MPU Parents in Springfield Went to Your Blank Check Meeting: We Weren’t Impressed

By Massachusetts Parents United – Springfield Chapter

Massachusetts Parents United is proud to have created a statewide movement that prioritizes accountability of legislators concerning high quality education, safe neighborhoods, food security, and affordable housing. Our Springfield-focused initiatives are extremely exciting, and is supported by our work in the MPU Parent Welcome Center and our strong local parent organizers.

In fact, just this week MPU members hit the streets, helping to remove needles and liquor bottles that littered kids’ daily walk to the DeBerry Elementary school.

MPU’s attention is also focused on a state legislature and the billions of dollars that it plan to invest in the education system.

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On one hand, we have the Governor Baker’s budget, which seems to be a tempered and responsible approach that Massachusetts families can afford and that pushes for accountability and getting dollars into the classroom where teachers can use them to help kids directly.

Contrast that with the The Promise Act, lead by Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz (D) in cooperation with the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which is an unaffordable multi-billion dollar healthcare bill disguised as education reform.

With all of this happening and so much at stake for our children, when we heard that a “community meeting on education” was being organized in Springfield — so we were eager to go.

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It quickly got pretty weird. The event we signed up for in Springfield was first billed as a “Fund our Future” meeting and then became a “Wear Red to Support the MTA” meeting and then finally an education forum on K- 12 and higher ed. Needless to say, it was a mess before it even started.

MPU attended, and, as expected, confusion reigned. It was a circus. Complete with clowns.

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The only organization “sponsoring” the event were MTA affiliated organizations and groups who are literally funded by the union. This “community forum” was not co-sponsored by a single legislator, city councilor, the mayor, the Urban League, NAACP, a local faith institution, a local democrat (or republican) committee, and not a single parent organization.

Of course we weren’t surprised. We’ve been a part of this community for generations. We’ve seen this type of stuff before.

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And of course this “coalition meeting” happened to occur at the same place where the annual MTA meeting was held just an hour before, and all MTA members were advised to stay for this “coalition” meeting.

So basically an MTA local meeting that turned into a community meeting so they could say they did something in Springfield.

If the makeup of the meeting was bad, the content presented to the community was even worse.

The group — who billed the meeting as an education conversation literally featured “local people” taking pictures with BLANK checks.

ACTUAL BLANK checks.

WE CANNOT MAKE THIS STUFF UP.

The facilitator at the meeting said he was from the Mass Budget Policy Center, which claims  to be a non-partisan think-tank, and started the conversation by stating: “I am a former teacher here in the state and I’m from Oakland California”.

It gets better.

During the presentation, the “expert” explicitly stated, that only one of the five scenarios they ran resulted in Springfield received $94 million dollars.

To be clear, in nearly all their models of potential new funding formulas, this numbers is the most far fetched. In fact, he stated that as the current bill is written, it is not currently fundable and would require additional revenue. From where? We have no idea.

And at best, it would still be 5 years at the very LEAST for Springfield residents to see a fraction of it. To make matters even more FASCINATING, he repeatedly stated that the Promise Act is only viable if we pass a new revenue bill, which of course does not currently exist before the legislature.

Our friend from the Mass Budget Policy Center also failed to address that at it’s heart, the bulk of the money from the Promise Act will just go to deal with rising healthcare costs.

So the $94 million for education — is not even real.

But it doesn’t end there.

The presenter described key tools that the money could be used to address kids who have increasing needs in our local communities.

Could be?

He then proceeds to explain that NONE. NOT ONE of them are included in the bill and that local communities “ will have to fight” to ensure that any of this money is used in ways that actually impact children in the classroom.

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To be clear, he presented a $1-2 BILLION dollar education funding bill, told us that that we know how to help kids — but we do not want you to mandate it — we want to watch you fight each other for it at the local level to ensure it goes into the classroom.

WHAT IN THE BEJESUS.

The presentation ended, and we prepared for a Q&A.

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Except actually community people like us are not allowed to speak. We must write down the questions, and the local MTA president gets to choose what she feels like answering from the list. At an alleged “community” forum, with “community co-sponsors”.

The questions rolled in and as you would imagine, nearly all of them are about how the money would be spent specifically. Because it’s $1-$2 billion dollars and not having any idea with what we’re doing with it is insanity. The money questions could not be answered of course, because the MTA does not have specific ideas for addressing the opportunity gap (except for funding their healthcare costs).

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At one point, the MTA president became so frustrated by the questions that she exclaimed, “I do not know why people keep worrying about how we are going to spend this money, the people in TRENCHES will know how to use it best!”

WAIT, WHAT?!?!

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So parents, clergy, elected officials, kids are not in the trenches? Only the 70% white teacher organization — with most of members (over 50%) living outside the city of Springfield — are the only ones who know what’s best for our Springfield public schools?

And we’re supposed to trust a group of people who have created nothing but an incredible bureaucracy and a high speed lane to the school to prison pipeline with all this money?

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SPRINGFIELD WE HAVE A PROBLEM. 

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Let’s get real here: they held this meeting at Forest Park Middle School. Forest Park of course being one of the lowest performing schools in the Commonwealth. It’s ranked below 97% of schools in Massachusetts. 81% of kids are not performing at grade level in Reading, 75% in Math and 91% in STEM.

Did we mention they have a brand new school building and a teacher to student ratio of less than 15 to 1?

So clearly money is not everything — but especially not made up money. No mention of that at this meeting.

MPU understands that the MTA is completely committed to their Human Resources bill (which hopefully will contribute to a serious conversation about affordable healthcare for all workers in the state, not just retired teachers), but making up numbers and shutting down the valid concerns of parents is not how good policy for EVERYONE is made. And frankly, we need a bill to address the opportunity gap and the education needs of our children — first.

MPU will work with anyone to close the achievement gap – any politician, any school, any group, and and family to help ensure black and brown children are not being left behind. But the PROMISE Act is not an education funding bill, it is a healthcare bill.

People wonder why 9 out of 10 parents believe their children are at grade level in math and reading. It is because of meetings like these and information like this being presented as fact to our communities. Outright lies, manipulations and distortions to the public. Dog and pony shows.

It is time to get serious about our work to close the achievement gap, to put our money in that direction and to give families a chance to achieve their dreams.

We’re tired of hearing the excuses about how there’s nothing these poor teachers can do with “these kids” who come from “these families.”

We are these families and these are OUR KIDS. And we’re not backing down. We want a real education funding bill.

 

What do you think?

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