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Education Activists Charge Walsh And Baker Skimp On Public School Funding

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Ralliers gather at Boston City Hall to demand more funding for public schools.

A crowd of protesters called on Mayor Marty Walsh to reverse what they say are cuts to Boston's public schools.

Protesters from the group the Boston Education Justice Alliance, including students and local teachers, marched into City Hall and brought more than 3,500 signatures to Walsh's office along with demands that city and state officials enhance funding.

"The budget cuts have been happening over accumulation of years. So when you add it all up, over $140 million over the past three years have been taken away from the school department and our children and our teachers," said Valerie Bonds, a retired BPS teacher working with the protest group.

While the ralliers chanted about the need to reserve "$50 million" in cuts to this year's Boston Public Schools budget, Walsh's administration actually added $13.5 million to BPS in the fiscal year 2017 budget request, out of $1.27 billion total for schools. Walsh's administration says the $50 million shortfall, first referenced in a letter from superintendent Tommy Chang, is no longer accurate.

The mayor's spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin said Walsh has added almost $90 million to schools since he took office, "despite stagnant state education aid."

"The increased appropriation in his first two years was more than the increase of all other city departmental appropriations combined," McGilpin wrote in a statement.

The protesters next stops, the State House and Gov. Charlie Baker's office, has a lot more potential to get them what they're after. State education aid to Boston has grown less than 1 percent per year since Walsh entered office in 2014, putting much of the school funding question in Lawmaker's court.

Public education advocates of late have targeted Baker's own budget plan for not spending enough on schools, while simultaneously taking the governor to task for his outspoken support for expanding publicly-funded and privately operated charter schools.

If there's one area where potential challengers to Walsh's office might find purchase going into the next mayoral election in 2017, it's schools. Still, with a political war chest currently running at $2.31 milion, Walsh at the moment appears almost bullet proof.

The City Council votes up or down on the mayor's annual budget plan, and although it would be unprecedented to reject it, Councilor Tito Jackson says it is within the Council's authority to do so.

Jackson says he believes there is enough money in the city's entire budget of around $3 billion to add $50 million for BPS.

"A budget is a value statement. A budget speaks to where we stand. And so if we are half of inflation, that to me does not put the value that we should have on our education," Jackson told reporters at the rally.

Though budget funds are always tight, Walsh has plenty of access to political campaign cash.

The rally was part of a national call for greater public school funding put together by the Alliance To Reclaim Our Schools, a group that's goal is to improve public education for students "regardless of race, class or zip code," according to the group's release about the rally.

When asked if Walsh had so far kept his promises regarding school funding, Jackson said the budget is a negotiation and that he hopes the final spending plan will include the additional $50 million.

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