Friday, February 17, 2017

Notes from Holyoke's panel on the foundation budget

As I was on last night's MASC panel in Holyoke, I wasn't able to liveblog or tweet. Here are a few notes on the discussion, however. Either on the panel or represented by staff were Rep. John Velis of Westfield, Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke, Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose of Amherst, and Senator Eric Lesser (who was represented by Joel McAuliffe). 

On possible changes before the Fair Share amendment: Solomon-Rose has proposed a bill that would close a dividend loophole and bring in $880M a year; the bill specifies half for FBRC and half for charter reimbursement. While it doesn't have good prospects for passage, there are ideas on the table.

On budget and specifically on charter reimbursement: Vega: "Nothing's going to change in the next six months"
"Taking the pros and cons off the table, we're not doing out commitment to charter reimbursement."
Velis: "If we say we're going to do something, we need to do it."

On what gets focused on: Velis: "What are our constituents saying? Hold us accountable."

On what wasn't included in FBRC: This from me. It increases the recognized percent of special education, but still doesn't recognize actual need in special education. Preschool is "recognized" but is not a recommendation. The low income recommendation isn't spelled out, so there's more work to be done on that. FBRC also intentionally did not touch the question of funding; the local/state split is going to have to come up sometime.

On how to handle the tension over need and funding increases: Vega comments that there is a discussion to have no one lose anything, but to have increases in funding to go highest need districts and communities first.

On if Fair Share will pass: Solomon-Rose says it's polling at 70%

On regional transportation: referencing earlier comments on charter reimbursement, Vega echoes that it is a commitment that was made, and they need to be held accountable.

On the increasing amount that health care is taking in the state budget and what options are: Solomon-Rose supports single payer. There is a bill in the Legislature sponsored by Senator Eldridge that would study that and report back. GIC could be opened to everyone, or could be expanded. The state could bulk-purchase drugs.

On the interconnectedness of everything: Lesser's focus on high-speed rail is about making the jobs in Boston connected to the affordable housing in Western Mass. Bringing back families would also support school enrollment.

On Lesser's empowerment zone bill: "We have heard from a lot of you." There will be changes to it; it's a bill. "We want your input on it." Get in touch with your own reps and senators, as "we're open to anything."

Closing words from a Mohawk Regional member: Referencing MassBudget's comparison of city to suburbs, "Why should a child in Newton get more funding that a child in Lynn?"
"We need to organize--and maybe sue--to adequately fund education."

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