House committee releases state budget bill with increases for local accounts

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The House Ways and Means Committee today unveiled a $41 billion state budget plan for fiscal 2019 that would provide a $37.2 million increase for the main municipal aid account and a $125 million increase for Chapter 70 education aid.
 
The House bill (H. 4400) totals $83 million more than the budget filed by the governor in January, and would increase Chapter 70 aid by $21 million above the governor’s recommendation.
 
Chapter 70 funding would grow by 2.6 percent in the House bill, and every school district would receive an increase of at least $30 per student (compared to the $20 per student amount in the governor’s budget).
 
The House bill matches the governor’s proposal of $1.1 billion for Unrestricted General Government Aid, providing an increase of 3.5 percent – the same rate as the projected growth in state tax collections next year. Every city and town would see a 3.5 percent increase in its UGGA funds.
 
The House bill would also provide an increase of $18.8 million for the special education circuit breaker account, $1 million for regional school transportation, and $1 million for McKinney-Vento transportation reimbursements.
 
Budget amendments are due by Friday afternoon, with debate by the full House scheduled for the week of April 23.
 
Link to Division of Local Services for preliminary local aid estimates based on House Ways and Means fiscal 2019 budget bill
 
Link to Division of Local Services for preliminary education aid estimates for regional schools based on House Ways and Means fiscal 2019 budget bill
 
Chapter 70
The House bill would continue to implement the Chapter 70 target share provisions enacted in fiscal 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 by $39 million over fiscal 2018.
 
The MMA strongly supports implementation of all of the recommendations made in 2015 by the Foundation Budget Review Commission to update the Chapter 70 “foundation budget” minimum spending standards for special education and employee health insurance, and to add to the spending standard a measure of recognition for the cost of services for low-income, English language learner (ELL) and other students who would benefit from more intensive services. The commission recommended phasing in the changes over a four-year period, a position the MMA supports as well.
 
Special education circuit breaker
The House budget plan would provide $300 million for the special education circuit breaker program, which is $8.9 million more than was proposed by the governor and $18.8 million more than the fiscal 2018 level. The House plan would still be about $23 million short of full funding in fiscal 2019, however.
 
The MMA maintains that every city, town and school district relies on this important program to fund state-mandated services. The MMA and local leaders will work to build on this increase to get to full funding during the Legislature’s budget deliberations.
 
Charter school reimbursements
The budgets filed by the governor and the House Ways and Means Committee would both underfund charter school reimbursements in fiscal 2019.
 
The House plan would provide $90 million, which is $9.5 million more than the governor’s recommendation to level-fund the program at $80.5 million.
 
Both proposals are far below the amount necessary to fully fund the statutory formula that was established to offset a portion of the funding that communities are required to transfer to charter schools.
 
The fiscal 2018 funding level is $73.4 million below what is necessary to fully fund the reimbursement formula. Under the House plan, the shortfall would grow to an estimated $76.8 million in fiscal 2019. 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 will be working to make solving the charter school funding problem a major priority during the budget debate.
 
Regional school transportation
The House Ways and Means Committee budget would boost regional transportation reimbursements to $62.5 million, whereas the governor proposed level-funding the program at $61.5 million. The MMA will work to continue building on this increase to get to full funding.
 
PILOT, library aid, METCO, McKinney-Vento, anti-gang grants
The House budget committee’s proposal would level-fund payments in lieu of taxes at $26.77 million, provide $91,000 less for library grant programs, add $1.5 million to METCO, and add $1 million for McKinney-Vento reimbursements, for a total of $9.1 million. The House plan would level-fund Shannon anti-gang grants at $6 million.