Baker Budget To Fund 2019 School Reform Law

The fiscal year 2022 state budget that Gov. Charlie Baker will file next week will fully fund, for the first time, a major school finance reform law passed in late 2019 to steer $1.5 billion to K-12 schools over seven years, he said Friday.

During his annual address to the Massachusetts Municipal Association on Friday, Baker did not say how much money full funding for the Student Opportunity Act represents, but estimates for the annual cost of the law have ranged from about $300 million to $430 million.

"We're pleased to continue making these important investments in our schools and our communities," Baker said. "Over the past six years we've worked closely with the Legislature to triple the size of our rainy day fund by carefully managing the state's finances, and that's enabled us to make these important investments to and with the people of Massachusetts without raising taxes in the midst of a pandemic."

Last year, before the pandemic hit, Baker proposed a budget that would have increased Chapter 70 aid for local schools by $303.5 million. The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, however, argued that Baker was increasing low-income student support at a slower rate than other categories of aid and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who filed one of the bills on which the Student Opportunity Act was based, said Baker's pre-pandemic proposal did not fully fund "both the letter and spirit of the Student Opportunity Act."

The Student Opportunity Act was supposed to be implemented starting this fiscal year, but weeks of business shutdowns, skyrocketing unemployment and widespread uncertainty this spring had budget managers expecting a big drop in revenue collections. The Baker administration in late July announced that local and school aid would be held at last years level's for fiscal 2021, plus federal dollars made available to help schools reopen and an additional $107 million in school aid to cover inflation and enrollment factors.

The Student Opportunity Act did not create a revenue source for the new funding and left it up to the Legislature to find and include the money in each year's budget.

Baker is expected to file the budget bill on Wednesday and could offer additional insights into what he will propose when he gives his annual State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito told the MMA that the budget Baker files next week will recommend increasing the state's general local aid account by $39.5 million to $1.168 billion, which works out to an increase of $112,535, on average, for all 351 municipalities.

The announcement was in keeping with the Baker administration's past practice to align growth of city and town non-school aid with estimated increases in tax revenue for the coming year. Last week, the administration and Legislature agreed to build fiscal 2022 spending plans on the assumption that state tax revenues will grow by 3.5 percent to an estimated $30.12 billion.

Baker said Friday that his administration has already released $1.36 billion in Chapter 90 funding since taking office and committed to filing a proposal next week for another $200 million in local road and bridge money.

The governor said the $200 million Chapter 90 legislation is "what I would think of as almost a perennial at this point." Baker has routinely filed for $200 million in Chapter 90 funding each year, though some in the Legislature have expressed a desire to increase the annual road funding amount to $300 million — a step municipalities have long implored Beacon Hill to take and one the House and Senate were poised to take this year before scaling back due to the pandemic.



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