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Governor to Expand School Plans

Heights Staff

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 23:02

It is certainly not news in the world of education that there is a persistently expanding achievement gap leaving behind students from lower income families, students still learning English, students with disabilities, and many minority students. When I read statistics that claim that only 38 percent of black third-graders and 36 percent of Hispanic third-graders are proficient in reading and writing, it is very disheartening.

 The newest proposal for a solution that would close this gap has come from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick who, just last month, unveiled a school investment plan he says will expand access to education for students from birth through high school. Patrick claims that this series of changes will provide “universal access to high-quality early education for all infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.”  

In theory, the plan would provide universal access to early education from birth through age five, fully fund K-12 education, allow for extended school days, and make college more affordable by allowing for extra financial assistance for certain students showing the greatest need. The plan would also provide extra training for teachers, offer educational programs for parents, and dedicate new funding to help school districts offer preschool for four-year-olds.

This all sounds promising, but I think the important and realistic questions to ask are: how much is it going to cost, and where is this money going to come from?

This plan certainly comes with a high price tag. In total, its projected cost is $550 million in its first year. The costs would increase to around $1 billion annually over the next four years. This money will come from an increase (5.25 percent to 5.66 percent) in the state income tax, which would generate $1 billion annually.

Does this mean that we should get ready to see diaper-clad children sitting at desks? Not so fast.

A group of anti-tax activists are pushing back against the call for new taxes.

They claim that reforms and better management should come before an increase in the income taxes.

In opposition, a coalition of unions, service groups, and municipal officials called for higher taxes to avoid budget cuts. This group of organizations includes the Massachusetts Teachers Union, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and several City Councils and boards. Together, they are advocating for an increase in the state income tax to 5.95 percent along with higher tax rates on investment income.

“To those who say we cannot afford this, I challenge you to show me which one of these four year olds should be left behind,” Patrick said. “Some of those folks say the timing is never great. But you know, we’ve got to stop asking third and fourth graders and pre-schoolers to wait until some magic, perfect time.”

Well, when you put it that way, who could possibly object?

I definitely think the proposal has the potential to make sweeping progress in terms of closing the achievement gap, which has been known to start early. Additionally, if Massachusetts wants to accelerate their growth, they must invest and take risks.

There comes a time when talk must be translated into action, and I commend Patrick for spearheading this effort. That being said, most sweeping proposals of this nature are very appealing on paper.

The specific logistical and financial elements of the proposal that follow are what unfortunately may curtail this effort.

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