Solidify our foundation in education by offering affordable and quality education, from preschool through college.
In Massachusetts, we place a high value on learning and education. We have prospered in large part due to our high levels of educational performance and public and private academic institutions. While many have benefited from the lifelong learning opportunities found in our region, not all do. Many of our students of color, students with disabilities, and students from low-income households face challenges in meeting educational achievement goals and graduating from high school. Consequently, we have set these children, teenagers, and adults on a path that narrows their chances to reach their full potential and that perpetuates inequalities in our region. Since a person with a college degree has a much greater chance of being employed and be compensated nearly double the amount as a person without a college degree,1 earnings and economic independence are highly related to educational attainment, we limit their prosperity and a substantial return on investment to the region. There is a considerable amount of work and change necessary to provide quality learning opportunities for people who are in most need and facing the greatest disparities.
MassBudget, 2017 State of Working Massachusetts, http://massbudget.org/reports/swma/education-economy.php ↩
Provide children with supportive learning environments from birth
Research shows that children who start school ready to learn have better educational outcomes throughout primary school and are then able to achieve greater success in high school. Readiness to learn begins even before students enter elementary education as an infant’s health and environment is closely associated with the health and socioeconomic characteristics of their birth parents. It is linked as well with the health status of mothers who may be more prone to pre-term and low birth weight births when exposed to social and environmental stressors. Therefore, policy action can supply parents and children most in need with support from pregnancy through early childhood to improve lifelong outcomes.
Increase funding for Head Start programs
Our congressional delegation should build on their commitment to early education by increasing their support for the federally funded Head Start program. Over the past 50 years, Head Start has provided comprehensive early education and support services in the areas of health and dental care, nutrition, special education, parent skill workshops and social services for children ages three to five and their families. We recommend an increase in funding not only so more children can benefit, but also to develop and retain a quality workforce.
Pass legislation to fund Universal Pre-K
Legislation has been filed to help close the achievement gap and ensure that all Massachusetts children have the opportunity to succeed in school and in life. The legislation builds on the Commonwealth’s strong policy foundation for early education, including the ongoing work of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Cost estimates range anywhere from $400 million to $1.4 billion, depending on the type of universal pre-K program the state seeks to implement, and whether it covers 3- and 4-year-olds or only 4-year-olds. The pending proposal would capitalize on existing grant programs and many advocates argue that it would actually help to reduce existing costs for special education and social services, pointing to successful programs in Boston, New Jersey, and Oklahoma.
Readiness to learn begins even before students enter elementary and secondary education as an infant’s health and environment is closely associated with the health and socioeconomic characteristics of its birth parents.
Harlem Children's Zone
The Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) is a cradle to college model serving thousands of youth in Harlem, NY. The organization offers a holistic approach, supporting their clients in educational advancement, family stabilization, housing security, healthy lifestyles, and social services. The HCZ seeks “to address the entire child and entire community of the child”1 including fellow residents, stakeholders, and institutions. The HCZ boasts a variety of programs for youth of all ages to participate in, from formal enrollment in Pre-K to High School to after school and enrichment programs. A Harvard Study in 2009 concluded that the HCZ’s Promise Academy and additional HCZ support programs had closed “the black-white achievement gap in mathematics and [reduced] it by nearly half in English Language Arts.”2
Fryer R, Dobbie W. Are High-Quality Schools Enough to Increase Achievement Among the Poor? Evidence from the Harlem Children’s Zone. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. . 2011;3(3). ↩
Ensure our institutional learning environments are safe, welcoming and culturally and linguistically sustaining for all students.
Our schools prepare children and adolescents for the future and we all lose out when our educational environments stunt, rather than foster growth. We continue to see outcomes that are unequal, as youth who are Black and Latino do not experience similar educational outcomes as their White peers. Disciplinary actions in school settings serve to push students of color away from our educational systems. We need to continue to push for those positive changes that expand support for all students so that differences in outcomes do not persist.
End criminalization of disruptive behavior in schools
The school-to-prison pipeline1 is a concept that describes repeated and escalating interactions of youth with school disciplinarians, the juvenile justice system, and the criminal justice system, ultimately leading to incarceration. Such interactions disproportionately criminalize the behavior of students of color, low-income students, and special education students at higher rates than their White counterparts for the same behaviors. Studies have shown that these students are not necessarily more prone to misbehavior than their peers; but policies and discrimination make them more likely be punished than White students.2
A proposed bill - An Act Decriminalizing Non-Violent and Verbal Student Misconduct - would help to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by limiting the use of criminal enforcement activities for nonviolent misconduct in schools, allowing the steps of arrest and prosecution only when other more appropriate school-based approaches have been tried and not succeeded. In addition, the expansion of alternative programs that address root causes of off-track behavior and apply restorative justice practices are essential next steps.
A system of “setbacks that gradually shepherd students away from positive connections and academic success and into increasing criminal activity,” from Alliance for Excellent Education, The High Cost of High School Dropouts: What the Nation Pays for Inadequate High Schools. ↩
Gastic, B. (2017). Disproportionality in School Discipline in Massachusetts. Education and Urban Society, 49(2), 163–179. ↩
Pass “Breakfast After the Bell” legislation
Two out of three K-12 students that qualify for free and reduced lunch aren’t eating it. The stigma of the existing free breakfast programs and the logistical challenges of getting to school early keep students from participating in breakfast-before-the-bell programs. This bill requires that high poverty schools serve breakfast to all students at the beginning of the instructional day, or “after the bell.” Passage of this bill would extend existing benefits to over 260,000 students at approximately 600 Massachusetts schools.
