Kids, Senator go to bat for schools

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, talks with first graders Luke Gracci and Evan Holloway while visiting classrooms Friday morning at Warwick Community School. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • Third grade student Reece Haines shows off her work in Technology class to State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, while visiting classrooms Friday morning at Warwick Community School. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, speaks to a group of students while visiting Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, shakes hands with fourth grade student Logan White while visiting Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, shakes hands with preschooler Jailene Young while visiting classrooms Friday morning at Warwick Community School. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, sits to take a photo after speaking with a group of students while visiting Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, speaks to a group of students while visiting Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • Fifth grade student Sadie Waggenbeek reads an essay prepared for State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, during her visit to Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • Fourth grade student Cordelia Rhodes reads an essay prepared for State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, during her visit to Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • Sixth grade student Loki Rhodes reads an essay prepared for State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, during her visit to Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, listens to questions from students during her visit to Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • Fourth grade student Audrey Elwood reads an essay prepared for State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, during her visit to Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, center, takes a group photo with students and faculty while visiting Warwick Community School on Friday morning. Staff Photo/Dan Little—

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2019 6:29:53 PM

WARWICK — A visit from State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, at Warwick Community School was a participatory lesson in state government, with students advocating for their school and for small, rural schools in general.

“I grew up thinking that government could be something really good,” Comerford told the children Friday. “We pay taxes, we invest in something that’s a common good. Then we send people to make sure that it’s fair all around.”

Public education was one of the reasons that Comerford ran for office, she said.

Now she is preparing for a March 22 meeting with the Joint Committee on Education, where she will push for major changes to how the state funds education. The current formula chronically underfunds rural school districts, according to advocacy groups like the Western Massachusetts-based Rural Schools Coalition. Warwick Community School is being directly affected. In its efforts to become financially sustainable, the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee is considering closing Warwick’s school.

Last year, a “rural aid” account in the state’s budget seemed to signal a positive change for local educators. But that was a one-time thing. Comerford wants something that is “baked in” to the formula that determines how much state aid school districts receive each year.

“The legislature has turned toward increasing funds in a more earnest way,” Comerford said. “It’s a once-in-a-generation to get this right.”

One option, which Comerford supports and which has been endorsed by the Rural Schools Coalition, is to add a permanent “rurality factor” to the state’s formula, so that school districts below a certain population density would automatically receive extra funding every year.

Comerford encouraged locals to participate in the March 22 meeting, maybe through a letter-writing campaign or by showing up at the State House.

“There aren’t as many of us in Western Massachusetts as there are in Boston,” she said. “So we have to make our voices even louder and do things that are even more creative and bigger and bolder to make sure that our stories are heard.”




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