MTA analysis of House Ways and Means FY 2018 budget

The House Ways and Means Committee released its Fiscal Year 2018 budget on Monday, April 10. The bill proposes $40.328 billion in spending, an increase of $1.472 billion, or 3.8 percent, over the current fiscal year.

The appropriations bill serves as the benchmark for the House’s budget debate, which will take place the week of April 23.

Members of the Massachusetts Legislature may file amendments to the budget, which will then be subject to debate and review. The filing deadline for amendments is Thursday, April 13.

It is important to note that the House Ways and Means budget is about $180 million less than Governor Charlie Baker’s budget proposal, released Jan. 25. This is an indication that the House intends to add spending through the debate process.

Here is a summary of the key elements of the budget affecting public education.

K-12 Education

Chapter 70 aid to municipalities and regional school districts

The HWM budget proposes to increase Chapter 70 funding by $106.3 million over FY17, an increase of 2.3 percent. In January, the governor proposed an increase of $91.4 million, or approximately 2 percent. The HWM increase fully funds the current foundation budget requirement for each school district and provides a minimum increase of $30 per pupil for every district.

In addition, the HWM bill also makes small increases in allocations for employee benefits, including health care, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission.

The proposal also addresses the ongoing issue of counting low-income students, a shift made last spring for the current fiscal year budget. The HWM proposal provides $12.5 million to mitigate the impact on districts and charter schools that would have received more funding under the previous method of counting low-income students.

In light of their very modest increases, both the governor’s and the HWM budget proposals fall well short of the funding levels recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission. When fully implemented, the recommendations of the FBRC would amend the state’s current education funding formula, commonly known as the Chapter 70 formula, and add approximately $1 billion statewide to the foundation budget. In an effort to move forward, the MTA worked with Senator Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury) to file S.308, An Act strengthening and investing in our educators, students and communities. More information about the bill may be found here.

Education Programs

The HWM budget continues a trend in recent years of reducing non-Chapter 70 programs available to school districts in the form of grants and outside programming.

Programs eliminated in this budget include:

  • Concurrent enrollment for students with disabilities – $1,915,235
  • Center for Collaborative Education – $1,050,000
  • Child Sex Abuse Prevention – $150,000
  • Innovation Schools – $1,050,000

Programs receiving funding cuts in FY18 include:

  • Literacy Program – cut by $1,850,611
  • School-to-Work Activities – cut by $3,198,750
  • Adult Basic Education – cut by $1,736,139
  • Bay State Reading Institute – cut by $950,000
  • English Language Acquisition – cut by $862,028
  • School Breakfast Program – cut by $504,877

Like the governor’s, the House committee’s proposal provides an additional $5.3 million, or a 20.9 percent increase, over the current fiscal year for MCAS testing.

Regional school transportation receives a modest increase of $1 million in the HWM proposal, which is still anticipated to be short of actual need. The Special Education Circuit Breaker is funded at $281 million, which is in line with current estimates.

The MTA plans to work with legislators to address overall funding levels and will seek a Chapter 70 increase that is more in line with overall growth in the state budget.

Higher Education

Taking remitted tuition into account, the HWM Budget includes a 1.2 percent increase for higher education operations over FY17, including a 1 percent increase to UMass, 0.9 percent to state universities and 1.9 percent to community colleges. These are the same funding increases recommended by the governor. The main scholarship program was increased by 1 percent, or just shy of $1 million, over the current fiscal year for a total of $96.5 million.

Based on budget proposals submitted by higher education institutions, it appears that proposed appropriations in the HWM budget fall short of anticipated need. The MTA will work with legislators on budget amendments to increase funding for each campus. In addition, the MTA  plans to seek an amendment that would provide funding to address over-reliance on adjunct faculty as outlined in the legislative package approved by the Board of Directors.

Underfunding of public higher education is a perennial issue in the Commonwealth. To try to alleviate both the issue of campus funding (including benefits for employees) and high student debt, the MTA supports An Act investing in public higher education. More information about the bill may be found here.

Employee Health Insurance and Sick Leave

Health insurance premium splits for state employees remain the same in the HWM budget. In addition, the proposal does not include a provision filed by the governor in his budget that would have capped accrued sick time at 1,000 hours, or six months of work.

HWM increases Chapter 70 funding for municipalities and regional school districts by 2.1 percent. This is approximately $24 million more than the governor proposed. Like the governor, HWM makes two key changes to the low-income component of the foundation budget, a move that reduced potential funding for a number of districts. However, unlike the governor’s budget, HWM provides funds to mitigate the impact on negatively impacted districts.

Pensions

Funding for teacher and state employee pension systems is increased in the governor’s bill, House 1. Proposed annual funding for FY18 is $2.34 billion.

Like the governor’s budget, the HWM proposal provides a 3 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment on the first $13,000 in pension benefits for retired members of the state and for those covered by teacher retirement systems.

Despite these increases, retiree pensions do not keep pace with inflation or the rising costs of health care. To help address this, the MTA supports An Act to provide fair and affordable public retiree benefits. More information about the bill may be found here.

Early Education

The HWM bill increases funding for early education and care by $9.3 million, a 1.6 percent increase over the current appropriation. In contrast, Governor Baker’s budget proposal proposed essentially no new funds for early education.

Of note is a provision that would expand eligibility guidelines to allow for-profit child care providers access to the Commonwealth’s Child Care Quality Fund. The fund, which is supported by registration fees from the “Invest in Children” license plates, currently provides grants to nonprofit child care providers.

The current program was created “for the purpose of improving child care services including, but not limited to, teacher training, training and education of consumers and parents, the purchase of educational curricula and materials, specialized training for bilingual and bicultural providers and consumers, and technical assistance for acquiring accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.” Should this change be enacted, the impact on the availability of funds for nonprofit providers is unclear.

  • Safe and Supportive Schools Grants – cut by $200,000
  • Targeted Intervention Programs – cut by $983,955