School funding law leads Baker to propose $304M in new aid

Boston Statehouse

Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled his fiscal 2021 budget proposal on Wednesday, saying it will fully fund the first year of local school aid under the 2019 education reform law. (Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker’s first state budget after the signing of an education funding reform law in November proposed to boost K-12 school aid by 6 percent, or more than $300 million.

The $44.6 billion spending plan, which House and Senate lawmakers will redraft and debate in the spring, includes $355 million in new spending associated with the funding overhaul. The bulk of that money comes in the form of a $303.5 million increase to Chapter 70 aid for local schools, bringing that account to a total of $5.48 billion.

“After a year of hard work with the Legislature, I signed a groundbreaking bill into law that will dedicate $1.5 billion in new funding to K through 12 education over seven years,” Baker said at a press conference where he outlined his budget. He said this year’s budget “will fully fund the first year of the Student Opportunity Act.”

Baker’s fiscal 2021 budget also recommends an increase of 20 percent, or $23.2 million, in charter school tuition reimbursements, and an additional $17.3 million, or a 5 percent increase for so-called “circuit breaker” special education reimbursements. There is $10 million for a Twenty-First Century Education Trust Fund established in the Student Opportunity Act, and $1 million for data analysis and sharing, with the goal of using the data in future education policy decisions.

Closing achievement gaps and providing resources to districts educating low-income students were main focal points of the reform law. The specifics of the school funding formula mean that not all districts will benefit to the same degree. All districts, according to Baker’s budget office, will receive at least $30 per student more than this fiscal year.

Preliminary local estimates peg Lexington’s Chapter 70 estimates under Baker’s proposal at nearly $14.7 million, a 1.5 percent increase over this year. In Everett, which has a similar number of students, the Chapter 70 estimate is almost $80.9 million, a 7.8 percent jump from this year.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the $303.5 million in new Chapter 70 money “sets the stage for sustainably implementing” all the provisions of the funding reform law, while Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Eileen McAnneny — whose organization earlier this month put forward a $428 million estimate for a Chapter 70 hike under the new law — said she wants to “unpack” the governor’s school funding recommendations.

Baker said that in addition to adding new money to the budget, it’s “equally important” to make sure that money “is well spent.”

“Under the direction of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, our administration will work to ensure that schools utilize proven strategies for student success, ensuring accountability across the commonwealth so each student gets the quality education they deserve,” Baker said.

Aside from investments required by the new law, Baker’s budget features other education initiatives, including $8.4 million for a vocational high school effort Baker announced Tuesday in his State of the Commonwealth speech. Making vocational training more available to adults and traditional high school students will train 20,000 new workers, officials say.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito highlighted the budget’s $1.5 milion for a STEM pipeline fund to increase student internships and support evidence-based curriculum and professional development around science, technology, education and math.

“STEM is clearly everywhere, and we need to provide the under-represented populations — women, communities of color — with the tools and resources necessary to start them on a pipeline of success in STEM and these industries that continue to grow and allow them an opportunity for more applied learning, critical thinking and problem-solving skills that every employer’s looking for across the commonwealth,” she said.

On higher education, Baker proposed a new $5 million needs-based scholarship for Pell Grant-eligible students, and a $1.3 million increase for financial aid and fee waivers for students currently or previously in Department of Children and Families custody. He is recommending an 8 percent, or $55.1 million increase, for Department of Early Education spending.

The Fund Our Future campaign, a coalition that advocated this year for K-12 funding reform, said in a statement that its members were pleased by Baker’s recommendations in that area, but said his higher education proposal “fails to meet students’ needs.”

Baker’s office said the $1.316 billion in funding for the Department of Higher Education, University of Massachusetts, and state universities and community colleges represents a $33.2 million, or 3 percent, increase over this year’s budget. The UMass system is targeted for a 1 percent increase, plus the cost of collective bargaining, officials said.

“The marginal campus budget increases and miniscule new college affordability initiatives he proposes fall far short of the major investments needed to remedy our state’s public higher education funding crisis,” the Fund Our Future statement said. “Even as we begin to finally provide our K-12 schools with adequate funding, the graduates of those schools are still entering public colleges and universities that are deeply underfunded and increasingly unaffordable.”

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