The House Ways and Means Committee today released a $57.9 billion state spending plan for fiscal 2025 that includes several important investments in schools and municipalities despite state revenue expectations that are more modest than in recent years.

The House Ways and Means proposal (H. 4600) would make progress on a top local aid priority by adding $37 million to lift the per-pupil minimum new aid amount from $30 per student to $104. This is welcome news for 228 districts across the Commonwealth that were statutorily set to receive a Chapter 70 increase of less than $104 per student.

The House bill would increase Unrestricted General Government Aid by 1%, which is lower than the 3% increase proposed by Gov. Maura Healey in the state budget plan she filed in January. During the budget debate over the next couple of months, the MMA will be urging legislators to build on the House’s UGGA proposal, as well as funding for other key municipal accounts.

Later this week, the Division of Local Services will be updating Preliminary Cherry Sheets to reflect the House Ways and Means proposal.

The following are key components of the House bill for cities and towns:

The House bill’s proposed 1% increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid would be a $12.7 million increase over the current fiscal year, but below the governor’s proposed $38.1 million increase for fiscal 2025.

Chapter 70
The House bill would continue implementation of the funding schedules in the 2019 Student Opportunity Act to stay on track for year four of a six-year rollout. The bill would leverage Fair Share surtax revenues for its proposed increase in per pupil spending for minimum aid districts, from $30 per pupil to $104 per pupil, which would benefit 71% of school districts (228 out of 318) that were set to receive an increase of less than $100 per student for fiscal 2025.

Charter schools
The House bill would fund the charter school tuition reimbursement account at $199 million, intended to meet the commitment to fund the state’s statutory obligation to mitigate Chapter 70 losses to charter schools.

Rural School Aid
The House bill would fund Rural School Aid at $7.5 million for eligible towns and regional school districts, a decrease from the $15 million for the current fiscal year. The grant program helps districts facing the challenge of declining enrollment to identify ways to form regional school districts or regionalize certain school services to create efficiencies.

Special Education Circuit Breaker
The House bill would fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker program at $492.2 million, which matches the governor’s proposal. The administration has projected that this amount, along with leveraging $75 million for special education included in the fiscal 2023 closeout supplemental budget in December, should be adequate to meet the state’s statutory obligation for this account.

Regional school transportation
The House bill would fund regional school transportation reimbursements at $99.4 million for fiscal 2025. According to updated cost projections from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the proposal represents an 87% reimbursement of anticipated claims.

The House bill would fund reimbursements for the transportation of homeless students at $28.6 million for fiscal 2025. The impact of this funding level by community will depend on the number of homeless families that remain sheltered in local hotels and motels. According to updated cost projections from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the House proposal represents 74.4% of anticipated claims for fiscal 2025.

Vocational transportation
The House bill does not have a line item for out-of-district vocational transportation, which was funded at $1 million in fiscal 2024.

The House bill would fund payments-in-lieu-of-taxes at $51.8 million, an increase of $334,000. This amount is expected to hold communities harmless from recent valuations.

Surtax investments
Fiscal 2025 is the second year that revenue from the Fair Share amendment surtax will be allocated. The House bill would use $1.3 billion to invest in education and transportation needs, including the following:
• Supplemental local road and bridge funding: $25 million — separate from the annual Chapter 90 bond authorization
• Green School Works: $10 million for a grant program launched in fiscal 2024 to provide financial support to public school districts to install or maintain clean energy infrastructure (administered through DESE)
• Universal School Meals: $190 million to continue the Universal School Meals program, which allows all Massachusetts students to eat for free at school, regardless of household income

Outside sections
The House bill includes an outside section that would establish a permanent Disaster Relief and Resiliency Fund to provide relief to municipalities impacted by extreme weather events. A separate section would direct the state’s comptroller to transfer $14 million from any consolidated net budget surplus for fiscal 2025 to the Disaster Relief and Resiliency Fund.

Another outside section would allow the Massachusetts State Lottery to create an online platform, or iLottery, with the resulting new revenue targeted to early education and care programming. While the programs are very worthwhile, they don’t align with the intended mission of the Lottery for more than 50 years, which is to fund aid to cities and towns.

Next steps
House members have until 5 p.m. on Friday to file budget amendments, and the House budget debate is set to begin on April 24.

The Senate will take up its state budget in May, with the goal of having a final bill on the governor’s desk in time for the start of the fiscal year in July.

The MMA will continue to reach out to local officials in the weeks and months ahead to engage in advocacy efforts on behalf of many critical municipal and school aid programs.

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