Public Education Advocates Want More Tax Dollars, Think Jamming Massachusetts House Telephone Lines Is Way To Get It

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By Colin A. Young

Operators, take your positions.

As the Massachusetts House sets out to finalize its fiscal 2019 state budget, hundreds of public education activists planned to flood the telephone lines of the House of Representatives at noon Monday to make “an all-out push” for representatives to increase school funding.

Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance early Monday called on its supporters to make “one final push to convince House Leadership to make public education a real priority this year” by bombarding State House offices with telephone calls beginning at 12 p.m. sharp.

Charlotte Kelly, the alliance’s executive director, said the organization wants to get its message to lawmakers at least once more before the budget debate picks up this week — a nearly $41 billion annual spending bill was introduced on the floor at about 10:30 a.m. Monday.

“We wanted to use the opportunity while legislators are reading over the budget and considering amendments to put some pressure on them,” she told the News Service.

Kelly said MEJA hoped teachers would be able to call in during their lunch breaks and said the bombardment was planned for noon so other supporters might be able to take a few minutes away from their work to make a call.

Last week, MEJA led students from Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, and Revere to the State House to lobby for greater school funding.

Governor Charlie Baker in January filed a fiscal year 2019 budget proposal that called for $4.865 billion in local aid from the state to K-12 schools, a nearly $119 million boost over this current fiscal year that includes $24.3 million toward addressing rising health care costs for retirees. Fiscal year 2019 begins July 1.

The spending plan under consideration in the House this week (H 4400) would increase Baker’s Chapter 70 aid allotment by $20.9 million.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, state Representative Jeff Sanchez (D-Boston), touted education investments during opening remarks on the budget, as well as investments in the state’s housing, environmental, and human services programs.

“This budget is all about people and meeting people where they’re at in their lives,” Sanchez said, earning applause from colleagues after his remarks.

In 2016, the Senate passed legislation calling for major, multi-year increases in education spending; the proposal died in the House without a vote.

MEJA is also backing four budget amendments:  proposals from Representative Natalie Higgins to increase public higher education funding by about $1 million (156) and to institute consumer protections for student loan borrowers (924); a Representative Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge) measure requiring at least 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary schoolers (1343); and a Representative Sean Garballey (D-Arlington) amendment (246) changing the foundation budget, the basis for the local schools funding formula.

“We’re going to be following the budget closely and updating our activists on the budget process and trying to demystify it for people so they know what’s going on,” Kelly said Monday morning.

She said MEJA will consider other “ways to put some more pressure on the State House” if the House’s budget debate drags on without a clear indication of how representatives plan to address school funding.

House lawmakers have filed 1,400 amendments to the spending plan, of which 1,049 have a quantifiable fiscal impact that would total $3.1 billion if all are adopted, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. Last year, the House adopted amendments adding $77.7 million in spending to the budget.

The perennial call from advocates in all topic areas for more funding is often drowned out by the House’s typical practice of making no increases to broad-based taxes in its budgets, rather than raising additional revenue to provide more funding.