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VA law prevents utility shutoffs in extreme circumstances; MI construction industry responds to a high number of worker suicides; 500,000 still without power or water in the Houston area; KY experts: Children, and babies at higher risk for heat illness.

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The House passes the SAVE Act, but fails to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in inherent contempt of Congress, and a proposed federal budget could doom much-needed public services.

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Enticing remote workers to move is a new business strategy in rural America, Eastern Kentucky preservationists want to save the 20th century home of a trailblazing coal miner, and a rule change could help small meat and poultry growers and consumers.

Free community college plan in MA burdens underpaid, overworked staff

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Thursday, June 6, 2024   

The Massachusetts Senate has proposed free community college for all residents, but educators say an influx of new students could overwhelm the system.

The MassEducate plan invests $75 million in new spending to cover tuition and fees and creates a fund for emergency costs, like child care, which can derail a student's graduation.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, called the program a win for social equity and a boon for the state's economy.

"We know that earnings increase, we know health increases, we know opportunity increases with every degree that someone gets," Comerford outlined. "Beginning with community college."

The state's new "millionaire's tax" would fund the program, but educators in the state's 15 community colleges said they are already struggling to retain faculty, whose salaries are more than 50% behind those in California, the state with the cost of living most similar to Massachusetts.

Comerford pointed out the state is working to rebuild the community college system, which has been underfunded for decades. Educators said without more money to hire and adequately pay more staff, including admissions and mental health counselors, students are being set up to fail.

Claudine Barnes, president of the Massachusetts Community College Council, said her full-time members are already overworked and most have additional part-time jobs to make ends meet.

"I get the sense that they want to basically see how we weather the storm of an influx of additional students and then they might decide to give us more money," Barnes observed.

Still, Barnes argued debt-free community college would be a game-changer for lower-income and first generation students, and schools are already drawing up contingency plans should the program survive budget negotiations.

Comerford added a proposed rapid task force would work to improve staff retention and working conditions and would include educators and others from the Department of Education.


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