STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 24, 2015…..A proponent of the voluntary program aimed at increasing diversity and giving students school choice options called on her fellow advocates Tuesday to “get angry” about cuts in state funding.

The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), a grant program funded by the state, allows students in Boston and Springfield to attend public schools in communities that have agreed to participate in the program.

Aleisa Gittens-Carle, president of the association of METCO directors, on Tuesday decried the emergency cuts made by Gov. Charlie Baker and his predecessor Deval Patrick to balance the state budget. The cuts brought the allocation for METCO to $17.9 million from $19.1 million.

Patrick cut METCO by more than $287,000 in November and Baker slashed $943,000 in METCO funding earlier this month.

Baker inherited a $768 million budget gap that he moved to close this month with a mix of unilateral cuts, spending reductions approved by the Legislature, and other measures. The proposal cleared the Senate on a voice vote and passed the House by a 153-1 vote.

The Baker administration has stressed that the budget fix does not raise taxes and does not reduce local aid or funds to combat homelessness.

“I think METCO is a pretty successful program,” Baker told the News Service on Tuesday, adding that his household served as a host family for METCO students when he was growing up in Needham.

Baker is due to file his version of the fiscal 2016 budget on March 4.

“We’re still in the process of putting together our finishing touches on fiscal ’16,” Baker said. “It’s going to be a difficult budget year but METCO will certainly get our full attention.”

Speaking to a crowd of METCO directors, students, superintendents and elected officials in Nurses Hall, Gittens-Carle said she could not give a “nice and sweet and flowery” speech, because of the “injustice being done to our kids.”

“I need you to get angry,” she said, repeating the phrase several times throughout her speech. “Simple as that.”

“Do it nicely, though,” added Gittens-Carle, who also serves as METCO director for Cohasset Public Schools. “I don’t want you cussing.”

Proponents of METCO say they want the money restored and they’re asking for $21.5 million in fiscal year 2016, which starts in July.

Sen. Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) said he disagreed with the fiscal 2015 budget cut to the program. “As he’s making judicious cuts, this is one of those programs he needs to reconsider,” Ross said of Baker. “It’s one of the few programs I think we get so much out of.”

The program often draws bipartisan support, and since 1992, its funding has decreased just five times, falling in 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011, according to METCO.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) said METCO funding is the same as local aid spending. “This is not just ‘give us our increase out of the blue,'” she said. “It’s a good investment for the state.”

Other lawmakers who attended the gathering of METCO supporters included Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), who served as last year’s co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, and Reps. David Linsky (D-Natick), Frank Smizik (D-Brookline), and Paul Donato (D-Medford).

Program advocates say METCO students, the majority of whom go to college, go on to become lawyers, teachers and laborers.

Under the fiscal 2015 budget, 37 participating communities received $3,581 per student in education funding, along with transportation funds for the program’s 3,317 students, according to METCO. The program’s advisory committee has called for $5,000 per student, along with transportation costs.

Advocates say Chapter 70 funding, also known as local school aid, has increased 70 percent between fiscal years 1999 and 2015, while METCO funding has increased just 44 percent.

“It’s not okay,” said Gittens-Carle. “It’s not okay for us to not be funded at the same level.”

Copyright 2015 State House News Service