The Senate Ways and Means Committee this afternoon advanced its $47.6 billion fiscal 2022 state budget plan to the full Senate for consideration starting on May 25.

The Senate Ways and Means budget bill (S. 3) would increase overall state expenditures by 2.6% over the current year’s budget, and reflects a 4.3% increase over the budget proposal filed by Gov. Charlie Baker in January (H. 1).

Senators must file all budget amendments by 2 p.m. this Friday. Debate is scheduled to start on Tuesday, May 25, and is expected to wrap up by the end of the month. The Senate usually considers more than 1,000 amendments during budget debate week.

Local aid agreement
In early April, House and Senate budget writers announced a local aid agreement that matched the governor’s 3.5% increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid (a $39.5 million increase over fiscal 2021), significant increases in Chapter 70 school aid and charter school reimbursements, and $40 million for a one-time grant program to address school enrollment decline during the pandemic.

The budget approved by the House last month (H. 4001) and the Senate Ways and Means Committee recommendation (S. 3) are both consistent with the agreement.

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

Chapter 70
The Senate budget plan would increase Chapter 70 aid by $220 million over fiscal 2021, bringing the total to $5.503 billion.

S. 3 would fund the “goal rates” originally set forth in the Student Opportunity Act, which established 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 a Student Opportunity Act 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. While this is important progress for districts, many districts would remain at minimum aid.

S. 3 includes a one-time provision, introduced in the governor’s budget, that would allow municipalities to use a portion of their school district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) federal grant award toward the increase from last year in their required local contribution.

Rural school aid
S. 3 would fund rural school aid at $3 million, reinserting an important account for rural school districts, especially those struggling with declining enrollment. The governor’s budget funded this account at $1.5 million, half of the fiscal 2021 appropriation.

Special Education Circuit Breaker
S. 3 would provide $387.9 million, including funds carried over from the previous year, for the Special Education Circuit Breaker, reimbursing school districts for the high cost of educating students with disabilities at the statutorily required 75% reimbursement rate. This reimbursement rate, as well as the inclusion of costs associated with out-of-district transportation, reflect obligations outlined in the Student Opportunity Act.

Charter schools
To address charter school mitigation payments, S. 3 includes $149.1 million to reimburse school districts at 75%, the rate set forth in year one of the Student Opportunity Act implementation schedule, for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools. 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.

School transportation
The Senate Ways and Means budget would fund regional school transportation at $78.6 million, whereas the final House budget would provide $82 million.

S. 3 would increase funding for the transportation of homeless students under McKinney-Vento by $1 million over fiscal 2021, to $14.4 million.

Out-of-district vocational transportation would be level-funded at $250,000.

Recognizing the importance of Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land, the Senate Ways and Means Committee increased the line item to $35 million (a $4 million increase over fiscal 2021). The governor’s budget had recommended level-funding at $31 million, and the House had increased the account to $33 million. Underfunding PILOT over the years has created a significant hardship for smaller communities with large amounts of state-owned property.

Shannon Grants, cybersecurity, and library aid
S. 3 would level-fund Shannon grants for gang violence prevention and intervention.

The bill includes important funding for the Mass Cybersecurity Innovation Fund, which provides much-needed outreach and training programs for municipalities.

The accounts for public libraries and regional public libraries would each see an increase of $1 million, matching the House appropriation.

“It is clear that Senate leaders are prioritizing K-12 funding and other increases for cities and towns, as municipalities simultaneously respond to the pandemic, while they also start to recover from it,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “The local funding aid agreement reached by the Joint Ways and Means Committee in early April, including commitments to UGGA, Chapter 70, and the acknowledgement of school enrollment challenges, created a more stable budget-setting process for cities and towns. This certainty was 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, including transportation accounts, and providing higher PILOT funding.

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