Month: August 2015

Back to school, for the little ones, too!

In MassLive 8/27/15

As summer winds down and families gear up for back-to-school season, it’s a good time to remember the vital importance of early education.

Study after study shows that the most significant brain development occurs before age 5. Every dollar invested in high-quality early education yields a return as high as $16, in large part due to reduced remedial and special education and improved graduation rates.

As the parent of a toddler, I’ve cherished watching my child’s growth and learning firsthand. Every day my wife and I marvel at the new words and discoveries our daughter encounters.

While there is no substitute for active and engaged parenting, we know that early education, whether preschool, kindergarten or other programs, makes a critical difference in children’s lives.

We also know that expanding access to preschool and kindergarten not only helps our children, but lifts our entire community by unlocking the full potential of our next generation.

That’s why I’ve championed early education programming and access in the Senate. For example, I joined my Senate colleagues to restore $17 million in funds to help our cities and towns transition to full-day kindergarten. Alarmingly, while Massachusetts has a formula for funding elementary and high school, there is no equivalent formula for kindergarten and preschool. I’m working on measures to fix this and move toward universal, full-day preschool and kindergarten.

To this end, I support an initiative that calls for a fully funded early education program for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Massachusetts, along with universal full-day kindergarten. In the Senate, I also championed a recent funding increase for the Boys & Girls Clubs, which provide essential early learning programs across the Commonwealth. I also joined the rest of my Senate colleagues in a bipartisan veto override to restore funding to Preschool Expansion Grants.

We also have great examples of innovative work happening locally.

For example, I co-sponsored an increase in state funding to Square One, based in Springfield and one of the most respected early education providers in Massachusetts, as well as to Talk/Read/Succeed!, a local nonprofit that promotes early literacy.

In addition, I’ve worked closely with Link to Libraries, an organization based in Hampden that has donated over 230,000 books to local elementary schools and leads a program that promotes reading at home. The Davis Foundation, also based in Springfield, provides grants across Hampden County and has done innovative work on early education.

During a recent visit to Brunton Elementary School in Springfield, I sat with a group of kindergarteners as they learned about colors and shapes with a set of wooden blocks. They might not appreciate it just yet, but the education they’re receiving will open a world of possibilities for them and their families in the years ahead.

Our mission as adults is to ensure that those young people, and all young people, have the necessary tools to make the most of their potential.

We’ll all be better off as a result.

State FY16 Budget Increases Aid to Hampden-Wilbraham School District with Sen. Lesser’s Support

Senator Eric P. Lesser announced a $2.5 million increase in funding for regional school transportation in the FY16 state budget, signed into law recently by Governor Baker. This funding increase will boost the reimbursement rate for regional school districts to 73 percent, including an additional $250,000 for Hampden-Wilbraham. In 2011, the reimbursement rate was 58 percent.

“School districts should not need to worry about how much they’ll be reimbursed by the state for school busing costs,” Lesser said. “This measure will provide much-needed relief, allowing districts to focus their resources inside the classroom, and I hope it will be a strong starting point for increases in future budgets.”

In 2014, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District faced a significant budget shortfall when state aid for school transportation was abruptly cut.

This funding reverses those cuts and will mean significant relief for the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, granting the ability to restore at least four full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions within the district’s fiscal year 2016 budget.

“As a regional school district, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District is very appreciative of our legislative delegation’s efforts and advocacy to increase Regional Transportation funding,” said Hampden-Wilbraham School Superintendent Martin O’Shea.

“The Regional Transportation funding is critically important to larger rural and suburban school districts like the HWRSD. This increase will provide the HWRSD with the opportunity to restore needed programs and services to the children of the District.”

“This increase is critically important to our school district. Regional School Transportation funding has been a big concern, and this increase will go a long way to help the district.  I’m glad to have supported this increase especially in this tight budget,” said Representative Angelo Puppolo (D-Springfield).

The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District faces rising costs for busing students, crowding out resources previously dedicated to student learning. Senator Lesser has made relief for local school districts a top priority of his work in the State Senate.

