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Gonzalez Pitches 'Bold Vision' On Education With Few Specifics

Democratic candidate for governor Jay Gonzalez (Michael Dwyer/AP)
Democratic candidate for governor Jay Gonzalez (Michael Dwyer/AP)

We have two stories examining education issues in the Massachusetts governor’s race. The other, focusing on incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker, is here.

The ghost of charter school expansion looms large in the governor’s race.

Gov. Charlie Baker was the public face of the 2016 ballot campaign, in support of increasing the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. His Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez, does not want to lift the cap, and argues that traditional public schools are underfunded.

“[The governor’s race is] a choice between someone whose entire education agenda is to create a few more charter schools for a few more kids, and someone who believes we need to fully fund our public schools,” Gonzalez told an audience at a recent teachers union conference.

Both candidates have said that education is a top issue for them. The state’s two largest teachers unions are lining up behind Gonzalez, in large part because of the charter school expansion issue.

“Charter school funding has really devastated the budgets of our public schools,” said Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts.

Gonzalez has also promised to restore charter school reimbursements to traditional public school districts. Right now, the state is not fully funding that.

However, most of Gonzalez’s biggest promises are in early education.

“My daughters, obviously, had access to good quality childcare and preschool,” Gonzalez said in an interview. “They were privileged to have access to that. … I saw what a difference it made for them.

Gonzalez said that’s why one of his core goals is to make sure every family in the state can access childcare and early education by the end of his first term.

This arena is where the rubber meets the road in terms of experience. In 2014 he chaired the board of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. He’s also worked on these issues with business leaders.

It’s a tall order, but Gonzalez still thinks it’s possible.

“We’ve done much harder things before,” he said. “And we already have a childcare and preschool system that exists, we just are under-resourcing it.”

Gonzalez estimates that initiative alone could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. As would another one of his lofty proposals: making it easier for students to graduate from public college debt free.

The Massachusetts Republican Party has criticized Gonzalez, saying he doesn’t have detailed plans to fully cover those hefty price tags.

Gonzalez’s response, in part, is a controversial tax on private university endowments over $1 billion.

“This, to me, is a puzzle,” said Paul Reville, a Harvard University education professor and former state education secretary. “It’s kind of an attack on some of our state’s most prized institutions in a sector where we really have the lead nationally.”

Reville worked with Gonzalez in Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration. He said Gonzalez helped prioritize education funding during the recession, when budgets were tight.

Gonzalez hasn’t shared specifics on exactly where the revenue from this tax proposal would go beyond “fully funding” public education and public transportation. But for political watchdogs like Reville, that lack of detail on campaign promises isn’t unusual.

“It’s kind of a minefield for them as candidates,” Reville said. “The parties are divided themselves on issues, for example, like school choice.”

With so much happening on the national stage, Reville said specifics may not be needed to sway voters right now.

Gonzalez, for one, seems to be hoping voters will like his big ideas and trust him to pull them off. The popular incumbent, Baker, may be pinning his hopes on his own education record, without raising taxes.

Copyright 2018 WBUR

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