MTA Fiscal Year 2023 State Budget & American Rescue Plan Act Priorities
The FY 2023 state budget cycle and the expected appropriation of additional funds from the American Rescue Plan Act provide an unprecedented opportunity for the MTA to continue our campaign to end the decades of disinvestment in public education. This campaign has seen major victories in recent years with the passage of the Student OpportunityAct in 2019 and through the December 2021 ARPA spending bill that included significant investments in college student financial aid, food insecurity and mental health services, and substantial funding for public school, college and university building renovations and safety.
Now is the time to continue this important work by advocating for the full and on-time implementation of the SOA and by turning our attention to investments in public higher education that will address the urgent needs of our institutions, faculty and staff, and the students they serve. Together, we can build on what we have already achieved and fight to solve other significant challenges that currently face students, educators, and families in our preK-16 public education system.
Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Background
On January 26, 2022, Governor Charlie Baker released his Fiscal Year 2023 state budget recommendation, or H.2, which kicked off the Commonwealth’s annual state budget process.
The governor’s proposal rightfully follows the six-year phase in of the Student Opportunity Act adopted by the Legislature in the FY2022 state budget. However, it only partially follows through on funding certain provisions within the SOA related to the charter school reimbursement and special education circuit breaker line items, and does not take into account the true rate of inflation in funding Chapter 70 aid to local school districts. The governor’s proposal also fails to make the substantial investments in the Commonwealth’s colleges and universities that are needed to support students, particularly students of color and working class students, as well as campus operations.
Importantly, the governor’s budget recommendation does make the required transfer to the state and teachers’ retirement systems and authorizes a 3 percent cost-of-living-adjustment on the first $13,000 in pension benefits for retired members of the state and teachers’ retirement systems. In addition, the budget calls for an additional $250 million to be transferred to the state and teachers’ retirement systems should certain revenue benchmarks be met.
Over the coming weeks, the MTA will be strongly urging the House and Senate to address the shortcomings in the governor’s budget and to meaningfully invest in PreK-16 public education as they develop their own FY23 budget proposals. The House is expected to release and pass its budget proposal in April, with the Senate expected to follow in May. The goal is to have a final budget passed by both branches and signed into law by the governor by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2022.
Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Priorities
Reinvestment in Public Higher Education
The Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities have historically been underfunded and currently confront high levels of inflation that will further erode the state support for the cost of higher education. In addition, the pandemic laid bare other forms of structural racism in areas such as housing, health care and childcare, that are having a devastating and disproportionate impact on the state’s Black and Latino students. These factors combined with chronic underfunding of public higher education have led to their historical underrepresentation at our state’s colleges and universities. There is an urgent need for the state to both provide support for low-income students and students-of-color to attend college, and to increase the operating budget line items for the state’s community college, state university and UMass systems. Specifically, the MTA is advocating for:
$3.5 million more to invest in student success programs, including additional supports for low-income students and students of color, using methods that improve the college experience and graduation rates. We strongly urge that state investment in this program grow over time.
$25.2 million increase to the MassGrant Plus program, which will provide financial aid to students throughout the public colleges and universities in the Commonwealth.
$11 million operating expense increase for Community Colleges, $44.1 million operating increase for State Universities, $49 million operating increase for the University of Massachusetts. These proposed increases are over the FY2022 state budget, which align with campus funding requests from all three sectors, fund collective bargaining agreements, roll FY2022 formula funding into the FY2023 base, adjust campus operating support for inflation, and begin to fund public higher education as proposed under the Cherish Act.
Continued Implementation of the Student Opportunity Act
The governor’s H.2 budget proposal rightfully follows the six-year phase in of SOA adopted by the Legislature in the FY22 state budget and partially continues the Legislature’s commitment to funding SOA. H.2 does not, however, fund the charter school reimbursement line item or the required out-of-district special education transportation costs at the levels called for in the law.
