Investing in education and opportunity for all students

Ask yourself if this makes sense:

Every year, teachers spend an average of $600 out of their own pockets to buy school supplies.

Districts across the state are considering laying off teachers. Even before this crisis, many schools didn’t have enough money to make sure every kid had access to a school counselor; to art and music; to sports. 

Thousands of students across Massachusetts sit on waiting lists to attend vocational and technical schools, which provide a direct pipeline to good-paying jobs.

Most school funding comes from property taxes, meaning kids in expensive communities are the only ones with access to the best-funded public schools. Education, which is supposed to be the great equalizer, is driving us further apart. 

Massachusetts spent $3.2 billion last year on prisons and law enforcement – before counting what gets spent by cities and towns.  How much less expensive would the criminal justice system be if we put more resources into education and job training?

We need to change this, and it’s clear that just electing any Democrat is not good enough. We need to think beyond the party label. What matters is a legislator’s priorities, what they believe in, and how willing they are to put in the hard work of advocacy.

So here’s what I believe in: education and opportunity.

I believe every student who wants to attend a vocational and technical school should be able to do so. I believe every student who wants to attend community college should be able to go debt-free, and that the $6,000 per year investment we make in that student’s future is much better than spending $55,000 per year to lock someone up.

I believe education should be well-rounded, and guided by the principle of caring for and developing the whole person – not just teaching the skills you need to pass a test. All students should have time for recess and play; access to art, music, and sports; to counseling; and to civics education that prepares them to be 21st century citizens.

I believe that all of our school buildings should be safe, healthy, and modern, in all of our towns, not just the wealthy suburbs.

I believe the best way to improve educational outcomes is to reduce concentrations of poverty – so we should tackle issues like homelessness, hunger, and lack of access to mental health care.

I believe we can afford to make these investments if we shift our priorities. If we reverse some of the $4 billion in state tax cuts that have largely gone to very few at the top, so we can invest in a better future for all of us. If we extend people not a handout, but a hand up – an opportunity to thrive. If we put less focus on locking people up, and more on lifting our communities up. 

I can’t promise that as one voice on Beacon Hill, we can make all of these changes quickly, or that the work won’t be hard. But I can say the status quo is not good enough. We need strong leadership representing our communities that speaks out on these important issues, and pushes for needed change. 

The pandemic has exposed cracks in our foundation that have been there all along. The good news? Now that the cracks are out in the open, it should be easier to muster the political will to fix them. Let’s get to work.

On our two crises, and the way forward

I stand in support of people around the country who are demanding justice for the killing of George Floyd – the latest in a long line of victims of the toxic combination of racism and excessive force.

Our country is in the midst of two crises right now – an overdue reckoning with racism, and the continued impacts of COVID-19 – and they’re both felt acutely here in our own communities.

I don’t claim to have all the answers to the best way forward from this moment of crisis. I’m doing my best to learn and absorb from others.

Two good resources I’ve found so far:

  1. Evidence-based approaches that work in reducing officer-involved violence – such as making sure social service agencies respond to people struggling with mental health and substance abuse; taking weapons of war off the streets and shifting toward community-oriented policing (something that both Revere and Chelsea have adopted with some success in recent years); meaningful oversight; and partnerships with nonprofits that work within the community to improve public safety.

  2. Legislation that has been proposed or passed in cities and towns around the country.

As for addressing the underlying problems that made COVID-19 so deadly in places like Revere and Chelsea, we need to make a commitment to cleaner air and cleaner water, making smart investments in public safety like addressing substance abuse, mental health, and homelessness, and do better at providing job and educational opportunities to underserved communities.

What have you read? What approaches should we be taking? We should all be open to learning more right now.

Making smart investments in public safety

Public safety requires thoughtful investment. In my time working at the State House and at Revere City Hall, I’ve advocated for smart, cost-effective policies that protect public safety and increase harmony in the community, and I’ll do the same as your State Representative.

In the coming years, Massachusetts will face a budget crunch due to COVID-19, putting a squeeze on our ability to fund important priorities. Tax cuts largely benefiting the wealthiest families in Massachusetts have cost $4 billion per year — money that could go toward pressing needs like education and public safety.

