ROMNEY FOCUSES ON EDUCATION IN 2004 STATE OF THE STATE
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Department State House Boston, MA 02133 (617) 725-4000
MITT ROMNEY GOVERNOR
KERRY HEALEY LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 15, 2004
CONTACT: Shawn Feddeman Nicole St. Peter (617) 725-4025
ROMNEY FOCUSES ON EDUCATION IN 2004 STATE OF THE STATE Unveils ambitious "Legacy of Learning" initiative, calls for "more reform"
Governor Mitt Romney, delivering his 2004 State of the State address, unveiled a comprehensive initiative to build and renovate new schools, pour more money into the lowest performing school districts and provide free public college tuition to the top 25 percent of Massachusetts high school graduates.
"Massachusetts has some of the best schools and teachers in the nation," Romney said, speaking tonight from the historic House Chamber at the State House. "Education reform, adopted a decade ago, raised standards and closed funding gaps. But it was the first step, not the last."
He added, "Let us now take every step, to prepare every child, for an ever more competitive future."
Of the state of the state, the Governor said, "A year ago, our state was facing a fiscal crisis. Today, I am proud to report that the state of our Commonwealth is much stronger. We're moving again, with purpose and determination, in the right direction. We can, and we must, be even stronger next year."
In the 20-minute live televised address, Romney also renewed his calls for reform, saying that eliminating waste and duplication in state government will create savings that can be invested in our schools and in other important priorities.
"We can make critical investments in our children, in our economy and in our housing," Romney said. "But, we'll have to put people first."
He added, "We started down the road to reform last year. This is no time to take our foot off the gas pedal. The people who elected us deserve the best government we can give them. The people of Massachusetts must come first."
Romney zeroed in on the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, calling on the Legislature – again – to fold it into the Massachusetts Highway Department. Romney said the move will save over $20 million each year and an additional $190 million in one-time money.
"We don't need two sets of managers, two legal departments, two public relations departments and two sets of books to manage one set of highways," Romney said. "We don't need the Turnpike Authority selling off key assets critical to our state. We don't need fancy celebration parties. We don't need a Turnpike thinking about building a pie-in-the-sky monorail. And we sure don't need to pay toll takers more than we pay teachers."
He added, "Our choice is this: Do we waste $20 million of taxpayer money every year on two highway departments or do we invest in scholarships, schools and teachers? Let's choose our children."
The focus on education in the Romney's address was evident throughout this evening's ceremony. Students from Murdock Middle High School in Winchendon and Holyoke High School, both declared "underperforming" by the state Board of Education, were invited to participate – a symbol of the Governor's commitment to help turn around the state's most challenged school districts.
Romney also introduced 17-year-old Linette Heredia, an honors student at Lawrence High School, who wants to go onto college after graduation, as he spoke about his plan to provide free tuition at Massachusetts public colleges and universities to the top one-quarter of high school seniors.
"Linette, we want you to stay in Massachusetts," Romney said.
Under the new John and Abigail Adams Scholarship Program, students whose MCAS scores put them in the top 25 percent of their class by the end of their junior year will be given tuition free for four years at the University of Massachusetts or at any of the state or community colleges.
In addition, students who rank among the top 10 percent of all MCAS takers will receive the free tuition along with a $2,000 bonus to help cover fees.
Those students receiving the free tuition must complete their college studies in four years or less. Those receiving free tuition plus the bonus will be required to maintain at least a 3.3 Grade Point Average. Students receiving tuition-only scholarships will be required to keep a 3.0 grade average.
The Adams Scholarship Program will cost approximately $12 million next year, but will rise to $50 million once it is up and fully running in four years.
Romney's Legacy of Learning initiative, which will be included in the budget he files later this month, will also expedite the construction or renovation of new schools through a refinancing of the School Building Assistance (SBA) program and the passage of construction reforms.
"We're horribly backlogged in renovating and rebuilding old and dilapidated schools," Romney said. "I will propose a series of construction reforms and a refinancing program that will jumpstart over 100 new and remodeled school projects."
In addition, Legacy of Learning calls for spending $34 million in new dollars on the bottom 10 percent of school districts, where nearly one-third or 300,000 students are enrolled. The program includes:
$10 million for full-day kindergarten in districts that don't already have it;
$20 million in additional funding to provide intensive after school and summer school classes for students who need help on the MCAS; and
$4 million for mandatory parental preparation courses.
Statewide, Legacy of Learning provides another $10 million, including:
$5 million in grants to school districts to help them manage students who have discipline problems by taking them out of the classroom and putting them in alternative programs;
$3 million to help recruit, retain and train science and math teachers; and
$2 million for intervention efforts in school districts declared "underperforming" by the state Board of Education. Currently, only two districts have that designation – Holyoke and Winchendon.
Romney said he will also propose giving principals the authority to remove underperforming teachers from the classroom, which he said is essential to putting "the principal, and the parents, back in charge of their school."
"Legacy of Learning puts people first, kids first. We'll be putting our money where our future is," Romney said.
Romney said he will also tackle other reforms in his budget to root out waste and promote efficiency, singling out the anti-outsourcing law that makes it extremely difficult for private-sector companies to bid for state work.
He added that his budget will not raise taxes on the working families of Massachusetts and that he will propose a modest increase in local aid. "I will present a balanced budget. And in case anybody has any other ideas, let me be clear about one more thing: I will not raise taxes."
Romney also kept his focus on job creation, urging the Legislature to go back to work on reforming the state's most-expensive-in-the-nation unemployment insurance system, saying it is the "most positive action the Legislature can take to keep and grow jobs" in Massachusetts.
The Governor also cited the high cost of housing, repeating his intention to double the number of housing starts in Massachusetts through policies that encourage the construction of new housing. And he signaled that this is the year for auto insurance reform.
With some of their families looking on, Romney paid special tribute to the 16 Massachusetts soldiers killed "fighting to protect our freedom" since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After naming them one by one, Romney said, "These heroes we remember, we extol, we salute."