In addition, the governor’s budget proposal does not take into account the impact of the true rate of inflation funding Chapter 70. Not doing so will have an immediate impact on meeting district needs and will establish an artificially-lower foundation for future funding that will lock-in the negative impact of high inflation. The MTA strongly believes that the statutory cap on inflation should be lifted to allow for Chapter 70 funding to be calculated at the third quarter inflation rate of 5.9%. In FY 2023, this means increasing Chapter 70 education funding by a total of $98 million over the governor’s budget recommendation.
American Rescue Plan Act Background
The American Rescue Plan Act, signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021, provides substantial resources for Massachusetts schools, colleges, universities and local governments. In addition, the Commonwealth directly received billions in discretionary funds that were made available to the Legislature to appropriate.
The MTA fought for and won nearly $400 million in funding for public schools and colleges in the ARPA spending bill passed by the Legislature in December 2021, which appropriated $2.55 billion of the available ARPA funds. The spending bill included funds for building maintenance projects, improved air ventilation systems, a program to increase educator diversity, and expanded college and vocational school workforce training programs, as well as funds to expand programs to address campus hunger and college student behavioral and mental health needs.
Approximately $2.3 billion of the Commonwealth’s discretionary ARPA funds were not included as part of the December 2021 spending bill. The MTA continues to urge that Legislature appropriate these remaining funds in a way that builds upon the investments already made and that seek to address other significant challenges currently facing students, educators, and families in our PreK-16 public education system.
American Rescue Plan Act Priorities
Increase Educator Pipeline & Teacher Diversity Through Debt-Free Education
The Commonwealth’s public-school districts confront dual challenges of increasing the pipeline of trained and licensed educators available to work in our schools and the urgent need to expand the diversity of the state’s teacher workforce – especially in schools with a high proportion of students of color. The MTA is proposing the appropriation of a combination of ARPA and surplus state revenue to fund a $100 million reserve to provide scholarships and student debt-elimination to expand the number of licensed educators, with a focus on diversifying the educator workforce.
$50 million in funding to revive a modified version of the Tomorrow’s Teacher Program, a state scholarship program passed by the Legislature in 1999 that covered tuition and fees for college students enrolled in a public higher education institution who committed to teaching in a Massachusetts public school for a minimum of four years after graduation.
$50 million in funding to expand the educator pipeline, through loan repayment support for educational expenses associated with undergraduate and master’s degrees and other educator licensure support programs. The program anticipates covering up to $50,000 in outstanding debt for current and recent college graduates who commit to teach in public school.
Emergency Financial Aid for Two-years of Debt-free College for Pell Eligible Students
Massachusetts community colleges and state universities enroll the majority of lower-income residents in the state who are seeking a college degree or certificate. During the pandemic, overall community college enrollment has declined by 15 percent, while enrollment at state universities declined 14 percent. The drop in enrollment is two-to-three times the decline associated with recent demographic trends. The pandemic has had a major impact on low-income students across the board, but it has had an acute impact on many Black and Latino students. Black and Latino enrollment at community colleges predominantly serving communities-of-color have dropped from 20 to 35 percent, and overall enrollment of BIPOC students at state universities has declined by 9 percent statewide.
At a time when the state faces acute challenges to our current and future workforce, the loss of these students creates a major economic issue as it also raises a moral challenge to our state as we work to dismantle structural racism. The MTA strongly believes that the next ARPA bill should focus resources to expanding enrollment of low-income students at our state’s public colleges and universities.
$335 million program for the FY23 cost of Two-years of debt-free College for Pell Eligible Students, MTA proposes that the Commonwealth provide support for all tuition and fees for Pell grant eligible students for community college or the first two-years of college, which would allow those students to spend Pell resources on other costs of attendance.
Continued Investment in Public School and College Campus Building Renovations
The MTA fought for and won significant funds dedicated to school and campus buildings in the recent ARPA bill, but we know that more funds will be needed. In fact, our state’s public colleges and universities identified over $1.4 billion in urgently needed investments. The MTA is urging the Legislature to work with us to ensure that those resources already appropriated are distributed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Higher Education with the urgency this moment requires.