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We’re less than a week into Gov. Maura Healey’s new administration. Healey herself is still “quite literally” figuring out her way around the State House. But, already, a focal point of the new legislative session has emerged: free community college — for at least some residents.
Here’s where things stand:
Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll held their first official meeting Yesterday with Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano to begin sketching out priorities for the 2023-2024 session. According to Healey, community colleges were a big point of discussion — but not everyone is on the same page.
- Healey’s plan: The new governor is proposing a program called MassReconnect — modeled by Michigan and Tennessee — that would allow residents 25 and over who haven’t yet gotten a college degree to pursue a community college certificate or degree for free (tuition, fees and even textbooks. would be fully covered). Healey says this would help train older adults in critical emerging industries like clean energy and advanced manufacturing.
- Spilka’s proposal: The Senate leader wants to go even further. Last week, she announced the Senate will push a plan to make community college free for all students, regardless of age.
- Third wheel? Unlike his fellow Democratic counterparts, Mariano hasn’t expressed support for any free community college plan and has generally been more cautious about the state’s revenue. “The devil is in the details,” he told reporters after yesterday’s meeting. “There’s a cost involved. We have to ascertain what the costs are.”
- Dollars and cents: Remember, the new millionaire’s tax is expected to bring in over $1 billion in additional tax revenue each year for education and transportation. Spilka told WBZ that her free community college plan would cost a fraction of that: $50 million a year. (Currently, the individual price of tuition and fees at the state’s 15 public community colleges is around $7,000 a year.)
- Mariano is right about one thing: There are still a lot of details left to be worked out and negotiated. But it’s a new issue we’ll be following closely over the coming months.
Boston Public Schools and some neighboring sschool districts have been asking students and staff to mask up as they return from winter break. But in other local schools, it’s not an ask. Due to rising COVID rates, WBUR’s Carrie Jung reports that UMass Boston and Chelsea Public Schools reimplemented indoor mask mandates yesterday. (You can read the details of the temporary policies here and here, respectively.)
- At the same time, UMass Boston and Chelsea remain rarities. Jung reports that education watchers expect few other districts to follow suit this winter — a fact they attribute to pandemic fatigue and the political tension around mask mandates.
- Big picture: While the current COVID spike pales in comparison to last winter’s omicron-fueled wave, the current wastewater data rates are actually twice as high as the 2020-2021 winter. The good news is the state’s ICU rate is way, way lower than it was the last two winters. Scroll through the nifty charts in this article by WBUR’s Priyanka Dayal McCluskey to see the comparisons.
Call it Connect-toke-cut: Today is the first day of recreational marijuana sales in the Nutmeg State. Connecticut Public reports that seven dispensaries — previously only open to medical marijuana patients — will launch adult-use sales today. And officials in the state say as many as 40 adult-use pot shops could open by the end of this year.
- This means individuals over the age of 21 can now legally purchase marijuana in every New England state. except New Hampshire. Connecticut Public has all the deets.
PS— It’s never too early to start thinking about summer plans. The Steamship Authority is opening up summer season reservations for trips to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard this morning at 7:30 am — but only for members of its Head Start program. For the rest of us, summer reservations open next week.
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