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‘Worst year for education’

Senator Louise Lucas visited the Holland/Holy Neck Civic League mass meeting on Saturday to discuss the most recent General Assembly session with the league’s members.

Though Lucas also highlighted action taken on bills regarding guns, Alcoholic Beverage Control stores, payday lenders and property tax exemptions for veterans, the bulk of the conversation centered on the funding situation for education, health care and public safety.

“This has been the worst year for education and health care, and a lot of other issues as well,” she said. “Education is bleeding as it is.”

Lucas, speaking at the Laurel Hill United Church of Christ, praised the efforts of the budget conference committee in restoring cuts proposed in the education budget.

“The House of Delegates had proposed to cut $685 million,” Lucas said. “We were able to restore $285 million.”

Attendees at the meeting said spending money on education now can prevent having to spend money on public safety later.

“You can’t just prosecute people, you educate and prevent first,” Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson said. “I want you to know that in Suffolk, we are going into the schools to keep those young people from [getting involved in gangs].”

Ferguson specifically referenced a recent gang education program in each of the city’s middle schools that reached more than 1,500 students — an effort Lucas applauded. Ferguson also praised the restoration of proposed cuts to constitutional officers.

Lucas attributed that effort to the teamwork of legislators from Suffolk — herself and Sen. Fred Quayle, and delegates Chris Jones and Johnny Joannou.

“We may have some differences on social issues, but when it comes to money, we all see green,” Lucas said.

She also spoke of her opposition to charter schools as part of the education discussion.

“Charter schools are not successful everywhere,” Lucas said, arguing that they steal money from the public school system. When a student leaves to go to a charter school, “the money follows the student,” Lucas said.

Speaking on social issues, Lucas highlighted the passage of a bill that would prevent the state’s ABC stores from being privatized, and another bill that restricts the annual interest rate on short-term lending such as payday loans and vehicle title loans.

“Our people were getting slaughtered” by interest rates, Lucas said. “We are not done yet. We’re going to continue to work until we run them out of town.”

Lucas also told civic league members that they will see some referenda on their ballots in November, including one that would extend a property tax exemption to qualifying veterans.