Rep. Velis’ Weekly update

Good morning Westfield, and happy Saturday! Hope you all had a great week- I sure did!

I started this week by sitting on a panel hosted by the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association on Monday. It gave me a real opportunity to engage with teachers from across Western Mass on issues they are facing in the classroom. Teachers are near and dear to my heart- I always say that if it weren’t for a lot of truly great ones, I would have never made it through high school. A lot communities around here are facing budget crises, so of course chapter 70 aid, or education funding from the State, was an extremely important topic. I also heard input from many teachers on standardized testing and its negative effect on curriculums, as well as the importance of recess, especially for younger children. I know it was always my favorite part of the day, but it turns out its imperative to help children stay focused and learn throughout the rest of the day, as well. There is currently legislation in the State House that would mandate recess for younger grades, and my colleagues and I are working with the MTA to help see it through.

From there, I went straight to the Westfield School Committee General Advisory Board meeting. It’s a core function of my job to stay up to date and engaged with the issues facing our local school system. One of the more immediate problems was announced earlier this week and concerns so-called Circuit Breaker funding for special education students. The State provides a certain amount of financial assistance every year to districts to offset the costs associated with educating students with special needs. Because of a higher-than-expected rate of claims, the State estimates that it can currently only provide school districts with a 65% reimbursement on excess costs, rather than the usual 75%. This could pose a real issue for Westfield Public Schools, and every other district around the Commonwealth. I have signed onto a letter addressed to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, asking for an additional $36 million to bridge this gap, and hope that we will be able to pass an emergency supplemental budget soon.

On Wednesday, I was at the State House for formal session, during which we passed a House Bonding Bill that will preserve and grow affordable housing in Mass. The $1.7 billion will be spent on critical programs like accessible housing for those with disabilities, homeownership programs that promote economic stability, and tax credits for affordable housing development in Gateway Cities like Westfield. Many of you will have noticed how expensive housing has gotten over the past few decades. Massachusetts has a huge affordable housing need but too few units to accommodate it. This bonding bill will go a long way to bridge that gap, and help to reduce homelessness and housing costs for struggling seniors. The bill is now in the Senate, awaiting a vote.

On Thursday morning, I paid another visit to Westfield Technical Academy to tour their manufacturing lab and talk to the students and teachers about the program. I don’t need to tell you how important precision manufacturing and machinists are to our local economy, or that it is getting harder and harder to find the right people to fill many of the skilled jobs at these companies. WTA is doing a fantastic job training the next generation of skilled machinists and engineers. It was really cool to see the new freshmen, only a few weeks into their program, already working on their own projects to refine the skills they need to move on in their field. I also got to see their grant-funded CNC machines, which are used at almost every major manufacturing plant, and are critical to setting up the juniors and seniors for success. Finally, I toured their engineering computer lab, complete with state-of-the-art 3D printers. It’s programs like this one that are really working to bridge the skills gap and set up kids for successful careers- we’re extremely lucky to have it right here in Westfield!

Finally, I ended the week with this year’s annual Human Services Forum, one of the largest gatherings of legislators and service providers in the Commonwealth. I look forward to this breakfast every year because it gives me a chance to sit down with the providers who are our boots-on-the-ground when it comes to connecting constituents with the services they need to thrive. Whether its mental health care, housing, food, or what have you, the agencies at this breakfast are the ones working with individuals to get them the help they need. It’s critical that as legislators, we hear their stories and make sure that they are able to continue their work effectively. Of course, my office works with many of them all year, but the chance to sit down to breakfast with several at once is invaluable. A truly meaningful way to end the week!

That’s all for now, folks. Hope to see you all at the Penguin Plunge tomorrow! I’ve done it a few years in a row now, and tomorrow might As always, if you have any questions or concerns, my office can be reached at (413) 572-3920 or [email protected]. Have a great weekend!

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