K-12 and higher education hit hard by Senate budget

The Senate budget proposal released today makes deep cuts in PreK-12 education, local aid and higher education and will "turn the clock back on progress we've made in education over the past decade," according to Catherine A. Boudreau, president of the 97,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association. "All the budget proposals put forth by the governor, the House and the Senate will diminish opportunities for students attending our public schools, colleges and the University of Massachusetts," said Boudreau.

The MTA is continuing to call on the Legislature to approve state tax increases as part of the solution to closing the $3 billion budget gap. "We understand that the Senate cannot initiate a tax bill," said Boudreau, "but we believe that all members of the House and Senate should explain to their constituents that failing to approve a reasonable state tax increase will mean big cuts in school funding and greater pressure for property tax hikes."

Highlights of the Senate budget related to education include the following:

  • The Senate budget cuts Chapter 70 aid for local schools by $120 million, compared to $151 million in the House plan. Under the Senate version, the maximum cut for a district is 15.5 percent, while it is 20 percent in the House version. This is the first time in a decade that the Legislature has proposed cutting state aid for public education. In many communities, the consequences of the cut will include larger class sizes and the elimination of valuable educational programs.
  • The Senate cuts additional assistance and lottery aid by $69 million. That would mean spending 6.2 percent less than in the current budget, and 15 percent ($184 million) less than the amount allocated at the beginning of FY03, prior to the mid-year cuts by Acting Gov. Jane Swift and Gov. Mitt Romney. Up to 50 percent of these local aid funds are spent on education.
  • As in the House budget, early childhood education is cut by $20 million, to a level that is 21 percent below the original FY03 budget. Full-day kindergarten grants are cut by $8.4 million, or 30 percent. The House budget cuts these grants by $4.9 million.
  • Local transportation is eliminated in both the House and Senate budgets, a loss to communities of $52 million. Regional transportation is cut by $12 million in the Senate and by $15.3 million in the House.
  • On the plus side, the Senate budget restores $18 million for class size reduction grants and allocates $45 million for MCAS remediation. The House had eliminated the former and reduced the latter to $10 million. Both chambers allocate more money for special education: $44 million more in the Senate and $59 million more in the House than in FY03.
  • Higher education would be cut by $122 million compared to the original FY03 budget. This would be the third year of cuts for higher education. If approved, FY04 allocations would be $214 million, or 20 percent, less than in FY01. The consequences include higher tuition and fees for students, reductions in full-time faculty and deep cuts to libraries and other educational services.
  • Like the House budget, the Senate budget imposes a "tax" on higher education faculty and staff and other state employees in the form of a reduced state contribution to employee health insurance.