Thursday January 17, 2013

Continuing to outline an ambitious agenda for his final two years as governor, Deval Patrick has proposed a substantial investment in public education in Massachusetts, from pre-school through college. The question is not so much whether the state can afford it but how can the state not afford it given the importance of education to employers, employees and the economic future of the state.

The focus of the president’s proposal is early childhood education, which has been subjected to roughly $80 million in budget cuts over the last three years. Day care and pre-school set the stage for students to do well in school and actually enjoy learning in the years that follow, and there are currently 30,000 children on waiting lists for those programs. The governor also wants to encourage school districts to provide pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds by providing state aid.

The governor calls for extending the school day in middle school, and will provide financial assistance for this necessary step. Cities and towns will receive additional Chapter 70 money and community colleges would receive a boost in funding. The funding would begin with a $550 million increase this year and gradually climb to an additional $1 billion in 2017.

It is clear, as is the case with his transportation proposals earlier this week, that the governor wants his programs to put down roots deep enough that they cannot be yanked out when his second term concludes. While Mr. Patrick acknowledged Wednesday that the economy is not booming, he is right that transportation reform and the needs of students cannot be put off indefinitely while waiting for a boom period that may never come.

The state’s employers need a well-educated workforce to meet the demands of today’s largely high-tech marketplace. Falling short results in economic stagnation. Berkshire employers have had difficulty finding qualified workers, a problem BCC and MCLA have responded to. Education must be addressed at the ground level, however, which is why Pittsfield Promise was created a year ago to boost early childhood education in general and improve third-grade literacy in particular. While it is easy to find reasons not to do something, the reasons for improving public education in the state are many and of overwhelming importance.