Address inequitable state funding formulas to increase support the state’s highest-need K-12 schools
In 2015, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education changed the methodology used to count the number of low-income students and counted only those students that already participate in existing state benefit programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC), foster care, or MassHealth. This change led to lower state funding to schools because it does not accurately capture the actual number of low-income students. This new method misses many students who are economically disadvantaged because it fails to account for those low-income students who are not accessing social services, such as homeless youth and newly arrived immigrants. The current approach to counting low-income students leaves some of our most financially challenged communities with a significant financial gap. Adequate funding is critical to our communities and will ensure they receive the funding necessary to provide all students with education they deserve.
Expand the funding and reach of METCO.
The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) program, created in 1966, is the longest continuously running voluntary school desegregation program in the country. The program provides voluntary busing for eligible high school students between Boston or Springfield and their suburbs. It was created to expand educational opportunities, increase diversity, and reduce racial isolation, by permitting students in certain cities to attend public schools in other communities that have agreed to participate. The program should be modernized to serve today’s educational needs and should expand both its funding and reach in order to increase the number of students and suburban municipalities that participate. This would help provide access for more students to many high-quality schools in the suburbs.
The school-to-prison pipeline describes repeated and escalating interactions of youth with school disciplinarians, the juvenile justice system, and the criminal justice system, ultimately leading to incarceration.
Wraparound service for first in family college attendees
First generation college students, particularly first generation college students from communities of color, face emotional, lifestyle, and financial barriers on their path to graduation. As a result many aspiring college students either turn down acceptances or matriculate and quickly drop out. Wraparound support services for students from underrepresented populations seek to address these poor outcomes. A student in wraparound services receives case management services, housing assistance, academic and career support, and solutions to basic needs.
One example is Florida State University’s US Program that serves youth experiencing foster care, homelessness, and relative care. The US Program enrolled its first cohort in 2012 and as of 2016 participants had a 91% retention rate and a 3.01 grade point average.1
Florida State University News. FSU’s Unconquered Scholars Program recognized as ‘Model of Excellence’, 2016. http://news.fsu.edu/news/university-news/2016/01/14/fsus-unconquered-scholars-program-recognized-model-excellence/ ↩
Make college accessible to all
A college degree continues to be associated with higher earnings and sustained labor force participation. We see increasingly that most job opportunities seek a minimum of a college degree from prospective job seekers. Unfortunately, our region continues to see inequalities among those who have a bachelor’s degree or higher. We can make greater investments in opportunities for low-income populations and Black and Latino populations in order to close these gaps. We must create more routes to a college degree, especially for those who are looking to move beyond mid-skill job opportunities.
Implement free tuition at community colleges.
Free tuition at community colleges for residents who have graduated high school or have completed their GEDs, would remove a barrier to individuals seeking to advance their career. Educational attainment is a strong indicator of how much money an individual will make and has long-term economic impacts as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median usual weekly earnings for someone with a high school diploma is $692, but for an Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree, is $892 and $1,156 respectively.1 The reverse trend is seen with unemployment rates, with higher unemployment rates correlating with lower educational attainment.
In 2017, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker rolled out the Boston Bridge, a continuation of Boston’s Tuition-Free Community College Plan. The Plan “pays for the costs of tuition and mandatory fees that are not covered by the Pell Grant”2 for low income city residents for up to three years of community college. The Boston Bridge is a pilot program that would allow these same students to then transfer into a four-year program through the state’s Commonwealth Commitment Program.
California, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee have all passed legislation or adopted pilot programs to provide some form of tuition free community college, while other states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, and South Dakota have free tuition at community colleges for targeted fields of study.
Allow undocumented youth to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are 210,000 undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts, including over 8,000 DACA recipients.1 DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, was created in June 2012 by President Obama and enabled undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. as children to receive Social Security numbers, temporary work permits, and protection from deportation, as long as they met age requirements, demonstrated physical presence, met educational or military service requirements, and passed a criminal background check. In 2012, Governor Patrick took Executive Action that allowed DACA recipients to be eligible for in-state tuition at the 29 public colleges and universities, as long as they met the Board of Higher Education’s residency requirements. While this is still the current policy in Massachusetts, recent federal actions require that the Commonwealth pass legislation to extend in-state tuition at public higher education institutions to current DACA recipients and allow other undocumented immigrants who are not DACA eligible to enroll in college as in-state students. Full implementation of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants could result in an additional $7 million of annual revenue to the public university system.2
“Unauthorized immigrant population trends for states, birth countries and regions.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (November 3, 2016). http://www.pewhispanic.org/interactives/unauthorized-trends ↩
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, “Revenues from Undocumented Students Paying In-State Tuition Rates (update of 2006 Report),” contained in written testimony to the Chairs on Higher Education of the Massachusetts State Legislature, June 18, 2011. ↩
Increasingly most job opportunities seek a minimum of a college degree from job-seekers.
High School/Community College Collaboration
In several states, school districts are collaborating with area community colleges to offer a combination of high school and community college courses. The programs use local school district funds that would have supported the student in the district to cover the students cost in attending the community college, which typically equates to a reduced or free tuition for the college courses. The programs have been used to create a better transition to higher education for those who have met their high school educational requirements but face challenges in affording or accessing a college setting. Examples include the City of Eugene’s (OR) Advanced Career Technical (A.C.T.) program and the City of Austin’s (TX) Early College High School program.