Guest columnist Matteo Pangallo: Why we must fully fund our schools

Amherst Regional Middle School

Amherst Regional Middle School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By MATTEO PANGALLO

Published: 04-01-2024 11:40 AM

The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee demonstrated leadership, forward thinking, and sound judgment in proposing a budget that actually faces reality and calls on the towns of the district to meet the full costs of providing our children with the education that they need and deserve.

Asking residents to pay more in taxes is painful, but the radical erosion of public education caused by not funding our schools would be even more painful — and even more devastating in the long term. Asking Amherst College to provide more funding to the district is fine (though this plan often seems coupled with a misunderstanding about what a college’s endowment fund actually is: It’s an investment portfolio, not liquid cash).

But if the experience of relying on ESSER funds over the past several years has taught us anything, surely it is that depending on a pot of funds controlled and constrained by an external source is a recipe for a disaster, because eventually that pot will go dry.

Lobbying state officials to provide more funding to our schools is also fine — indeed, given that state aid for education chronically falls short of its mandate, it’s more than fine, it’s imperative. But if the experience of waiting for Beacon Hill to take action to meet the needs of Bay Staters who live west of 495 is any evidence, surely we should know by now not to hold our breath on help from Boston.

If we want quality schools, a quality education for our children, and a quality future for our communities, we must be prepared to invest in those things. And not by always turning to one-time or temporary fixes or aid from external sources, but by recognizing that everything, including education, costs more this year than it did last year, or five years ago, or 20 years ago. And it will cost more next year, and five years from now, and 20 years from now.

We must be prepared to meet those costs, not just for the sake of our children (though one would think that surely that would be enough on its own) but also for our own sake. Many families (ours included) chose to live here especially because of the high quality of education in the district.

What will happen in a year, five years, 20 years, if that reputation becomes undermined by perpetually underfunded schools? Fewer families will move here and more families will move away, which is, of course, a perfect recipe for even higher taxes — though in this scenario, without the world-class schools to show for it.

Matteo Pangallo lives in Shutesbury.

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