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Sonia Chang-Diaz out of Education Committee in Senate shake-up

Trea Lavery
Sonia Chang-Diaz out of Education Committee in Senate shake-up
Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz speaks to Rep. Alice Peisch on the House floor last year. BANNER PHOTO

One month after unveiling her extensive education finance reform bill, the PROMISE Act, Massachusetts state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz has been removed as chair of the state’s Education Committee, a post she has held for eight years, as well as from the committee itself.

The Boston Democrat was replaced in the position by Sen. Jason Lewis, a Democrat from Winchester. She will now head the committees on marijuana and children, families and people with disabilities.

Chang-Diaz said on Twitter that she “isn’t going anywhere” when it comes to education reform.

“This is critical, generational reform — and I’ll be here, fighting alongside you every step of the way until we get it done right for all our kids, including and especially low-income kids and kids of color who can’t be shortchanged again,” she said.

Chang-Diaz also praised Lewis, who, she noted, was one of the first to co-sponsor the bill.

Her removal, however, has sparked anger from local activist organizations. A joint statement issued by leaders of the Greater Boston Latino Network, Amplify Latinx, the Asian American Women’s Political Caucus and the Boston chapter of the NAACP denounced the decision to remove Chang-Diaz, the only woman of color in the 40-member state senate.

“The decision to remove Senator Chang-Diaz from this important Committee raises serious concerns about the State Legislature’s commitment to our children, particularly English language learners, children from low-income families, and children of color,” the statement read. “By removing the most visible and vocal supporter for communities of color from this Committee, we are left without an advocate who will champion the issues that impact our most vulnerable children during one of the most important education equity decisions of our time.”

Chang-Diaz announced her Education PROMISE bill last month, which would create a minimum level of district funding across the state as well as implement all of the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, a commission that released a report on the state’s district funding guidelines in 2015. The senator said that the bill could add up to $2 billion to the state education budget.

The bill was filed shortly before Governor Charlie Baker announced his education finance plan, which would similarly up the levels of funding for school districts across the state, but was criticized at the time for not going far enough.

Either education plan would be the largest overhaul to the state’s education budget since the 1993 Education Reform Act.

Senate President Karen Spilka released a statement regarding Chang-Diaz’s removal from the Education Committee, saying that the Senate has been leading the implementation of the FBRC recommendations for the last three years.

“The Senate remains resolute in our commitment to fully implementing the FBRC recommendations and making meaningful progress towards that goal in this year’s budget,” Spilka said. “Senator Chang-Diaz will continue to play a vital role as the Senate moves this priority forward.”

The minority activists said in their statement that their anger is not directed just toward the removal of Chang-Diaz from the Education Committee, but also toward a larger trend in the state Legislature of putting aside minorities.

“In this moment, [Chang-Diaz] serves as the latest example of how people of color — especially women of color — are subject to rebuke for representing us too fiercely and too well,” they said. “We demand that the State Legislature immediately bring greater racial diversity, including women of color, to its leadership and to the Education Committee so we can be assured that our voices are heard, our issues are addressed, and that our Legislature is working for all of us.”

Chang-Diaz’s reassignment is part of a broader shakeup undertaken by Spilka, who tapped conservative-leaning Sen. Michael Rodrigues to head the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Spilka also removed progressive Sen. Pat Jehlen as majority leader, replacing her with Sen. Michael Rush.

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