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Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
Gov. Maura Healey today signed a $56 billion state budget bill for fiscal 2024 that increases unrestricted local aid by 3.2% over fiscal 2023 and boosts Chapter 70 education aid by $603 million.
The budget was enacted by the Legislature on July 31. The governor vetoed $205 million in net spending and signed 103 of the bill’s 112 outside sections.
The budget increases Unrestricted General Government Aid to $1.27 billion and Chapter 70 education aid to $6.5 billion for fiscal 2024. It also increases the Rural School Aid account by $15 million, while fully funding the Special Education Circuit Breaker account and charter school mitigation payments.
The budget creates a spending plan for the $1 billion in anticipated revenue from the voter-approved surtax on annual incomes over $1 million, which, by law, can be spent on transportation and education programs. The plan includes significant new investments benefitting cities and towns, including $100 million for local road and bridge maintenance, $100 million for relief from extraordinary school building project increases, $50 million for a new Green School Works grant program, and $172 million to codify and fund universal free school meals. Along with the formula funding in the recently signed Chapter 90 bond bill, cities and towns now have a total of $325 million in reimbursement funding available for local road and bridge projects in fiscal 2024.
The Division of Local Services has published local aid estimates for cities, towns and regional school districts based on the budget signed by the governor.
The state had been operating on temporary budgets since the fiscal year began on July 1.
On education aid, the budget commits to funding the Student Opportunity Act according to the originally intended schedule. In recognition of the challenges facing 119 “minimum aid” districts that would have received only a $30 per student increase over the previous year, the budget doubles the minimum aid increase to $60 per student.
Special Education Circuit Breaker
The budget fully funds Special Education Circuit Breaker, which reimburses school districts for the high cost of educating students with disabilities. The governor reduced this item by $5.6 million, but would attain full funding by using $5.6 million of unspent fiscal 2023 funds, for a total of $504.5 million. The Legislature could consider a veto override on this action in the coming months.
Charter school mitigation payments
The budget includes $232 million for charter school mitigation payments, which funds the state’s statutory obligation as outlined in the Student Opportunity Act.
The budget funds regional school transportation at $97 million, representing a reimbursement rate of 90% of fiscal 2024 costs as estimated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The budget fully funds the McKinney-Vento account for transportation of homeless students at $28.6 million, and increases funding for out-of-district vocational transportation to $1 million.
The budget funds Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes for state-owned land at $51.5 million, an amount that holds communities harmless from recent property valuation increases.
Rural School Aid
The budget includes $15 million for Rural School Aid to provide assistance to eligible towns and regional school districts. The grants will help schools that are facing the challenge of declining enrollment identify ways to form regional school districts or regionalize certain school services to create efficiencies.
Fair Share Revenue
The budget includes $1 billion in spending from anticipated revenue generated by the voter-approved Fair Share Amendment, which took effect on Jan. 1 of this year and is intended to fund education and transportation programs. This spending includes the following funding for municipalities:
• $100 million in supplemental aid to support the construction and maintenance of municipal roadways, with at least half of the funding distributed based on each municipality’s total share of road mileage and the remainder distributed through the Chapter 90 formula
• $100 million in supplemental grants for school construction projects already approved for financing by the Massachusetts School Building Authority to address significant and unanticipated cost escalations in recent years that are having an adverse impact on previously approved projects
• $69 million to help codify the universal school meals program, which would provide free lunches at public schools for all students, regardless of household income
• $50 million for a Green School Works grant program, administered through the DESE, to provide financial support to K-12 districts to install or maintain clean energy infrastructure, which will help to support local climate action and promote energy efficiency
MassHealth Crossover Payments for EMS
The budget also included an outside section to provide financial relief for emergency medical service providers for the transport of patients who are eligible for both Medicare and MassHealth. The section would provide “MassHealth crossover” reimbursements for dual-eligible transports, which would provide additional assistance to emergency medical services providers to support ongoing efforts to recruit and retain staff.
The governor returned this section to the Legislature with a technical amendment intended to maximize federal reimbursement and the total fiscal impact of the relief to emergency medical service providers.
The MMA has partnered with the Fire Chiefs of Massachusetts, Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Ambulance Association in support of this provision, and will continue to work with these stakeholders to get the updated language adopted by the Legislature in the coming months.