House FY18 Budget Analysis
The Massachusetts House passed its Fiscal Year 2018 budget on Tuesday, April 25, 2017, by a vote of 159 to 1. Representative James Lyons (R-Andover) cast the only vote against the spending plan.
The budget totals $40.3 billion. This is the first time a budget in excess of $40 billion has been passed in the Legislature.
The House sorted through more than 1,200 amendments over two days, adding more than $72 million in spending. Amendments were consolidated based on categories, such as education and local aid, energy and environmental affairs, and social services and veterans.
After debate on education and local aid amendments, the House approved an increase in Chapter 70 funding amounting to just $106.3 million over the current year.
MTA’s amendments that would have enhanced public education and protected public-sector employees were not included in the final budget, unfortunately.
The Senate will release and debate its version of the budget in mid-May, after which both chambers will work to reconcile differences before passing a final version ahead of the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
The MTA proposed a number of amendments designed to address key education funding and employee benefit issues. None of the amendments succeeded. They included:
Amendments making critical investments in our local public schools
- Increasing Chapter 70 funding to guarantee that all districts would receive a per-student funding increase of at least $50 over the current fiscal year.
- Increasing formula funding by approximately $16 million for “growth districts,” with the goal of helping targeted districts facing budget shortfalls.
- Increasing funding for key programs, including charter school reimbursement payments to local districts, kindergarten grants and regional school transportation.
Amendments ensuring high-quality, accessible higher education
- Increasing funding for the Commonwealth’s higher education institutions.
- Establishing and funding the Finish Line Grant Program to make public higher education more affordable and reduce student debt. This policy is included in the MTA’s legislative package.
- Provide funding to create a path to tenure for adjunct faculty and ensure adequate support staffing at our public colleges and universities. This policy is also included in the MTA’s legislative package.
Amendments providing fair and affordable employee benefits
- Capping out-of-pocket spending for Group Insurance Commission subscribers at $2,500 for an individual and $5,000 for a family.
- Updating the composition of the GIC to provide greater representation of employees.
Below is a summary of the key elements of the budget that affect public education.
A provision in the budget added by Representative John Scibak, chairman of the Higher Education Committee, gives the state Board of Higher Education “the authority to enter into interstate reciprocity agreements that authorize any accredited, degree-granting institution of higher education located in Massachusetts to voluntarily participate in such reciprocity agreements and to provide distance education programs to students in other states in accordance with the provisions of such agreements.” The language is from a bill that has been filed but has not had a public hearing in the Legislature.
The MTA is still reviewing this policy to see what impact, if any, it will have on MTA members or collective bargaining agreements. Initial research suggests that the language would allow Massachusetts to partner with the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, making it easier for students to take online courses offered by postsecondary institutions based in other states.
Employee Vacation and Earned Sick Leave Credit Commission
The House budget creates a special commission to study and make recommendations on establishing a uniform state policy regarding the cashing out of vacation and sick leave credits applicable to employees of the Commonwealth who are in positions that are not subject to collective bargaining agreements. This item would not affect MTA members.
Educational Unfunded Mandate Task Force
The House budget also creates a task force charged with identifying and reviewing state laws, regulations and administrative directives that prescribe requirements for school districts, including state reporting requirements. The task force is also charged with estimating the cost of these mandates and making recommendations for streamlining. While the intent of the panel seems to align with MTA priorities, the language in the budget does not provide for any educator voice on the task force. Also notably absent from the task force is the state auditor, whose office is charged with monitoring local mandates.
Both panels were proposed by Representative Bradley Jones, House minority leader, during floor debate.
Chapter 70 Aid to Municipalities and Regional School Districts
The House proposes to increase Chapter 70 funding by $106.3 million over FY17, an increase of 2.3 percent. In January, Governor Charlie Baker proposed an increase of $91.4 million, approximately 2 percent. This increase fully funds the current foundation budget requirement for each school district and provides a minimum increase of $30 per pupil for every district. No additional funding for Chapter 70 was added during floor debate.
In addition, the House Ways and Means Committee also made small increases in allocations for employee benefits, including health care, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission.
The HWM budget also addressed the ongoing issue of changes in the methodology of counting low-income students, a shift made last spring for the current fiscal year. The HWM proposal provided $12.5 million to mitigate the impact on districts and charter schools that would have received more funding under the previous approach to counting low-income students.
In light of their very modest increases, both the governor’s and the HWM budgets fall well short of the funding levels recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission.
Like the governor’s budget, the final House budget provides an additional $5.3 million for MCAS testing, representing a 20.9 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
Taking remitted tuition into account, the House 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, just under $1 million, for a total of $96.5 million.
Funding for teacher and state employee pension systems increased in the House budget. Proposed annual funding for FY18 is $2.34 billion.
- The House provides a 3 percent COLA on the first $13,000 in pension benefits for retired members of the Massachusetts State Employee Retirement System and the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System.