Sen. Lesser Secures Funding for Hampden Memorial Park Playground in State Budget

Senator Eric P. Lesser (D-Longmeadow) announced that the final version of the state budget included $16,000 for renovations to an existing playground in Hampden’s Memorial Park. The funding, which helps fill a funding gap needed to complete improvements to the playground, originated from an amendment to the Senate budget filed by Senator Lesser.

“As the father of a young daughter, I know how important it is have a place to spend time with your children,” Lesser said. “These renovations will provide a much-needed gathering space for the families of Hampden and the surrounding community.”

“Being a parent myself as well as having three nephews in the town of Hampden, I know how important it is to have safe, fun places for our children,” said Representative Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow). “I’m very happy for the children, their families and friends who will be able to utilize this playground.”

“We are extremely appreciative of the work of Senator Lesser in bringing our tax dollars back to our community and our children,” said Hampden Selectman John Flynn. “Even after this appropriation was vetoed by the Governor’s office, Eric fought to bring it back into the final budget.”  

The funding secured by the amendment will help ensure the playground is ADA-compliant and wheelchair accessible, make safety upgrades to the ground surface and improve water drainage.

Innovative Communities Bill Co-sponsored by Sen. Eric Lesser Passes Massachusetts Senate

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser voted for legislation to create a new Innovative Communities program to help municipalities partner with Massachusetts startup companies to help expand and improve access to public services. The bill passed in the Massachusetts Senate and will now be considered by the House of Representatives.

“This bill makes it easier for local governments to make their services more accessible to their communities, and for tech companies to build a stronger public sector customer base,” Sen. Lesser said. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) filed the legislation in collaboration with many stakeholders in the startup community.

“We have an incredibly strong innovation economy here in Massachusetts. It’s time for our government to be innovative too,” said Sen. Spilka. “This first-of-its-kind program is the product of a collaborative, interactive process, and it will foster stronger connections and opportunities for startups and local governments.”

Senate Bill 1982, An Act relative to innovative communities, establishes the Innovative Communities Office within the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to connect and educate Massachusetts startups and municipalities. Startups will have the opportunity to sell their technology to cities and towns that choose to be designated as “Innovative Communities.”

Cities or towns that choose to participate in the program must opt-in through a local vote, make non-confidential municipal data available to the public, attend at least one Innovative Communities event or exposition and beta test at least one technology through the program each year.

The bill also includes education to help startups understand how they can sell to government and help municipalities understand opportunities to purchase from startups. The program will hold marketing events and expositions for startups to showcase their technology to municipalities and host statewide innovation competitions to identify market-ready technologies for the needs of municipalities. It will also vet the commercial readiness of technologies in the program and provide technical assistance to municipalities purchasing these technologies.

The bill also creates an Innovative Communities Advisory Board to keep startups and government connected and a Special Commission to study the way government purchases technology.

Sens. Lesser and Welch Secure $100,000 In State FY16 Budget for Spirit of Springfield

The House and the Senate have included an amendment sponsored by Senator Eric P. Lesser (D-Longmeadow) and co-sponsored by Senator James T. Welch (D-West Springfield) in the state FY16 budget that will provide $100,000 for the Spirit of Springfield.

“From the Parade of Big Balloons to Bright Nights, from the 4th of July fireworks to the World’s Largest Pancake Breakfast, events put on by the Spirit of Springfield fill our region with pride and attract tens of thousands of visitors to our region every year,” Lesser said. “These funds will allow the Spirit of Springfield to further their mission of promoting community pride and allow more people to learn about all the great events happening in Springfield.”

“The Spirit of Springfield does wonderful work showcasing all Springfield has to offer, both to residents and to visitors,” said Senator James T. Welch (D-Springfield). I’m happy that the funding for this important organization is included in the FY16 budget, and I look forward to a great year of exciting events in the city.”

“The Spirit of Springfield is honored to have the support of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the legislators who passed the amendment that will allow us to continue to make lasting memories for families, friends and visitors,” said Spirit of Springfield President Judy Matt.

The Spirit of Springfield coordinates several large-scale annual community events each year in the Pioneer Valley that enhance quality of life by fostering a sense of community, civic pride and opportunities for celebration.

Funding for the program awaits now final approval from Governor Baker.