Healey Pledges Full Funding Of 2019 Education Law
Governor Also Preparing Spending Request To Aid Migrants
1/20/23 1:52 PM
BOSTON, JAN. 20, 2023.....In her first appearance before Massachusetts' municipal leaders, Gov. Maura Healey said she would fully fund the Student Opportunity Act, seek supplemental funding to cover costs associated with serving migrant children in the state's public schools, and file an executive order to create a working group on how to structure the new housing secretariat the governor promised on the campaign trail.
In addition to fully funding the landmark 2019 K-12 education funding law, Healey said her administration will assist school districts with the cost of transporting students amid a nationwide bus driver shortage, and that her first budget will also fully fund the McKinney-Vento program, which supports homeless students.
Without specifying how much funding she plans to include in her first state budget proposal, Healey also said she would support the special education circuit breaker program to "help maintain funding" to assist all school districts for the cost of the special education services.
"We know that the pandemic hit every student, every family and it widened disparities that existed in the first place," Healey said in her speech to the Massachusetts Municipal Association on Friday morning at the Hynes Convention Center. "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."
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.
Before he departed office, former Gov. Charlie Baker warned lawmakers that an influx of migrants into the state was putting a strain on the public school system. He filed a supplemental budget seeking $37 million to help manage the costs of placing students from migrant families in schools, but it didn't pass the Legislature.
Healey did not say how much supplemental funding she would seek for schools accepting migrant students, but said it would "ensure that they have access to the education and support they need to learn and thrive, and that communities have the resources to make that happen."
Later answering a question from reporters on Baker's unsuccessful push for more resources to aid migrants, including for expanded shelter housing, Healey said her administration "expect[s] to be filing something."
"We recognize that folks are coming into communities, and communities, as I said to the meeting here this morning, communities will need support and need the resources to make sure that they are supported in this time. Whether it's with housing needs or the effect on our school districts," she said.
When asked if it would be for emergency or permanent housing, Healey replied "we'll see."
The governor promised on the campaign trail to split the Housing and Economic Development Secretary into two distinct Cabinet posts, but so far Secretary Yvonne Hao has been serving both roles and the governor has not put a so-called Article 87 reorganization proposal before the Legislature.
The announcement of a working group on how to structure the new housing secretariat, led by Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, is the first public announcement she has made toward the move since taking the corner office. Without naming other task force members, Healey called it a "working group of stakeholders, which will include housing developers, advocates, municipal leaders, and others."
Some on Beacon Hill were expecting a bill from the governor to reorganize the secretariat, rather than a task force to look into it, since Healey has been touting the idea as a cornerstone of her housing agenda since before her election. When asked by reporters for a timeline on the task force, Healey replied, within "weeks."
As part of her transition team, the governor had on Nov. 18 organized an "Affordable, Abundant Housing" panel, chaired by Housing Assistance Corporation CEO Alisa Magnotta, Way Finders CEO Keith Fairey, and Stephen Davis, co-president of real estate firm The Davis Companies.
"This secretariat will allow us to prioritize housing the way it deserves -- the way the moment requires," Healey said during her remarks to the conference Friday. "It will also help better coordinate our housing response with the lens of economic development, transportation, climate, and public health, so that we can comprehensively make our state both more affordable and attractive to residents and employers alike."
The Massachusetts Municipal Association annual meeting is traditionally a place where governors reveal some details of their imminent budget proposals. However, because of the administration turnover this year, Healey has until March 1 to file her budget.
In the past, the governor has used the association's annual meeting to announce funding levels for local aid, the Chapter 90 road and bridge program and some other municipal initiatives like broadband. Healey actually announced Chapter 90 funding and municipal funding initiatives a day earlier, during a visit to North Adams.
On Thursday, the governor filed her first two bills: authorizing the state to borrow an additional $400 million to fund road and bridge work under Chapter 90 over two years, and a $987 million "immediate needs" bond bill for housing and economic development programs. The MMA is seeking $300 million per year for two years ($600 million total) for the roads and bridges program, per their legislative priorities package.
The $1 billion bond bill would bolster the state's broadband program with $9.3 million for infrastructure in central and western Massachusetts, proposes $110 million for housing creation and preservation and $48 million for the repair and modernization of public housing, and boosts the MassWorks Infrastructure Program which gives municipal grants for large infrastructure projects with a $400 million allocation.
"This is just the start of immediate needs, more to come. But we are big-time focused on housing and economic development," Healey told municipal leaders on Friday.
Two big questions that remain unanswered are how much unrestricted government aid (known as UGGA) and Chapter 70 education funding will be included in the governor's first budget.
Baker promised before his first election in 2014 to tie UGGA to projected state tax revenues, increasing the aid at the same rate as projected revenue growth, and he stuck to that approach for eight years.
Healey did not commit to keeping with Baker's strategy on the campaign trail, and did not reveal many hints Friday about what the aid would look like in her budget.
"I know that each of you are very interested in seeing exactly what the cherry sheet is going to look like this year for your local communities, but as I say we're in week two, and our FY 24 budget isn't due for a few more weeks. But knowing how important this funding is to all of you, you will be the first to know," Healey said.
As a former mayor in Salem, Driscoll appears poised to serve as an ally to the MMA inside the administration. According to the event agenda, she was also due to speak at a luncheon to discuss her experiences as a woman in politics and local government, but that event was closed to the press.
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