State Budget proposal includes huge boost for Chelsea Schools

The State Budget proposal from Gov. Charlie Baker allows a celebration put on pause at the Chelsea Public Schools (CPS) to erupt once more as the proposal, revealed Wednesday morning, advances funding for the Student Opportunity Act (SOA) that was put on hold when COVID-19 hit the state.

The overall budget proposal is $45. 6 billion and devotes a great amount of resources to continuing the response to COVID-19 and the economic impacts that are expected to last well into the year – if not longer. The budget does not require raising taxes and preserves the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

The big news in Chelsea is the governor has unleashed the paused SOA phased-in funding plan. That will equate of a $7.24 million increase over last year’s level-funded budget that had to be adjusted once COVID-19 came into play and the state pulled back SOA funding.

The total appropriation from the state for the Chelsea Schools is $107,556,392, according to the governor’s budget – known as House 1.

“I am grateful for our legislators who have prioritized education,” said Abeyta. “We are pleased with the amount that we are projected to receive for fiscal year 2022. As we work on our budget for the upcoming school year, we will prioritize the needs of our neediest students along with the middle grades as identified in our Student Opportunity Act plan.”

Submitted as House 1, the budget recommendation provides $246.3 million in new funding for the SOA including an increase of $197.7 million in Chapter 70 funding, with a particular focus on school districts serving low-income students like Chelsea. The Administration is also proposing to allow municipalities to count $114 million in federal dollars towards their Chapter 70 required local contribution increases to further deliver on the commitments in the SOA.

“We are proud to submit a Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal that despite the challenges of the pandemic, invests in economic growth and fully funds the first year of the landmark Student Opportunity Act – all without raising taxes on the Commonwealth’s residents,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This balanced budget proposal allows the Commonwealth to respond to the pandemic and promote our recovery, while investing in key priorities such as education, health care, substance misuse, and racial equality and diversity. We look forward to working closely with the Legislature to adopt a full spending plan for FY22.”

The SOA funding builds on the collaborative work of the Administration and the Legislature in the FY21 budget, which included a $108 million increase in the annual Chapter 70 investment and complemented significant federal supports. Together, these state and federal FY21 investments provided more resources for local schools than the Administration’s initial FY21 budget proposal, which fully funded the first year of the SOA.

When that budget proposal came out in January 2020, prior to COVID0-19, it caused a great celebration in Chelsea. Finally, years of cuts to things like social workers, teachers, librarians and extra-curricular activities could be restored. The CPS and the School Committee held many meetings to discuss the plan for investing the new dollars, and then put that plan on paper.

That plan still exists, but the money that was supposed to come got hijacked by COVID-19 – with the money rightfully being diverted to taking care of the responses to humanitarian efforts such as food, business assistance and housing.

Now, however, Abeyta said they can pull that vision off the shelf and begin to do what they had hoped to do last year if the spending is approved by the House and Senate – which it is expected to be without issue.

Additionally, House 1 maintains the Administration’s promise to cities and towns with a $39.5 million increase in unrestricted local aid, which is equivalent to the 3.5 percent consensus tax revenue growth rate.

This proposal authorizes a withdrawal of up to $1.6 billion from the Stabilization Fund to help ensure the continuation of essential government services and responsibly preserve financial reserves for Fiscal Year 2023 and beyond. Working together, the Legislature and this Administration have been able to grow the Stabilization Fund since 2015, which now enables the Commonwealth to face the budget challenges associated with COVID-19 while continuing to fund key priorities. Improvements in tax collections or new federal revenue will allow the amount of this withdrawal to be reduced. This current Stabilization Fund withdrawal is projected to leave the fund with a balance of approximately $1.11 billion.

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