House’s budget bill would make key investments in municipal and school aid

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The House Ways and Means Committee this afternoon released a $40.3 billion fiscal 2018 state budget plan that would increase overall state expenditures by 3.8 percent.
 
The House Ways and Means budget (H. 3600) is $180 million smaller than the budget filed by the governor in January, but it would make progress on a number of local aid priorities, including the full $40 million increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid that the governor proposed and communities are counting on.
 
The House bill’s Chapter 70 education aid proposal is $15 million above the governor’s recommendation. Under the House plan, school districts would, at a minimum, receive an aid increase of $30 per student.
 
The bill would also add $4 million to the Special Education Circuit Breaker account and $1 million to regional school transportation.
 
The full House will debate the budget plan during the week of April 24.
 
Link to DLS website for proposed Chapter 70 and Unrestricted General Government Aid amounts for each community
 
Unrestricted municipal aid
H. 3600 would provide $1.06 billion for UGGA, a $40 million increase over the current fiscal year. The 3.9 percent increase, which matches the projected growth in state tax collections next year, would be the second-largest increase in discretionary municipal aid in nearly a decade. Every city and town would see a 3.9 percent increase in their UGGA funding.
 
Chapter 70
The House budget committee is proposing a $106.4 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid, with a provision that every city, town and school district receive an increase of at least $30 per student (compared to the $20-per-student amount in the governor’s budget).
 
The House budget bill would continue to implement the target share provisions enacted in 2007 and would build on the governor’s initial proposal to start addressing shortfalls in the foundation budget framework, by increasing the cost factors for employee health insurance.
 
In the context of a tight budget year, the House budget committee’s increase in Chapter 70 funding is welcome news for cities and towns. Over the long-term, the MMA will work to build on this increase and prioritize full funding for the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission.
 
Special education circuit breaker
House leaders have announced that they support increased funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program. The House budget plan would provide $281 million in total, although this is still short of full funding for a program that every city, town and school district relies on to fund state-mandated services. The MMA will work to continue building on this increase.
 
Regional school transportation
The House Ways and Means budget would add $1 million to bring regional transportation reimbursements up to $62 million. The MMA will work to continue building on this increase.
 
Charter school reimbursements
The budgets filed by the governor and the House Ways and Means Committee would both level-fund charter school reimbursements at $80.5 million, far below the amount necessary to fully fund the statutory formula that was originally established to offset a portion of the funding that communities are required to transfer to charter schools.
 
The fiscal 2017 funding level is $54 million below what is necessary to fund the reimbursement formula that is written into state law.
 
If this program is level-funded, the shortfall will grow to an estimated $67.1 million in fiscal 2018. The MMA maintains that this would lead to the continued and growing diversion of Chapter 70 funds away from municipally operated school districts, and place greater strain on the districts that serve 96 percent of public schoolchildren. The MMA argues that solving the charter school funding problem must be a major priority during the budget debate.
 
PILOT, library aid, METCO, McKinney-Vento, Shannon grants
The House budget committee’s proposal would level-fund payments-in-lieu-of-taxes at $26.77 million, add $600,000 to library grant programs, add $500,000 to METCO, and level-fund McKinney-Vento reimbursements at $8.35 million.
 
The budget bill would reduce Shannon Anti-Gang Grants to $5 million, however, a $1 million reduction.