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Budget Hearing Draws Health Care Advocates, And Busloads Calling for More School Aid

Sarah Gibson for NHPR


 At a public hearing on the state budget Tuesday, senators heard testimony in support of increasing funding for public schools and health care workers.

Many spoke in support of a billthat would boost state aid for health care programs, address worker shortages, and increase Medicaid reimbursements.

Kara Nickulas, executive director of Crotched Mountain Community Care, which helps adults with illnesses and disabilities remain in their homes, testified that keeping people out of nursing homes is often the best, most affordable option, but only when there are enough home health care workers.

"Over a third of our clients have either no staffing or are not staffed to the amount that they require to remain safe at home," she said.

Dozens of students from Pittsfield and Berlin also came to show their support for funding proposals that would send millions more in state aid to property-poor towns like theirs.

Berlin High School junior Cora Huter said without an increase in state aid, the district is on the brink of cutting after-school programs and sports.

"I am here today to encourage all of you to stop looking at funding education as a handout but instead to consider what it really is: an investment in the future of our state," she said.

The Berlin school board has already cut over a half million dollars from its budget, but with some of the highest property taxes and highest poverty levels in the state, the Berlin city council now says it wants the school board to cut another half million.

School board chair Nicole Plourde says teachers are so demoralized they are beginning to look for jobs elsewhere.

Pittsfield High School Senior Stefne Ricci is a youth leader in the community group "Pittsfield Youth Voice in it Together." She said Pittsfield was facing a similar precipice with annual cuts in a type of state funding known as stabilization grants. 

"Every year we're set up to lose more and more and at some point there is going to be nothing left, she said. "In the end there is only so much Pittsfield can do. We can scrounge and beg and get creative, but unless there is real and meaningful change at the state level, Pittsfield and other students like it are going to set students up to fail."

The Senate is expected to finalize its verion of the two-year state budget by the end of May.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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