Healey budget preview outlines boosts to state education funding

The budget that Gov. Maura Healey will file next week will boost the largest source of state education aid by almost 10% in what the administration said would be the biggest percentage increase since the last millennium.

The general public got a preview of the first Healey-Driscoll state budget on Thursday. The administration shared preliminary local aid estimates based on the spending bill Healey will file by Wednesday.

It was the first detailed look at some of the ways in which the new governor and her administration plan to make some of her priorities and campaign promises reality, and it offered an early check-in on the relationship between the new administration and the 351 cities and towns of Massachusetts.

The governor's fiscal year 2024 budget will propose a total of $8.36 billion for local aid programs, which the administration said would be a $635 million or 8.2% increase over the final budget Gov. Charlie Baker signed for fiscal 2023. Along with $1.26 billion for general government aid (a $24.6 million or 2% increase), cities and towns would share $6.585 billion in Chapter 70 school funding (a $586 million or 9.8% boost).

Both the House and Senate will rewrite the budget before sending a final version back to Healey in the early summer months.

The Healey administration said the Chapter 70 total it will propose represents full funding of the Student Opportunity Act school finance reform law passed in 2019 and, if enacted, would be the largest increase since at least 1999.

"The Student Opportunity Act calls for a historic investment in our schools, our students, our educators and their futures. Additionally, these funds will help cities and towns support their first responders, public works, youth violence prevention programs, housing production, cybersecurity and more," Healey said in a statement.

Administration officials released the local aid preview while Healey is on a family vacation in Florida and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll is visiting family in Georgia.

The fiscal 2024 state budget will mark the third budget cycle for the Student Opportunity Act, which aims to address education equity gaps with $1.5 billion in new funds rolled out over a seven-year span. In her first appearance before the Massachusetts Municipal Association last month, the governor pledged she would fully fund the landmark 2019 K-12 education funding law.

"We know that the pandemic hit every student, every family and it widened disparities that existed in the first place," Healey said in January. "We need to really focus on getting our students back on track. Luckily, we have the Student Opportunity Act and federal aid that we'll rely on. The challenge is helping our school districts deploy those funds as quickly and as effectively as possible."

budget brief produced by the Executive Office for Administration and Finance said that the governor's budget would also "recommend a temporary change to allow school districts greater flexibility to spend nearly $1.5 billion in expiring federal funds and better coordinate funding streams without facing state financial penalties." Much of the roughly $2.9 billion in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money provided to Massachusetts school systems remains unspent.

The first Healey budget will also increase funding for school transportation reimbursement programs by $25.5 million or 24% over the current budget. The $97 million proposed for regional school transportation reimbursement would increase the state's reimbursement from about 80% to 90% of local costs, the $5.2 million for non-resident pupil transportation for vocational schools would increase the reimbursed share of those costs from less than 5% to 90%, and $28.7 million for homeless student transportation reimbursement would have the state footing 100% of those costs.

The budget will also fully fund charter school reimbursements at $243 million and provide $7.5 million for rural school aid, a $2 million or 36% increase over fiscal 2023, the administration said.

"By fully funding the Student Opportunity Act, Governor Healey and Lieutenant Governor Driscoll are sending a clear message that they are ready and able to support municipalities in our efforts to offer every student a high-quality education," said Revere Mayor and Massachusetts Mayors' Association President Brian Arrigo in a statement. "I'm also grateful to see the administration take action to address a number of challenges municipalities are currently facing, from the high cost of special education to the difficulties we face regarding student transportation."


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