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Clark Op-Ed: Education, local aid focus of $32.5 billion budget

Posted by Matt Byrne  July 3, 2012 11:15 AM

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Last week, the Legislature enacted a $32.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2013 (FY13). The spending plan prioritizes funding for education, cities and towns, essential services for our most vulnerable citizens, workforce development and public safety.

In our district, state aid to our cities and towns, particularly for education, is more important than ever. Increased local aid and education funding (Chapter 70 funding) were my top priorities during this budget debate.The budget represents the Legislature's continuing commitment to all cities and towns, boosting investments in local aid, Chapter 70, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker, the three largest sources of direct state aid to municipalities and school districts. Specifically, the plan directs $5.7 billion in state revenues back to cities and towns for spending at the local level, a $288.9 million increase over FY12 projected spending

I am pleased that this budget increases Chapter 70 education funding to $4.17 billion, an increase of $180.3 million over FY12, ensuring that all school districts receive at least an additional $40 per pupil in aid. Most notably, this plan also includes $16.8 million more to be targeted toward dozens of communities facing inequities based on the Chapter 70 funding formula.

The FY13 budget also fully funds the state's obligation for the Special Education Circuit Breaker at $242 million for first time since FY08. And, for the first time, provides $11.3 million to fund school transportation for homeless students.

If we are to meet the Commonwealth's workforce development needs, we must support public higher education and connect those resources to workforce needs across the state. This budget funds new programs to help community colleges create workforce training programs targeted to specific requests from employers, as well as a system to more easily track credits and make it simpler for students to transfer from community colleges to state universities.

The budget also continues to prioritize essential services for our most vulnerable citizens. It increases funding for emergency food assistance, elder nutrition programs, substance abuse programs, domestic violence support services, independent living centers, the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, and the Department of Veterans' Services. It maintains mental health services, ensuring all regions of the state have access to care and funds the veterans' program Train Vets to Treat Vets.

Through both sponsored amendments and collaborative efforts with my colleagues, I was also able to:

- Lead the effort to close a drunk-driving loophole that was exposed by a Supreme Judicial Court ruling in May. The language will enhance penalties for repeat drunk drivers.

- Secure the expansion of Drunk Driving Trust Funds eligibility access to public agencies to ensure a more effective continuum of services for victims among the various systems they intersect with after a crash.

- Increase funding for elder protective services by over $600,000 dollars to help investigate and resolve elder abuse and neglect.

- Increase salaries of direct care workers who help the most vulnerable in our state. This increase will help retain those workers, who have not seen a salary increase in five years.

- Increase funding for the METCO program that is critical to education in many of our communities.

- Increase funding for DDS Transportation to enable people with disabilities to travel to and from work and for family support services to help families care for a disabled family member at home.

- Increase funding for children with complex care needs, youth aging out of the foster care system, youth mentoring programs, and the MA Down Syndrome Congress.

- Fund the ALS Registry to assist critical research on this debilitating disease.

- Establish a new special commission focused on improving services for unaccompanied homeless youth ages 22 years and younger.

This balanced budget represents a common sense approach that will allow the Commonwealth to maintain fiscal health and continued economic recovery while honoring our commitments to the tax-payers, our cities and towns, families and vulnerable populations. The budget is now before the Governor for his approval.

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