House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz briefed reporters Wednesday on his committee’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget. (Photo credit: Sam Doran/State House News Service)

The House Ways and Means Committee reported out a $42.7 billion fiscal 2020 state budget plan today that would increase overall state expenditures by 3 percent.

The budget’s bottom line is close to the budget filed by Gov. Charlie Baker in January, but it allocates significantly more for school aid programs. The Chapter 70 aid increase of $218 million is $17.7 million higher than the increase recommended by the governor.

The House plan (H. 3800) would increase minimum new education aid from the governor’s proposed $20 per student to $30 per student. It would also adopt a slightly different method of implementing the 2015 recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

The House bill would make progress on many important local aid priorities, including the full $29.7 million increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid, which the governor proposed and communities are counting on.

The House bill would increase funding for other major aid programs, adding $5 million to the Special Education Circuit Breaker, $5 million to Regional School Transportation, and $1 million to student transportation reimbursements under McKinney-Vento.

The Division of Local Services is expected to post each community’s local aid and preliminary Cherry Sheet numbers based on the House Ways and Means budget late this week or early next week. The data can be found here: www.mass.gov/lists/cherry-sheet-estimates.

See UGGA and Chapter 70 amounts (Section 3 of H. 3800) for each city, town and regional school district

After the filing of amendments, the full House is scheduled to debate the fiscal 2020 state budget during the week of April 22.

Unrestricted municipal aid
The House’s fiscal 2020 budget plan would provide $1.128 billion for UGGA, a $29.7 million increase over current funding (the same as proposed by Gov. Baker). The $29.7 million would increase UGGA funding by 2.7 percent, which matches the projected growth in state tax collections next year. Every city and town would see its UGGA funding increase by 2.7 percent.

Chapter 70
The House budget committee is proposing a $218 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid ($17.7 million higher than the governor’s $200.3 million), with a provision that every city, town and school district receive an increase of at least $30 per student. While this represents meaningful progress, most communities would only receive the minimum aid increase. MMA members adopted a resolution in January calling for $100 in per-student aid as a minimum increase.

School finance legislation
House leaders are committed to action on major permanent updates to the Chapter 70 school finance formula this year, but that legislation is still before the Joint Committee on Education and will not be ready for debate until after the House budget moves forward. Because of this, the House Ways and Means budget is taking a one-year approach to more aggressively implement many of the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, but is not advancing permanent law changes, which will come as part of the school finance bill.

The budget committee’s proposal builds on the governor’s fiscal 2020 submission, increasing the state’s factors for health insurance, special education, English Language Learners, and low-income students. Because the House uses slightly different methodology than the governor, Chapter 70 calculations may be slightly different for some communities and districts (not the minimum-aid communities).

In addition, the House budget committee is proposing a $16.5 million reserve fund for low-income student adjustments to ensure that low-income students are accurately counted and additional funds are available to fund low-income student formula changes that may come later.

Charter school reimbursements
The House bill proposes a $23 million increase in charter school reimbursements, bringing the program from $90 million for the current year up to $113 million. This is $7 million more than the governor proposed. This is still far below full funding of the statutory formula, however.

The House budget committee is also adopting the governor’s recommendation to change the six-year charter school reimbursement funding schedule (at 100-25-25-25-25-25) to a new three-year schedule (at 100-60-40), and make other adjustments in the program. Because there are so many factors in play, municipal leaders will need to analyze their own specific charter school tuition assessments and reimbursement amounts to see if this proposal provides relief.

The MMA continues to argue that the charter school finance system is deeply flawed and that a permanent fix should include a cap on Chapter 70 diversions to charter schools. No matter what changes are made to the Chapter 70 formula, problems will continue unless a charter school funding resolution is integrated into any reform or update of the school finance system.

Special Education Circuit Breaker
The House budget would fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker program at $328.9 million, $5 million more than the governor proposed. The governor’s budget would underfunded these reimbursements by $20 million, while the House plan would leave the account $15 million below full funding. The MMA will again be asking lawmakers to ensure full funding in fiscal 2020.

Regional school transportation
Gov. Baker’s budget would level-fund regional transportation reimbursements at $68.9 million, and the House plan would provide a $5 million increase. Reimbursements for transportation of out-of-district vocational students remains significantly underfunded at $250,000. Increasing these accounts is a priority for cities and towns.

McKinney-Vento
The governor’s budget would level-fund reimbursements for the transportation of homeless students at $9.1 million, and the House proposal would raise this to $10.1 million. The impact of this funding level would vary from community to community, depending on the number of homeless families that remain sheltered in local hotels and motels. The state has been successful in reducing the number of homeless students who are dislocated from their original district, but communities that continue to provide transportation to many students may continue to see a shortfall.

PILOT, library aid, Shannon grants
The governor’s and the House plans would level-fund payments in lieu of taxes at $28.48 million, which would create a hardship for smaller communities with large amounts of state-owned property.

Library grant programs would stay flat at $19.8 million.

Shannon anti-gang grants would increase by $1 million, to $9 million.

Link to House Ways and Means Committee budget proposal
https://malegislature.gov/Budget/FY2020/HouseWaysMeansBudget