The House Ways and Means Committee this afternoon advanced its $47.65 billion fiscal 2022 state budget plan to the full House for consideration later this month.

The House plan (H. 4000) would increase overall state expenditures by 2.6% over the current year’s budget, and reflects a 3.9% increase over the budget proposal filed by Gov. Charlie Baker in January (House 1).

The budget matches the governor’s 3.5% increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid (a $39.5 million increase over fiscal 2021), significantly increases Chapter 70 school aid and charter school reimbursements, and includes $55 million for new grant programs.

H. 4000 mirrors the governor’s proposed increase for the Special Education Circuit Breaker, with an increase of $22.5 million over fiscal 2021.

House members must file all budget amendments by 5 p.m. this Friday, and the House will begin its budget debate on April 26. The House usually considers more than 1,000 amendments during budget debate week.

The House Ways and Means budget would add $21 million to Chapter 70 aid above the House 1 recommendation, for a total increase of $219 million; $37 million in additional funds for charter school mitigation payments; and an additional $1 million for McKinney-Vento transportation for homeless students.

To acknowledge student enrollment declines due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, H. 4000 would set aside $40 million in a one-time reserve account to assist districts impacted by the decline, as well as $15 million in one-time grant funding for summer school and student mental health support.

The budget would also provide an increase of $1 million for public libraries and $1 million for regional public libraries. H. 4000 also proposes a $2 million increase for payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land.

The Division of Local Services will soon be posting preliminary Cherry Sheet numbers for cities, towns and regional school districts based on the House Ways and Means budget.

The House plan would provide $1.168 billion for Unrestricted General Government Aid, the same increase as proposed by Gov. Baker. The chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means committees last week announced an agreement on this amount, and every city and town will see its UGGA funding increase by 3.5%.

Chapter 70
H. 4000 would fund the “goal rates” originally set forth in the Student Opportunity Act, which set a seven-year schedule that was to begin in fiscal 2021 but was sidelined last year due to the public health emergency. To get back on track, the MMA joined with other education advocates to ask the Legislature to fund Chapter 70 at an SOA implementation rate of one-sixth rather than one-seventh in order to return to the intended schedule.

The House-Senate local aid agreement included a commitment to fund the Student Opportunity Act increases at one-sixth, funding Chapter 70 at a total of $5.503 billion. While this is important progress for districts, most districts remain at minimum aid.

Charter schools
H. 4000 proposes a total of $154 million for charter school mitigation payments, an increase of $37 million over the current fiscal year.

The MMA points out that charter school finance still presents a major challenge to many districts, in a number of cases negating the increases districts realize in Chapter 70 aid.

Special education
In line with House 1, the House Ways and Means Committee’s budget includes $367 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker account, a $22.5 million increase over fiscal 2021. The Student Opportunity Act expanded the circuit breaker by including out-of-district transportation, an important enhancement for cities and towns.

School transportation
The House Ways and Means budget would level-fund regional school transportation at $82 million.

The budget would increase transportation for homeless students under McKinney-Vento by $1 million, to $14.4 million.

There is no line item for out-of-district vocational transportation, which last year was funded at $250,000.

PILOT and library aid
H. 4000 would increase the line item for Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes for state-owned land by $2 million to $33 million. House 1 had recommended level-funding.

The MMA argues that underfunding PILOT over the years has created a significant hardship for smaller communities with large amounts of state-owned property.

The accounts for public libraries and regional public libraries would each see an increase of $1 million under H. 4000.

“It is clear that House leaders are prioritizing K-12 funding and other increases for cities and towns, as they advance an agenda to ensure stability during a time of uncertainty,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “The local funding aid agreement reached by the Joint Ways and Means Committee last week, including commitments to UGGA, Chapter 70, and the acknowledgement of school enrollment challenges, will create a more stable budget-setting process for cities and towns in the weeks and months ahead. This progress is deeply appreciated.”

The MMA will continue to advocate for full funding of the education funding priorities outlined in the Student Opportunity Act, fixing the problems caused by the current charter school system, securing higher Chapter 70 minimum aid increases, achieving full funding for all municipal and school reimbursement programs, and providing higher PILOT funding.