Page 8 THE EVERETT ADVOCATE – FRiDAy, MAy 17, 2024 PRIORITIES | FROM PAGE 4 to fully fund and implement the Student Opportunity Act (SOA) by Fiscal Year 2027, investing $6.9 billion in Chapter 70 funding, an increase of $316 million over FY24, as well as increasing minimum Chapter 70 aid from $30 to $104 per pupil, delivering an additional $37 million in resources to school districts across the state. With these investments, the Senate continues to provide crucial support to school districts confronting the increasing cost pressures that come with delivering high-quality education to all students. In addition to the record levels of investment in early education and K-12, the Committee’s budget removes barriers to accessing public higher education by codifying into law MassEducate, a $117.5 million investment in a universal free community college program that covers tuition and fees for residents – aimed at supporting economic opportunity and workforce development and opening the door to higher education for people who might never have had access. The FY25 budget permanently enshrines free community college into law in an affordable, sustainable and prudent manner across the Commonwealth, while leaving no federal dollars on the table. Other education investment areas: the special education circuit breaker; charter school reimbursements; reimbursing school districts for regional school transportation costs; higher education wraparound services, including General Fund resources to support wraparound supports to the infl ux of new students coming to community colleges campuses because of MassEducate; Rural School Aid supports; Early College programs and the state’s Dual Enrollment initiative, both of which provide high school students with increased opportunities for post-graduate success; supporting continued implementation of the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Higher Education law, including helping high school students with intellectual disabilities ages 18–22 access higher education opportunities; the Genocide Education Trust Fund, continuing our commitment to educate middle and high school students on the history of genocide; and Hate Crimes Prevention Grants to support education and prevention of hate crimes and incidences of bias in public schools. Community Support: The Committee’s budget – in addition to funding traditional accounts like Chapter 70 education aid – further demonstrates the Senate’s commitment to partnerships between the Commonwealth and municipalities. This includes $1.3 billion in funding for Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), an increase of $38 million over FY24, to support additional resources for cities and towns. In addition to traditional sources of local aid, the Committee’s budget increases payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land to $53 million, an increase of $1.5 million over FY24. PILOT funding is an additional source of supplemental local aid for cities and towns working to protect and improve access to essential services and programs during recovery from the pandemic. Other local investment areas: Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) to support regional public transportation systems, including Fair Share funding to support RTAs that help to connect all regions of our Commonwealth; libraries, including regional library local aid, municipal libraries and technology and automated resource networks; the Mass Cultural Council. Health, Mental Health & Family Care: The Senate budget funds MassHealth at a total of $20.33 billion, providing more than two million people with continued access to affordable, accessible and comprehensive health care services. Expanding & Protecting Opportunities: The Senate remains committed to continuing an equitable recovery, expanding opportunity and supporting the state’s long-term economic health. To that end, the Committee’s budget maintains the annual child’s clothing allowance, providing $450 per child for eligible families to buy clothes for the upcoming school year. The budget also includes a 10 per cent increase to Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) benefit levels compared to June 2024 to help families move out of deep poverty. In addition, the budget provides $87 million in critical funding to support a host of food security initiatives, including $42 million for Emergency Food Assistance to assist residents in navigating the historical levels in food insecurity, and $20 million for the Health Incentives Program (HIP) to ensure full operation of the program to maintain access to healthy food options for SNAP households. The budget funds many economic opportunity investment areas. PRIORITIES | SEE PAGE 19

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