By Joe Gravellese
Ask yourself if this makes sense:
Every year, teachers spend an average of $600 out of their own pockets to buy school supplies.
Districts across the state are considering laying off teachers. Even before this crisis, many schools didn’t have enough money to make sure every kid had access to a school counselor; to art and music; to sports.
Thousands of students across Massachusetts sit on waiting lists to attend vocational and technical schools, which provide a direct pipeline to good-paying jobs.
Most school funding comes from property taxes, meaning kids in expensive communities are the only ones with access to the best-funded public schools. Education, which is supposed to be the great equalizer, is driving us further apart.
Massachusetts spent $3.2 billion last year on prisons and law enforcement – before counting what gets spent by cities and towns. How much less expensive would the criminal justice system be if we put more resources into education and job training?
We need to change this, and it’s clear that just electing any Democrat is not good enough. We need to think beyond the party label. What matters is a legislator’s priorities, what they believe in, and how willing they are to put in the hard work of advocacy.
So here’s what I believe in: education and opportunity.
I believe every student who wants to attend a vocational and technical school should be able to do so. I believe every student who wants to attend community college should be able to go debt-free, and that the $6,000 per year investment we make in that student’s future is much better than spending $55,000 per year to lock someone up.
I believe education should be well-rounded, and guided by the principle of caring for and developing the whole person – not just teaching the skills you need to pass a test. All students should have time for recess and play; access to art, music, and sports; to counseling; and to civics education that prepares them to be 21st century citizens.
I believe that all of our school buildings should be safe, healthy, and modern, in all of our towns, not just the wealthy suburbs.
I believe the best way to improve educational outcomes is to reduce concentrations of poverty – so we should tackle issues like homelessness, hunger, and lack of access to mental health care.
I believe we can afford to make these investments if we shift our priorities. If we reverse some of the $4 billion in state tax cuts that have largely gone to very few at the top, so we can invest in a better future for all of us. If we extend people not a handout, but a hand up – an opportunity to thrive. If we put less focus on locking people up, and more on lifting our communities up.
I can’t promise that as one voice on Beacon Hill, we can make all of these changes quickly, or that the work won’t be hard. But I can say the status quo is not good enough. We need strong leadership representing our communities that speaks out on these important issues, and pushes for needed change.
The pandemic has exposed cracks in our foundation that have been there all along. The good news? Now that the cracks are out in the open, it should be easier to muster the political will to fix them. Let’s get to work.
Joe Gravellese is a candidate for State Representative in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea, Saugus) in the Democratic Primary Election on Tuesday, September 1. Visit www.joegrav.com for more information.