Chang-Diaz plan aims to recognize education as “common good”

Boston Statehouse

BOTSON (SHNS) – Publicly funded preschool, expanded behavioral health services in K-12 schools, and a grant program to cover public higher education tuition are among the measures that candidate for governor Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz is calling for as part of a plan to offer high-quality public education “from birth to adulthood.”

Chang-Diaz called the education platform she’s announcing Tuesday “a product of the input and frustration I’m hearing from voters across the state.” She said the quality of education received often “depends a lot on what you look like, where you live, and what’s in your wallet.”

Together, her proposals would cost billions of dollars. Chang-Diaz said funding could come from a variety of sources, including the proposed surtax on household incomes over $1 million that will be on the 2022 ballot and other tax law changes.

“Every family in Massachusetts understands at I think an intuitive level, because they live it, that investing in education is a foundationally commonsense and time-tested investment,” she told the News Service. “Every family that has the means to do it does it, because they know it’s a good investment in their kids and in their family’s future.”

Her plan calls for increasing state child care subsidies so that no family pays more than 7 percent of their household income, and extending the K-12 public school system to fund preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds.

At the K-12 level, the Boston Democrat wants to step up efforts to reduce racial disparities in school discipline, launch a statewide dropout prevention program, establish an Inter-Agency Council on School-Based Behavioral Health and prioritize work to attract and retain educators of color.

Targeting college costs, she said she would require public colleges and universities to keep tuition and fees the same throughout a student’s enrollment and work to pass legislation “to guarantee debt-free public higher education.” Her plan points to a Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Natalie Higgins bill creating a grant program to pay tuition and fees for eligible students at any state college or university (S 829, H 1339).

That’s one of several bills Chang-Diaz specifically identifies in her plan, including some that have been filed for multiple years without being brought to the House or Senate floor for votes.

If elected, she said she would use her platform as governor to put the bills “squarely on the central agenda of the state” and build a coalition that would “make it impossible for Beacon Hill to ignore what working families have been clamoring for.”

A former teacher and previous co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, Chang-Diaz also singled out her bill to extend in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants who attend high school in Massachusetts (S 823) and universal preschool legislation she has filed since 2015 (S 288).

Chang-Diaz is one of three Democrats currently running for governor along with Harvard professor Danielle Allen and former state Sen. Ben Downing. Former state Rep. Geoff Diehl has declared his candidacy on the Republican side.

As the 2022 field takes shape, one major variable is whether Gov. Charlie Baker will seek a third term. Another closely watched potential candidate is Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat who has said she will decide her plans in the fall.

Chang-Diaz did not put a total price on the plan she said contains “big, bold stuff that is going to accomplish structural change for education justice.”

“It’s going to cost money, and it’s going to be in the billions, with a B,” she said. “But those billions are, again, for the most part, bills that Bay Staters are already paying. This plan proposes to acknowledge that education is a common good.”

She put the cost of debt-free college education at roughly $2 billion, and said much of that could be offset by taxing certain private higher-education endowments.

She said she’d work with the Congressional delegation to seek federal support for her education initiatives, and cited the proposed income surtax — which would be designated for education and transportation purposes — as a revenue source.

Chang-Diaz said her early-education plans would require a combination of federal resources, money from the surtax and some “new progressive revenue — for example, closing corporate tax loopholes on offshore corporate profits.”

Chang-Diaz was a key player in the state’s 2019 school finance reform law known as the Student Opportunity Act, which committed to $1.5 billion in additional funding by fiscal 2027.

She said she would veto any annual state budget that does not phase in that law on-schedule.

The first year of its implementation was delayed last year amid economic uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Chang-Diaz has knocked Baker’s approaches to the law’s phase-in.

This year’s $47.6 billion state budget includes $5.5 billion in state aid to local schools, $819 million for the Department of Early Education and Care, and $1.38 billion for the Department of Higher Education, the UMass system and state universities and community colleges.

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