We’re #1…But Don’t Celebrate Too Fast

Last week, Massachusetts had the honor of placing #1 in the U.S. News & World Report state rankings. The 50-state analysis included more than 60 metrics, and on many of them, Massachusetts shines. We ranked #1 in education, #2 in health care, and #5 in economy. When it comes to education, Massachusetts is the birthplace of US public schools, and when it comes to health care, our 2006 health care reform law created a model for the nation.

But don't crack open the champagne yet. Although, overall, we outperformed other states, Massachusetts fared abysmally on a number of key metrics.

Although Massachusetts had some of the highest test scores in the country, inequality remains a defining feature of our public school system. We ranked #31 on education equality by race. Quality Counts, which conducts an annual ranking of states on education, found a similar dynamic. Massachusetts ranked #1, but consistently fell near the bottom on any metrics focused on equity. We have great schools, but not everyone gets to go to them.

When our students graduate and go to college, they face high tuition (#41) and are saddled with debt for years after (#39). And the inequality in education is reflected in the resulting inequality in the economy: Massachusetts had one of the highest racial gaps in income (#40) and one of the highest Gini indexes (#45), a measure of the gap between the richest and poorest in the state.

And you can only take advantage of what Massachusetts has to offer if you can afford to live here, which isn't easy. We were #45 in cost of living and #44 in housing affordability. Expensive housing prices force people to live further from work, leading to long commutes (#47), made worse by low-quality roads (#47).

Inequality and poverty breed crime, a dynamic exacerbated by an overreliance on outdated "tough-on-crime" policies. Massachusetts has some of the country's most overcrowded prisons (#46) and biggest racial gaps in juvenile incarceration (#46).

So, clearly, something’s the matter with Massachusetts. What can we do about it?

Our 2017-2018 legislative agenda offers some vital steps forward.

Policies like a $15 minimum wage (S.1004/HD.2719) can help reduce inequality. Modernizing the Foundation Budget (S.223) will foster greater equity in education spending. Zoning reform and increased housing production (S.81) can reduce the cost of living in Massachusetts. Making public higher education tuition-free (H.633) or debt-free (S.681) will alleviate the debt burden faced by students at Massachusetts's many great colleges and universities and make higher education more accessible. The Fair Share amendment, by imposing a progressive income tax and earmarking new revenue for education and infrastructure, can reduce inequality, improve education equity, and make for easier commutes.

Comprehensive sentencing reform that reinvests savings in job training and education (S.791/HD.2714)—or even just eliminating mandatory minimums for non-violent drug crimes (S.819/H.741)—will help reduce prison overpopulation and combat the multi-faceted injustices of the criminal justice system. And eliminating and reducing the fees involved in the criminal justice system (S.777/HD.2929) will make sure that we aren't incarcerating people for the simple crime of being poor.

That's a lot of work for the next two years. But if we are the #1 state, we should certainly be able to handle it.

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commented 2017-03-23 12:07:49 -0400 · Flag
MA comes out tops on test scores for our students but when they measure equity for the state our kids/students etc we are only about # 28 or worst; we are NOT first because there are severe inequalities from district to distort; I have written to two governors now in emails “stop bragging about high test scores” if you can’t fix the uneven-ness (wealthy districts beside poorer school districts). But they ignore the implications of th Foundation Budget “we haven’t gotten to that yet”… That is unsatisfactory to respond in that way and keep kicking the can down the road (like they do with the MBTA FISCAl issues )
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