We need to pass the Fair Share Amendment, and reverse a portion of these tax cuts on those making over $1 million per year. If we repeat past mistakes and adopt austerity budgets in response to a crisis, communities across the Commonwealth will have to slash budgets for public safety and schools.

Beyond this, it’s also important to make sure that we’re not just spending money – but that we’re spending it wisely, on things that truly help our communities, rather than doubling down on failed policies.

It costs taxpayers $53,000 per year to lock someone up in jail, but $2,500 per year to treat someone for substance abuse. It all comes back to that key word – investment. We need to expand access across the state to evidence-based practices that reduce substance abuse. We also need to ensure that Massachusetts residents have adequate access to affordable mental health care.

Protecting public safety also requires investments in other causes of social disorder like homelessness, hunger, and lack of opportunity. Reducing homelessness will undoubtedly reduce future criminal justice expenses. Students who go to school hungry are less likely to graduate, and more likely to end up involved in drugs or crime; strengthening school nutrition programs can go a long way toward making our streets safer. 

The relationship between addiction, homelessness, lack of educational and employment opportunities, and the criminal justice system is well-established. So many of the people rotating in and out of the criminal justice system are people who are struggling with these issues. 

We also need to reduce barriers to opportunity for kids growing up in communities like ours. We need to ensure that any student who wants to go to a vocational or technical high school can.  We need to ensure that new development in the area creates pathways to good jobs for local residents. We need to ensure that any student who wants to attend community college and pursue higher education can do so, without going into debt.

Together, we can make the kinds of thoughtful investments and adopt the smart policies that reduce crime and make our communities safer, but we need leadership to make it happen. I pledge to deliver that leadership if elected as your next State Representative.

Massachusetts Voters for Animals Endorses Joe Gravellese for State Representative

Joe Gravellese’s campaign for State Representative has been endorsed by Massachusetts Voters for Animals, a statewide advocacy group dedicated to electing humane leaders who prevent cruelty to animals.

“Mass Voters for Animals is delighted to enthusiastically endorse Joe Gravellese for State Representative because we feel that he stands out as a person who truly cares about animal welfare and would be a strong advocate for the prevention of cruelty,” said Marge Peppercorn, a member of Massachusetts Voters for Animals’ steering committee.

Gravellese has an extensive record of working on issues related to animal protection from his time working as legislative director to Representative Lori Ehrlich from 2013-2016. 

During this time, Ehrlich’s office helped advocate for and sign in to law legislation that responded to the “Puppy Doe” incident, when a pitbull was found so badly abused that she had to be euthanized. The bill updated the state’s animal cruelty laws to hold abusers accountable.

Gravellese also worked on legislation allowing Good Samaritans to legally rescue animals trapped in hot cars, crack down on “puppy mills,” end the exploitation of wild animals in traveling shows, and stop the illicit ivory trade, which is funding overseas criminal enterprises and threatening elephants with extinction. 

Since leaving the State House, Gravellese has been an active donor and fundraiser for a no-kill cat shelter in Boston.

“How we treat animals says a lot about our values,” said Gravellese. “Research shows that a person who has committed animal abuse is five times more likely to commit violence against people. Strong animal protection laws are important to protect all of us.”

“I’m proud to have the endorsement of Massachusetts Voters for Animals, and pledge to continue to be an effective voice to protect the vulnerable as your State Representative.”

Gravellese was previously endorsed by International Union of Operating Engineers Local 4, Bricklayers Local 3, and Tunnel Workers Local 88. 

Joe Gravellese to host virtual town hall with Daniel Takash of the Niskanen Center

On Wednesday, May 27 at 5 PM, State Representative candidate Joe Gravellese will host a Virtual Town Hall with Daniel Takash, regulatory policy fellow at the Niskanen Center, a nonpartisan Washington DC think tank. The event will be streamed on Gravellese’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/joegrav.

Gravellese and Takash will discuss ways to reform and modernize regulations to allow small businesses to flourish, especially in the post-COVID-19 environment.

“Democrats don’t often talk about regulatory reform, but we need to acknowledge that there’s a difference between useful regulations that protect public safety, and those that are designed to entrench the status quo by burying small businesses in red tape,” said Gravellese.

“In the COVID-19 environment, cities and towns are realizing that they need to be flexible to let small businesses find new and creative ways to operate without burdening them with needless hoops to jump through. The cost and challenge of opening a small business has made it so often only businesses at the high end survive. As an equality of opportunity issue, Democrats need to be talking about this.”

