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Mass. Governor Highlights Need for Education Investment in Berkshires

Lucas Willard

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today toured an elementary school in one the state’s Gateway Cities, where he also highlighted his plan to make significant investments in public education.

Governor Patrick was led by students through the Silvio Conte Community School in Pittsfield, where he met students, teachers, and administrators.

Governor Patrick addressed the challenges schools in Gateway Cities, like the Silvio Conte Community School face every day, with many students from low-income households and many studying English as a second language.

“We know as well as we’re doing in this commonwealth being number one in the nation with student achievement, there are still some kids we are leaving behind,” said Governor Patrick. “My budget on the education side is about investing in strategies we know work to make sure we’re not leaving any of that talent behind.”

The Governor’s fiscal year 2014 budget seeks to dedicate $550 million to new investments in education.  A focus would be placed on improving access to early childhood programs. The Governor hopes to eliminate the 30,000-student waiting list aged from birth to 5 years seeking services.

Currently, 671 students in Pittsfield are on the waitlist.

Principal of the Conte Community School, Anna-Stina Wardlaw, said that one of her primary needs for funding is to extend pre-K education.

“Right now it’s only open to a very select 4-year-old group,” said Wardlaw.

On his tour, Governor Patrick visited several classrooms, interacted with students, and took part in classroom activities with students from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Principal Wardlaw said that she was appreciative of the governor’s visit.

“To them it’s showing them that they’re important,” said Wardlaw.

Democratic State Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield attended the tour. He said that the debate in the Senate will not focus on whether the need is there for the Governor’s education investments, but on how to fund it.

“I think reasonable people can disagree on the path, but you can’t disagree on the goal,” said Downing.

The Governor’s budget calls for a one-percentage point increase in the state’s income tax paired with other adjustments including a decrease in the sales tax to pay for a $2 billion investment in both education and transportation. Currently, the state House of Representatives is debating its own budget.

Democrat Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier said that while she believes the income tax is the most fair, many other members of the House are not as supportive. Bouvier said that many are considering gas tax hikes to raise the required revenue.

The House will submit its budget in the coming weeks, where it will be taken into consideration with the governor’s plan by the Senate committee on Ways and Means. The Senate will then release its own budget proposal.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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