Education a Hot Topic in Mass. Senate Budget Debate

Education funding was at the heart of Senate budget talks on Tuesday in the Massachusetts State House. The Senate Ways and Means Committee is recommending a close to 43-billion-dollar fiscal 2020 budget that would boost spending by about three percent. Part of this proposed budget is a suggested 268-million-dollar increase in funds to K-12 public schools, as well as an additional 39-million dollars toward the University of Massachusetts system. The preliminary Senate budget also is pushing for a one-year freeze on tuition and fees at the University of Massachusetts. Lisa Guisbond is executive director of Citizens for Public Schools and a leader of the Fund Our Future campaign. She has mixed reactions about this higher-education funding approach.

“We think there needs to be a freeze, but there also needs to be increased funding. Otherwise, that would force cuts in faculty and other things,” she said.

Guisbond says there needs to be more funding for higher education, as advocated by the CHERISH Act. It recommends 500-million dollars in additional funding for public higher education in the Commonwealth. She also supports Senate budget amendment 3-0-2, which similarly urges increasing support for higher education in the next fiscal year.

Guisbond says the Senate budget proposal for K-12 public schools is more in line with what education activists were hoping for – specifically, that it’s similar to levels advocated for in the PROMISE Act. It pushes for an additional billion dollars in education funding for K-12.

“We’ve seen some progress in that, especially in K-12 funding, the proposed education funding is closer to what the first year of the PROMISE Act would do, but still not enough,” she said.

Both the PROMISE and CHERISH acts are separate pieces of legislation urging permanent increases to education funding. Governor Charlie Baker also has an education-related bill, which recommends lower levels of support. The Massachusetts Senate starts debating the proposed state budget for the next fiscal year at 10 a.m.