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Quality public schools need not cost Bay State taxpayers a lot more

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Massachusetts public schools, collectively, are neither the best nor the worst in the United States. The state has some topnotch school systems and some that are in trouble.

But the quality of public education in the Bay State is uneven, and the response to that problem by the state government has never been adequate. Although it would not be correct to say the welfare of elementary and secondary schoolchildren has been ignored by the legislature, it is clear that no coherent , sustained program of state assistance to local public schools has been maintained.

Now laudable, though somewhat flawed, public education reform legislation has been filed in an attempt to improve schools across the commonwealth.

The worst aspect of the measure sponsored by State Rep. James G. Collins (D) of Amherst and other lawmakers is that it is considerably more costly than what Massachusetts taxpayers can afford.

Much of the estimated $300 million to $566 million in increased spending would go for higher pay for teachers and school administrators, including a mandatory minimum entrance-level salary of $18,000. While a strong case can be made for providing school personnel with decent compensation, this might be more properly left to the collective-bargaining process rather than cast in statutory cement.

State lawmakers for too long have dabbled in the questionable practice of setting minimum pay for municipal employees, often with little or no regard for how such gestures of Beacon Hill generosity affect local budgets. And, in the past, promised state aid to meet state-imposed financial burdens has usually seemed somehow to fall short.


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