As members of the New England Patriots, we’ve been fortunate to visit schools across the state to talk to kids about the importance of their education.
We’ve read stories to elementary school students, sitting on carpeted floors in large libraries filled wall-to-wall with books and colorful seating areas. Yet we’ve also visited schools where we see a very different picture. Two weeks ago, we invited members of the Legislature to join us on a tour of Tracy Elementary School in Lynn. It was clear that Tracy’s principal, staff, and teachers are the school’s heart and soul, doing their best to give these children the best educational experience possible — but they also clearly lack the basic resources necessary to help their students succeed.
Unlike at other schools we’ve visited, we didn’t see a dedicated library in Tracy Elementary. We didn’t meet a librarian. There is none.
As we toured the school, the staff shared the challenges they face to give each child a quality education. Because of rapidly increasing student population and continued underfunding at the state level, they aren’t able to give their students the things we know all kids need — especially when it comes to reading.
Tracy Elementary is like other schools with an ever-changing population in Massachusetts, where 58 percent of their 550 students speak English as a second language. But we were shocked when we saw the reading rooms where English learners, along with students with learning disabilities, go to get time with a reading teacher or specialist. The rooms were 50 square feet and had no chairs, forcing up to 10 students at a time to squeeze on the floor to get the support they need.
This reality can be found in schools across the Commonwealth. Even as Massachusetts leads the nation in reading and math scores, we also have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation between low-income students and their more affluent peers.
And it’s no wonder why. More than three years ago now, the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission issued its unanimous report highlighting that the state is underfunding our K-12 education system by more than $1 billion per year. The most significant area of underinvestment was funding for low-income students — where the state’s aging formula woefully underestimated the resources necessary to give low-income students needed supports and equal opportunities.
The state’s inequitable funding of education has left districts containing high concentrations of low-income students with smaller budgets than other, more affluent districts, even as these districts must meet a greater level of need from their students.
It is the Commonwealth’s constitutional responsibility to provide all children with the resources they need. While we’ve seen that the Legislature is willing to invest in special commission reports, we’re concerned that they still aren’t following the constitution.
For the past year, we, as members of the Players Coalition dedicated to impact racial and social inequality, have been advocating for legislation to implement all five of the commission’s recommendations, especially the low-income rate — which calls for doubling the standard funding rate for those students living in the highest concentrations of poverty.
So we were surprised that the two chairs of Joint Education Committee were working on renegotiating the low-income rate, despite the fact that the committee last session unanimously released the bill with the full low-income weighting. While Senator Jason Lewis said that he would like to see a bill out of committee in June, Representative Alice Peisch indicated that a bill might not come out until later this summer. This comes after the House delayed passing their education funding reform legislation until the final weeks of session last year and stripped out the low-income rate altogether.
We sincerely ask the House leadership not to leave behind low-income children again this year. This fall will mark the fourth anniversary of the report by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, and in that time an entire class of high school students has been failed by this inaction.
The Commonwealth is not delivering on its constitutional duty to deliver an equitable education to all students to close the achievement gap. Spending time and money on commission reports is great, but it means nothing if the Legislature is unwilling to follow through on what they’ve found.
All of our children deserve to have a commitment on the governor’s desk before the start of the next school year. They have been kept waiting long enough.
Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Matthew Slater, and Duron Harmon are New England Patriots players and members of the Players Coalition.