“During my campaign, I’ve talked about how progressives, moderates, and conservatives can find common ground without sacrificing our principles. This is one such area. “

Takash contributes to the Niskanen Center’s “Captured Economy” project, which discusses how regressive regulations “have allowed wealthy special interests to capture broad domains of the policymaking process and twist the rules for their own benefit.” Learn more at http://www.niskanencenter.org.

Reflections on the 16th anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts

Today is the 16th anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts. This moment that was formative to me, politically. I was 16 years old and (of course) watching the marriage equality debate at the State House on TV. I think it was televised live on the broadcast news stations, but it might have just been on public access TV.

It seems crazy to think about now, but at the time, marriage equality was wildly controversial – especially in more culturally conservative districts. So the debate was rancorous, and the atmosphere was downright toxic. I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard stories of how loud and chaotic the environment was at the State House that day.

Up to the mic on the House floor strides Kathi Reinstein, representative from Revere, with her Revere accent and attitude. She proceeds to deliver an impassioned but simple plea: why should we stand in the way of what makes other people happy? It wasn’t the most popular stand to take back home. But history proved her to be right.

This made a big impression on me as a 16 year old. It spoke to something I already felt but didn’t really know how to articulate: our fundamental equality. It also opened my eyes to the progress and change that can be made when people have the courage to roll up their sleeves and work for it.

16 years later, all the dire predictions about how family and society would be destroyed if gay marriage were legalized never came to pass. The Lord did not smite Massachusetts. He did, however, give us the World Series a few months later. Make of that what you will!

Finding Common Ground, Even In Divided Times

If you’ve been following my campaign for State Representative, you know that I have strong opinions about how to move Massachusetts forward. These firm convictions are a big reason why I decided to run. 

But I had another reason for running: a desire to bring leadership that understands how to find common ground, even with people who disagree with you on other issues.

For too long, we’ve faced a false choice between officials who stand for their principles and those who would abandon them. I believe progressives, moderates, and conservatives can find areas of agreement that don’t require sacrificing our principles – but do require thoughtful cooperation. 

As an example, I recently called for eliminating the waiting list for vocational and technical schools. Democrats and Republicans alike agree that this is a sensible investment in our future. We may disagree on other details about education policy, but we can come together to fix this problem.

Another area where we can find bipartisan agreement is reforming small business regulations to make them more flexible and up to date.

Let’s learn from the flexibility cities are showing in allowing businesses to modify operations due to COVID-19. From Easy Pie hosting a drive-in movie night in Revere, to establishments operating with outdoor seating to maintain social distancing, local officials are realizing it’s important to fast-track ideas that would, in normal times, be a nightmare of permitting and red tape. 

Once this crisis is over, we need to modernize permitting, to encourage new businesses with creative ideas to flourish. Regulations designed to protect public safety are good and necessary; those whose purpose is to entrench the status quo are not. 

Something we can all agree on: nobody likes getting ripped off by the cable company. Now more than ever, internet service is a necessity, but consumers are faced with an expensive lack of options. Revere took a positive step by permitting RCN to create competition, but the state needs to do more to ensure residents of all communities have affordable internet access, including exploring public broadband programs. 

The most divisive issue in local politics is housing. There are some housing policy questions that we’re just never going to get broad agreement on. But where we can find common ground, we need to take action.

When Revere moved forward with housing for veterans on Shirley Ave, most agreed it was a good idea. A majority also agrees that homeowners should be able to have “in-law” apartments in their own homes. Many homeowners already have in-law apartments that date back to before current zoning laws, and are taxed accordingly – but face heavy fines if they look to do work on them. Changing this situation is common sense.

A few years back, Revere launched a 311 constituent service system. Pothole repair and trash pickup isn’t Democrat or Republican – and our Democratic mayor and Republican governor agreed, working together to fund this program to help the city operate more efficiently.

An area where progressives and conservatives in Massachusetts find common ground is on the need for transparency in state government. 

Last month, the House updated their rules to allow members to cast votes remotely during this crisis – but there was also initial talk of a change that would make it even more difficult for bills to come to the floor for a vote. Progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans spoke out against this idea, arguing that we need to have more – not less – public debate. Ultimately, the House made the right decision, and chose not to alter that rule. We can be thankful to advocates from across the political spectrum who spoke out in favor of transparency.

