Regional School District.
After extolling the advantages of having lots of outside space to explore, John wrote,
“My school is a really cool school. I hope it does not shutdown.”
With this testimony, I am submitting 100 letters, emails, postcards, and resolutions I received from my district. I thank the chairs for this opportunity to come before you, and urge the Committee to move forward with the Promise Act, on behalf of our communities, our teachers and staff, our children, and our future.