With the promised funding from the landmark education bill that was signed into law before the COVID pandemic hit is still up in the air, Revere students and parents on Tuesday called for the state to fully fund the Student Opportunity Act Funding (SOA).
During a virtual press conference hosted by the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance on Tuesday students, parents, and school committee members from cities across Massachusetts discussed their school funding needs, their perspectives on in-person school reopening this spring, and their aspirations for education this summer and during the upcoming school year.
Both Nada Abou Hadiba, a Revere Public Schools student, and Ina Tall, a Revere Public School Parent Leader and Program Coordinator of Women Encouraging Empowerment testified at the virtual press conference and shared their thoughts.
At the press conference, which will be held over Zoom, Hadiba and Tall joined students, parents, and school committee members from Boston, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Randolph to discuss safety measures, social/emotional and educational supports, and other resources they’re looking for from their public schools as well as the need for substantial state funding to support those needs.
“My name is Nada and I’m a senior at Revere High School,” Habida began. “I have siblings who all attend Revere Public Schools, two of which have IEPs so they require extra help and support such as speech therapy and occupational therapy. Over the past year they have fallen behind on schoolwork as they were unable to attend online school. Since both of my parents work full time, I was required to step in and take care of my siblings. Being a senior and applying to colleges it is very difficult doing that on top of being a teacher for my younger brother. Next year when I’m in college they’ll need even more help. But right now the schools don’t have the funding to hire enough teachers, counselors and other staff to provide the services my siblings need.”
Habida said the SOA was supposed to fix those issues and she is frustrated as a student, daughter and sister.
“I know that I’ll miss out on the new funding because I’ll be finished with high school but there’s still time to help my younger siblings and all the other kids their age,” said Habida. “They need better special education services and additional help to catch up from the learning they missed this year and older students are going to need more guidance counselors to help them apply for college while balancing so many different responsibilities. The whole time I’ve been in school, we’ve known that Massachusetts public schools were underfunded but the state didn;t act to fix the problem until 2019. I don’t want my siblings to have to go through the same experience of going to underfunded schools their entire academic career. I want the state to get back on track and fully fund the student opportunity.”
Tall, who is also the mother of a Revere High School 10th grader, said she has seen first hand how remote learning has impacted her daughter’s education and funding is going to be needed to bridge the gaps left behind after a year of remote schooling.
“After a year of being fully remote my daughter is understandably ready to go back to school and see her peers, which she misses very much,” said Tall. “However, as a mom I am worried about her grades and her future. At the beginning of the school year, she was getting up every morning and was getting ready for class. She was excited. she would sit at her desk and turn on her camera. However, within a week she stopped doing that because no one else was showing their face. Little by little, she stopped getting out of bed and would just join class from her bed. Neither my husband and I worked from home so we were not there to encourage her to stay connected and turn the camera on and to be engaged.”
Tall said as time went by she could see that her daughter was losing interest in school.
“Despite her best effort I could see how much she was struggling to keep up with her grades,” said Tall. “Now that the opportunity is here to go back to school she is overjoyed but I am worried. I am worried that the students will be so eager to see each other, that they might not always abide by safety rules . Many students, especially the younger ones, may have a hard time following guidelines and students may have to spend more time making sure everybody’s safe, and might not be able to teach classes effectively. Teachers will need to have one or two assistants to help them keep everyone safe. Moreover, after a year of isolation and lack of social interaction some students may find it very difficult to adjust to the discipline required to be in class again.”
Tall said she was very concerned about the mental health of many of Revere’s students.
“I strongly believe that the state should allocate more resources to support students in need that may not have been able to counselling while in remote (learning),” said Tall. “Many were motivated to learn but may have never enjoyed classes while in remote. So how will those students be taken care of? How can we ensure that every student regardless of their personal circumstance is given the best opportunity to succeed?” While students in this district fall behind because of a lack of resources, our schools, which serve low income students and students of color, need funding more than ever before. So please don’t fail us, our students, our children, and give them the money that they deserve.”
The SOA overhauled the state’s education funding formula to ensure equity for all students, especially those in low-income areas.
Because the state has not updated its education funding formula since 1993 to reflect districts’ real health insurance and special education costs, the amount of aid being provided to cover those costs had been too small for decades.
In January 2020 Governor Charlie Baker signed S. 2412, An Act Relative to Educational Opportunity for Students, or the SOA, which would have boosted investment in public schools by $1.5 billion annually when fully phased in over the next seven years.
However, when COVID hit in March 2019 budget shortfalls pushed SOA spending to the wayside. Revere Public Schools was expected to receive over $7 million in SOA funding.
The state legislature’s Ways and Means Committee met Tuesday to begin reviewing the Governor’s proposed FY22 budget.
At the press conference students and parents plan to keep pushing for a true commitment to fully fund public school and call for putting the state’s commitment to public education funding back on track.
One demand by the group Tuesday is that the state delivers at least two of the seven years of promised funding increases under the SOA in the next state budget.