State Sen. Adam Hinds and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier joined in support of the efforts. The lawmakers will be taking bills up this session.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state Senate's budget would give an additional $5 million in funding to Pittsfield Public Schools.
But is only addressing one of four areas cited by the Foundation Formula Budget Review Commission, which found in 2015 that the state has dramatically underfunded the public schools for health care, special education, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students.
State Sen. Adam Hinds wants you to imagine what the local schools could do if all four aspects were fully funded.
"We are increasing $68 million in the Senate over the governor's proposal and that results in $5 million more for Pittsfield. It is amazing. Part of it is, we are putting a down payment on those four recommended areas by the Foundation Budget Review Commission and emphasizing low income and economically disadvantaged. Five million dollars. That's just the start. Imagine if we did the entire amount," Hinds said.
Hinds' comment was at Park Square on Thursday among educators from throughout the county. The Berkshire Education Action Network, a collaborative of unions, teachers, and administrators in the education field have teamed up to rally support to fully fund the Foundation Budget Review Commission's recommendations.
Across the state, rallies were held for the "Fund Our Future" campaign that is pushing particularly for passage of the Cherish Act and the Promise Act. The former is aimed to bring an additional $500 million annually to the state's higher education system and the latter about $1 billion more in state support for pre-K through 12th grade through changes in the state's Chapter 70 education funding formula.
"We need to make sure we pass the Cherish Act and the Promise Act and push this through the finish line," said Brendan Sheran, the Berkshire County representative on the Massachusetts Teachers Association's Board of Directors.
The estimates from the Foundation Formula Review Commission has Berkshire County school districts as being underfunded by $25 million, Sheran said. The hope is that by funding it at that level, the entire education could be improved.
Olivia Nda is a Pittsfield High School graduate now attending Howard University. She was able to take a trip to Lincoln Center Stage to perform and she said it provided a tremendous learning experience. But it came at a personal cost, not a district cost.
"We had to do a lot of fundraising to take these trips and fully immerse ourselves in these opportunities," Nda said.
She praised what she learned in the orchestra but said instruments and repairs become expensive and there is a shortage of teachers in the field. She feels with more funding, schools would be able to bring more arts education to people who currently can't afford to take the programs.
"Education is an important thing and I really hope there is change because it is the foundation of our up and coming generation," Nda, who is studying to become a teacher or a superintendent someday herself, said.
Makley Kookis is currently attending the University of Massachusetts and said she can see a big difference in just one year of college of the educational foundations students have. She said there are students who had all of the resources and were able to get better education and those who do not.
"We get to college and it is a different experience and a different playing field that students have been on. You are immersed in a setting of students that came from high schools of all different ranges," Kookis said.
She later added, "it would be nice to immerse ourselves in a setting with the confidence and knowing that we can do what everyone does." She cited the county only having two vocational schools, limiting access to many students who could find a career path of their liking there. She too cited high school travel.
Retired teacher Sheila Irvin said that in 1993 when the Education Reform Act was passed, a loaf of bread cost $1.29. Now, the same loaf costs $2.19. While prices go up like that, Irvin said how the state funds education hasn't changed.
"At that time kids used No. 2 pencils and scientific calculators. Those days are gone. Our kids don't use those anymore. They use all kinds of technology," Irvin said.
Former PHS students Olivia Nba and MaKaley Kookis said not every student in public schools are getting the same quality education.
The large crowd rallied at Park Square and then tabled at Third Thursday. The focus is on fully funding those recommendations, but state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier asked for their support on taking the first step. The state budget which will give the city $5 million more hasn't been finalized and she said there are a lot of political forces at play that could reduce the Berkshires benefit.
"One thing Massachusetts is No. 1 at is income inequality. We are the No. 1 state when it comes to income inequality. I'm not really proud of that. But across the state, school districts get a different amount of funding and each and every rep and each and every senator is going to fight for what their district needs.
"While Adam and I are fighting particularly to make sure we fill that bucket of economically disadvantaged students, which is what we really need here in Pittsfield and in the Berkshires, that's not the bucket on the Chapter 70 reform that every other rep wants," Farley-Bouvier said.
"Other reps think the most important thing is health insurance or the most important thing is special education. Here in Pittsfield, we really have to fight to make sure they address No. 1 economically disadvantaged students."
She hopes for their advocacy and support as the budget heads into the final stretch. But, that budget is a "down payment" on the recommendations and some Berkshire Districts aren't seeing the same windfall of cash as Pittsfield because their demographics and needs are different. Hinds hopes all four areas of concern are fully funded eventually.
"We have to go for full funding and we can't accept anything less," Hinds said.
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