Speaking up for Gateway City Teachers

The Gateway Cities Journal

Speaking up for Gateway City Teachers

Schools are finishing up for the year, but the emotional toll of the pandemic bears down on Gateway City educators harder than ever. For the past three months, they engaged in heroic efforts: helping families find food, consoling those who lost loved ones, leading painful dialogues on race and identity. Gateway City districts haven’t been able to properly honor these herculean efforts because they are distraught trying to work out next year’s budget. Instead of recognition, teachers are getting pink slips.

Pittsfield has cut 28 full-time positions. Brockton, which has been laying off teachers for years due to budget pressures, has let another two dozen go. On Worcester’s last day of school, 104 teachers received notice that their contracts would not renew. Leominster has also delivered more than 100 pink slips. Many other districts are holding out as long as they can, hoping that the federal government will send relief.

In the meantime, schools must make plans to deliver a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction next year. If this year’s degree of difficulty was 9.5 on a scale of 10, next year looks like it will be a 9.9. Without extended unemployment benefits, the financial stress on families will intensify, especially if the eviction moratorium expires and landlords seek back rent. Amidst this chaos, teachers will have to find ways to protect students from the virus, help them develop learning mindsets, and deliver quality instruction.

A large body of research tells us that deep recessions have even longer shadows. Those who happen to be in school when they hit don’t get the same quality of education as others before them. Their lifetime earnings fall, and overall economic productivity declines.

The high degree of economic segregation and inequality in Massachusetts means low-income students are perpetually in a shadow of sorts, which inhibits their potential and deprives the state of valuable human capital. State education leaders got a look at new data this week that show low-income students in Massachusetts earn nearly one-third less than their peers as adults. For those who complete college, this earnings gap is reduced to 10 percent, but low-income students are 20 percentage points less likely to complete college than students who aren’t low-income with the same level of academic preparation.

Last week, education leaders reviewed another set of new and more hopeful data. Compared to peers with similar demographic and educational attributes, the first wave of Early College graduates was 21 percentage points more likely to enroll in college. While it is too soon to track post-secondary enrollment, this year’s Early College seniors were 25 percentage points more likely to complete FAFSA forms for federal financial aid than peers in a control group.

These findings demonstrate that Early College can provide enormous return on modest investment, making a meaningful dent in educational inequities at a time when we face extreme resource constraints. But we will lose the momentum on Early College, after so much arduous work, if Gateway City school districts must make painful budget cuts.

This is just one tangible example of what is at stake. Year after year, Gateway City educators have stretched themselves thin as they waited for the state to address chronic funding gaps. This year they were told relief would finally be on its way. Given this history, we should be particularly mindful of the frustration and organizational trauma deep budget cuts could inflict at a time when teachers need our support most.

Governor Baker and state legislators now face as thorny a set of challenges as any elected leaders that have come before them. To provide adequate resources to schools serving the state’s most disadvantaged students, they will need to act quickly and make hard choices. We must give them full-throated support.

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