Every April the House deliberates our proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. This month, I joined my colleagues in debating and passing a balanced, fiscally responsible fiscal 2014 budget. The budget invests in local aid and Chapter 70 education aid, and includes funding for programs specifically benefiting the 37th Middlesex District. I want to thank all of you for communicating your concerns and priorities throughout this process and want to share with you some of the highlights from the final House budget.
The House budget places a high priority on local aid, offering assistance to cities and towns still recovering from the economic downturn. Our budget increases funds to the unrestricted general government aid that municipalities rely on to balance their budgets each fiscal year. I'm very pleased with my sponsored amendment to secure no less than $2,000,000 in funding for cities and towns that host Department of Correction facilities. This will benefit the town of Shirley, waking BHogue 4/30/13 ??? with more host municipalities around the commonwealth. I am pleased that funding has been secured for municipal police training academies across Worcester County and for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation as well, amendments that I was happy to co-sponsor.
I advocated for funding for local public programs for the arts and sciences, as well as funding for local tourism. These are important programs which generate revenue and jobs locally.
The Buy Local program which I co-sponsored and advocated for also received funding. This is an important contribution to our local programs that promotes sustainability, as well as economically friendly and healthy food options.
I was pleased to advocate for and receive additional funding for after-school/out-of-school grants. The consolidated amendment provides $1,610,000 for the after-school/out-of-school grant program, a $200,000 increase over both the HWM appropriation and the current fiscal 2013 level. After-school & out-of-school grants provide opportunities for children to participate in activities outside of the traditional classroom setting. Many of these students participate in STEM activities as well as the arts, preparing them for 21st-century careers
As a former School Committee member, I was pleased that the House once again increased Chapter 70 payments, $5,308,523 increase over the HWM appropriation and a $114.9 million increase over the current fiscal 2013 level. Each district will receive an increase of at least $25 per pupil over fiscal 2013. I co-sponsored amendments, adopted by the House, which fund the circuit breaker account at $238,489,224, representing a $3,000,000 increase over the HWM appropriation and a $8.1 million increase over fiscal 2013.
I also advocated for alternative education grants, which restores the alternative education line item and appropriates $200,000, a $53,860 increase over fiscal 2013. The alternative education grant program provides funding for school districts to develop or enhance alternative-education programs and services for suspended, expelled and other at-risk students whose needs are not being met in the traditional school setting. This funding will be especially critical in the coming years as school districts will be expected to provide alternative-education options to students who are suspended or expelled from school, as required under Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012.
I also co-sponsored amendments restoring funding for the school nurses and early intervention programs. School nurses are critical to keeping kids in class and maintaining a healthy school environment. Early intervention provides services to kids ages 0-3 with developmental delays. This important work puts kids on the right track before they enter school and has a proven record of limiting the need for more expensive services down the line.
Grants for inclusive concurrent enrollment, an amendment I co-sponsored, received an increase in funding of $100,000. These grants facilitate partnerships between school districts and public colleges/universities, allowing students with severe disabilities to take classes on college campuses.
I was pleased to advocate for and receive additional funding for a variety of important elder programs. The House adopted amendments to secure increased grants towards the Council on Aging, which I was happy to co-sponsor.
The House also adopted an amendment I sponsored that will fund the personal-needs allowance at the full $72.80 amount. This was a priority in my advocacy for the nursing-home community, and I am pleased that it was adopted.
The Enhanced Community Options Program will receive increased funds. This is an important program that will help lessen the waiting list for elders needing a higher level of home care to remain in the community by adding additional funds for these essential services.
This was another tough budget year and a lot of work went into creating this budget. I believe our proposal demonstrates the House's commitment to supporting our cities and towns and maintaining a positive quality of life for our residents. The budget process now moves over to the state Senate, which will debate their proposal at the end of May. Please keep in touch.