Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues briefs reporters on his committee’s budget proposal.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues briefs reporters on his committee’s budget proposal. (Photo by Sam Doran of State House News Service)

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

The bill’s bottom line closely matches the budgets filed by the governor in January and passed by the House last month, but it would allocate more for school aid programs.

S. 3 (the Senate budget bill) would make progress on many local aid priorities, including the full $29.7 million increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid that communities are counting on.

S. 3 would increase Chapter 70 school aid by $268.4 million above fiscal 2019 levels, provide full funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program (a $25.7 million increase), increase regional school transportation reimbursements by $5 million, and increase payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) by $1.5 million.

The budget’s $10 million increase for charter school reimbursements, however, is $13 million lower than the House-set amount, which could offset some of the gains for a number of cities and towns, and minimum aid communities could see a larger net loss to charter schools. Municipal officials will need to review their preliminary Cherry Sheet information to see the impact. (The Division of Local Services is expected to post preliminary Cherry Sheets later this week at www.mass.gov/lists/cherry-sheet-estimates).

Overall, the Senate Ways and Means Committee budget would increase key municipal and school aid accounts by $327 million above fiscal 2019 levels and by $92.2 million above the governor’s budget plan.

Unrestricted municipal aid
S. 3 would provide $1.128 billion for UGGA in fiscal 2020, a $29.7 million increase over fiscal 2019. This is the same increase proposed by the House and Gov. Charlie Baker. UGGA would grow by 2.7 percent, matching the projected growth in state tax collections for next year. Every city and town would see its UGGA funding increase by 2.7 percent.

Chapter 70
The Senate budget committee is proposing a $268.4 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid – $68 million more than the governor’s budget and $50.4 million more than the House budget – with a provision to provide every city, town and school district with an increase of at least $30 per student (the same as the House plan and higher than the governor’s proposed $20 per student).

The increase represents progress, but a majority of cities and towns would receive only minimum additional aid. The MMA has been calling for a minimum increase of $100 per student, a position adopted by the MMA membership in January.

Compared to other budget plans, S. 3 adopts a more aggressive method of implementing the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, especially in funding for low-income students. While the Senate budget bill would provide $50.4 million more for Chapter 70 than the House budget, the increase would be partially achieved by folding the House’s $16.5 million reserve account for low-income students into the Chapter 70 account, so the net difference is approximately $36 million.

School finance package
Senate leaders say they are committed to action on major permanent updates to the Chapter 70 school finance formula this year. That legislation, however, is still before the Joint Committee on Education and will not be ready for deliberation and debate until after the Senate budget moves forward. For now, the Senate budget bill takes a one-year approach to more aggressively implement many of the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, but it does not advance permanent law changes, which will come as part of the school finance bill.

Charter school reimbursements
S. 3 proposes a $10 million increase in charter school reimbursements, bringing the program up to $100 million from the current $90 million. The Senate proposal is $6 million less than the governor proposed and $13 million less than the House adopted, but all three are still far below full funding of the statutory formula.

The Senate bill follows the governor and the House in recommending a change to the six-year funding schedule of 100-25-25-25-25-25, replacing it with a three-year schedule of 100-60-40. 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 provides relief.

The MMA contends 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 resolution of the charter school funding problem is integrated into any reform or update of the school finance system. In the meantime, the MMA is seeking full funding for charter school reimbursements.

Special education circuit breaker
The Senate budget would add $25.7 million to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker program at $345 million. These funds go to every city, town and regional school district.

The governor’s budget would underfund special education reimbursements by $20 million.

Regional school transportation
Gov. Baker’s budget submission would level-funded regional transportation reimbursements at $68.9 million. The Senate bill would provide a much-needed $5 million increase, matching the House budget.
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.

PILOT
The Senate budget bill would increase payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land by $1.5 million, up to $30 million. The governor’s and House budgets would level-fund PILOT payments at $28.48 million. PILOT is an important program for smaller communities with large amounts of state-owned property.

McKinney-Vento, libraries and Shannon grants
S. 3 would level-fund reimbursements for the transportation of homeless students under McKinney-Vento at $9.1 million. The impact of this funding level will 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 shortfalls.

The Senate budget bill would increase library grant programs by $1.5 million, and Shannon anti-gang grants would increase by $1 million, to $9 million.

In the context of a tight budget year, with projected revenue growth of only 2.7 percent, Senate leaders are prioritizing K-12 education funding and other increases for cities and towns.

The MMA will continue to work with legislators to build on the progress and prioritize charter school funding reform, higher minimum aid increases in Chapter 70, and full funding for all municipal and school reimbursement programs.

Senators have until noon on Friday, May 10, to file amendments, and the full Senate is scheduled to debate the budget bill beginning on Tuesday, May 21.

Link to Senate Ways and Means Committee budget website

Download Section 3, with Unrestricted General Government Aid and Chapter 70 amounts for every city, town and school district