The key to making bipartisan progress is not sacrificing your principles or “meeting halfway.” The key is figuring out where the areas of agreement are, and not letting other issues hold you back. I can argue passionately for a progressive priority like expanding access to healthcare, while working together with a Republican who agrees with me on the need to cut red tape holding back small businesses. That’s the kind of leadership I want to bring to Beacon Hill, and it’s the kind of leadership residents across the district deserve.

Joe Gravellese is a candidate in the Democratic primary for State Representative on September 1 in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea, Saugus). Voters can learn more about his campaign at www.joegrav.com

On #TeacherAppreciationWeek, let’s commit to giving educators the resources they need

As we recognize #TeacherAppreciationWeek. let’s honor our teachers by giving them the resources and support they need.

Let’s join together to fight for:

* No delay in the implementation of the Student Opportunity Act: Advocates have spent years fighting to fix the education funding formula, to help ensure that the zip code you are born in doesn’t dictate your educational opportunity. I join the Massachusetts Teachers Association in urging the Legislature to not let these changes to be delayed.

* Healthy kids, healthy schools: There is pending legislation to ensure at least 20 minutes of unstructured, free-play recess each day for kids from kindergarten to grade 5. Free play is critical in ensuring that kids develop their creativity, reduce stress, and stay healthy. Let’s commit to making this a reality.

* Universal Pre-K: Every child in the Commonwealth should have access to free Pre-K, and we must stand with educators across the state to make it happen. There is currently a wide disparity in enriching educational and childcare opportunities between wealthy families and working-class families. It doesn’t have to be this way.

* Expanded access to vocational and technical education: Let’s clear the 3,000+ student waitlist to get in to vocational schools, so high schoolers who want to pursue a trade have the ability to do so.

Together with parents, teachers, and administrators, we can build a school system that gives every child in Massachusetts the opportunity to succeed.

Bricklayers Local 3 and Tunnel Workers Local 88 Endorse Gravellese for State Representative

Two more local unions endorsed Joe Gravellese in the Democratic primary for State Representative in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea and Saugus) to be held on September 1. 

Bricklayers & Allied Craftsmen Local 3, and Tunnel Workers Local 88, representing thousands of union laborers in Eastern Massachusetts, have thrown their support behind Gravellese’s campaign. 

They join the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 4 on the list of labor groups backing Gravellese.

“I’m proud to accept the endorsement of these unions representing people who help keep our society moving,” said Gravellese. “Bricklayers, tunnel workers, and other construction workers keep the economy moving and protect public safety. They deserve representation that is ready to fight for them on Beacon Hill.”

“When I speak with labor groups around the state and talk about the agenda I will pursue at the State House, they know they are working with someone who is committed to fighting for the big, structural changes needed to give working people a seat at the table,” he continued.

“From building the pipeline to union jobs by strengthening vocational education and workforce development, to protecting the right to organize, to fighting for safe working conditions, I am ready to stand up for workers at the State House. I appreciate the vote of confidence of these unions who have endorsed me, and look forward to taking my message to every corner of this district.”

Voters can learn more about Gravellese’s campaign at www.joegrav.com.

Joe Gravellese To Host Virtual Town Hall on Transportation with Jim Aloisi on Tuesday, May 12

Joe Gravellese, Democratic candidate for State Representative in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea, Saugus) will stream a “Virtual Town Hall” on Tuesday, May 12 at 6 PM with Jim Aloisi, former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation. Aloisi is currently a board member at the nonprofit TransitMatters, and a lecturer in urban studies and planning at MIT.

The Town Hall will be focused on fixing Massachusetts’ transportation system, and creating a healthier, more sustainable state following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Jim Aloisi is one of the foremost experts on transportation policy in Massachusetts,” said Gravellese. “For years, he’s been sounding the alarm on what Massachusetts must do to solve its transportation crisis, alleviate the burdens of congestion on communities like ours, and make our state cleaner and healthier. I’m thrilled to host him for a conversation on how we can make transportation better for Revere, Chelsea and Saugus, as well as residents all over the state.”

The event will be streamed on Gravellese’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/joegrav

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